Hip-Hop Diplomacy: State Department Using Urban Music To Push Racial Justice And Environmentalism Abroad

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Robert Schmad Contributor
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The federal government is using taxpayer funds to promote hip-hop abroad, sometimes with the aim of advancing left-of-center agenda items.

The State Department has funded 31 different programs spanning 23 countries to promote hip-hop as part of America’s public diplomacy strategy, federal grant records show. Using hip-hop to promote democratic values, boost climate activism and promote diversity were among the initiatives funded by the federal government.

State Department officials have approved nearly $700,000 in grants promoting hip-hop-related programs since the beginning of the 2021 fiscal year, according to spending records. (RELATED: Jamaal Bowman Launches ‘Hip Hop Power And Justice Task Force’)

One such taxpayer-funded grant “leverage[d] the African ancestral connectivity of the spoken word and hip-hop to promote a more racially and inclusive climate movement via environmental justice” in Brazil, records show. The grant, which was worth $15,000, was paid out in September 2023 to the Hip Hop Loves Foundation, a pro-BLM nonprofit in New York that uses “hip-hop as a tool for social change,” according to its Facebook page.

Another grant, this time worth $17,000, was disbursed by the State Department in October 2022 to “positively engage at-risk youth” in France by using hip-hop to “foster their sense of community engagement,” grant records show. The grant also sought to teach French youths how to “address social issues such as diversity, inclusion and the environment” by using hip-hop.

The department paid out another grant in 2022 to use “American hip-hop culture” as a “bridge for connecting diverse communities” in Israel, according to grant records.

The State Department has long promoted hip-hop as a medium to advance America’s interest abroad. In 2013, the department helped launch Next Level, an initiative that seeks to reduce violence in foreign nations by introducing hip-hop, according to the program’s website. “Hip hop’s very existence can be understood as a form of conflict transformation,” the program’s website says.

“When DJs and beatmakers battle they transform physical conflict into sonic conflict; when b-boys and b-girls (breakdancers) challenge each other, their aggressive moves replace fistfights with dance; when MCs diss each other they release their anger into rhyme; when aerosol writers create murals they claim territory through art rather than by force,” the website continues.

A recent Next Level initiative funded by the State Department sought to promote the “democratic values of civic education, youth leadership, girl empowerment [and] minorit[y] inclusion” and reduce conflict by teaching Romanians about hip hop, grant records show. The grant was approved in October 2022 and was worth just over $15,000.

“American culture—especially American music—is one of the United States’ greatest exports, which is why the Department has strategically used music to promote peace and cross-cultural connections for over 75 years,” a State Department spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Since 2001, when President George W. Bush appointed Toni Blackman as the United States’ first hip hop ambassador, to today—the 10th anniversary year of Next Level, the Department’s hip-hop music exchange program that promotes peace and conflict resolution—hip hop continues to be a valuable diplomatic tool that allows the United States to reach young people around the globe, while also supporting broader U.S. foreign policy goals to expand access to education and economic opportunity and equity,” they continued.

The majority of the State Department’s hip-hop grants since the beginning of the 2021 fiscal year have been offered under the agency’s “public diplomacy programs” initiative.

The initiative exists to “support the achievement of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives, advance national interests and enhance national security by informing and influencing foreign publics,” according to a spending website maintained by the federal government.


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