In April 2014, a cohort of twenty-five hip hop artists assembled in Washington, D.C. for the first orientation meeting of a new cultural diplomacy program sponsored by the United States State Department. Next Level
brings hip hop practitioners from the United States to other countries where they collaborate with local artists in workshops and other events in short residencies. Mark Katz, a hip hop scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, proposed the program and served as its first director.
Build: The Power of Hip Hop Diplomacy in a Divided World
(Oxford University Press, 2019) is Katz’s response to the first five years of this project. Cultural diplomacy has been part of the State Department’s outreach efforts since the 1940s, but hip hop was only included in the program when Toni Blackman became a cultural specialist in 2001. In his book, Katz takes on the hard questions prompted by the legacy of American imperialism abroad and racism at home that informs hip hop as a global art form and makes a Next Level residency a complex interaction between people that have something important in common, but also much that could divide them. He uses the insights he has gleaned from over thirty residencies around the world as he considers the sometimes conflicting agendas between artists and diplomats that can complicate cultural diplomacy. While defending the value of people-to-people exchanges as a way to bring about what he calls conflict transformation, Katz takes a hard look at what is beneficial as well as difficult about these types interactions.
is Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the founding director of Next Level. His work centers on hip hop and the transformative effect of technology on music. In 2016 he was awarded the Dent Medal. Build
is his fourth book.
Kristen M. Turner, Ph.D. is a lecturer at North Carolina State University in the music department. Her work centers on American musical culture at the turn of the twentieth century and has been published in several journals and essay collections.