Since 2001, the U.S. Department of State has been sending hip hop artists abroad to perform and teach as goodwill ambassadors. Hip hop has from its beginning been a means of creating community through artistic collaboration, fostering what hip hop artists call building. Yet power is never single-edged, and the story of hip hop diplomacy is deeply fraught.
Katz, a self-described white 'middle-aged professor,' might not seem like the most obvious emissary for a culture born among black and brown youth in the 1970s South Bronx. For those young artists then and for many more today, hip-hop is equipment for living, an essential lifeline for self-expression and communication. Katz respects this. Through his difference and his deference, Katz models a way of being at home in a culture that is not one’s own. He earns respect from the artists by his commitment to the cause; by his efforts to practice, however imperfectly, the art himself; and, most important, by his willingness to listen to and learn from those whose personal connections to hip-hop run deep ... Throughout much of the book, Katz renders himself nearly invisible, acting as a watchful chronicler of the remarkable cross-cultural exchanges happening among the artists.
Katz provides a cursory history of previous cultural exchanges and an in-depth analysis of the challenges and rewards of expanding that work today ... An inspiring study of U.S. efforts to bridge cultures and collaborate around the globe, and a reminder of the power of art to unite us.
Katz provides a thorough overview of the origins of cultural exchange, dating back to anti-Nazi and anti-Communism efforts, when clueless, racist bureaucrats dismissed the value of jazz, which young people around the world adored, in favor of classical music. Likewise, Katz faced an uphill battle to get hip-hop accepted as a medium for a state-department program then had to explain that 'Get Hip USA!' was not likely to win over skeptical youth. While Katz addresses the inherent contradiction in trotting out marginalized cultural groups to demonstrate the superiority of American values, neither he nor the majority of the artists interviewed fully acknowledges the paradox.