Hebe Hop’s Where It’s At – Metro
Forget hip hop’s typical boyz in the hood – the new stars have a Hasidic history, explains Matt Ford.
No hip hop album is complete without a salutation to the creator somewhere on the sleeve notes. but rap nods to God are usually pretty hard to take seriously.
When 50 Cent dangles a big gold crucifix between his sirloin steak pecs to mumble loving rhymes about his AK47, it’s almost as far from the Gospels as wearing soft slippers to kick a man to death is from compassion.
But God is out there. And among the hoodies and baseball caps at rap gigs are an increasing number of Shalom Motherf**ker T-shirts, with more than a few girls wearing designer bra tops made from yarmulkes, the traditional Jewish skull cap.
Jews aren’t new to rap: the Beastie Boys and members of hugely influential 1980s act 3rd Base are Jewish; Def Jam was co-founded by Rick Rubin and Lyor Cohen. What is different is that now they are specifically identifying themselves with their ethnic culture.
Mixed Bunch There’s 50 Shekel, 2 Live Jews (featuring Dr Dreidel and Ice Berg), Hasidic MC and beatboxer Matisyahu (who performs in traditional garb) and MOT, managed by Meshugge Knight, a take-off of notorious Death Row Records boss Suge Knight.
The video for Chutzpah’s first single from a self-titled album is called Chanukah’s The Bomb and features the crew rolling in a limo with a roof-mounted menorah (seven-branched candlestick). The Hip Hop Hoodios, who take their name from the Spanish word for Jews, rap: ‘My sound is fresh / Like a pound of flesh / My nose is large so you know I’m in charge.’
Of course, there’s a big element of parody and irony to all this but the message these groups are sending out is serious. Naomi Wolf, cultural commentator and author of the influential feminist book, The Beauty Myth, has called them and their fans the ‘Hebesters’: twentysomething Jews who are ‘about as far from the neurotic charactersÂ in a Woody Allen film as you can get…Here is what they are not: self-deprecating, dweeby, asexual or yearning for goyishe [non-Jewish] validation.’
Their heroes are Sarah Jessica Parker, Seth from The OC and actors Orlando Bloom and Adam Sandler – and their influences are being felt in Hollywood, with Kabbalah becoming increasingly popular. Hebrew Hammer, a ‘Jewsploitation’ comedy parodying the ironic popularity of Blaxploitation films, was made in 2003.
‘Just as…identity is, for young black people, no longer associated simply or by any means predominantly with slavery, we are coming to terms with the Holocaust in our own way,’ writes Wolf.
Holocaust History Jewish MC Remedy, from sprawling hip hop crew The Wu Tang Clan, penned a Holocaust-inspired track, Never Again, on the band’s 1998 album The Swarm. The track was inspired by his grandmother’s stories of members of his own family who died in the Holocaust and contains a sample of the Israeli national anthem and the lyrics: ‘My own blood / Dragged through the mud / Perished in my heart / Still cherished and loved.’ Remedy has performed in front of 15,000 Jews in Moscow, at a Holocaust survivors’ dinner in LA and regularly goes into Jewish schools to perform with students.
Taking a Stand Antithesis, a 22-year-old rapper and Cambridge University student who has performed on the BBC’s 1Xtra, says: ‘It’s hard to relate to lyrics about gangs in LA and New York and so people are simply starting to relate the music to their own lives.’
‘Hip hop has taken off in Israel with rappers such as Subliminal, who are hugely influential. Because of everything that’s happened to the Jews, there’s a tendency to keep our heads down. It’s great to hear someone standing up, not being aggressive or anti-British, but proud of their Jewishness. People email me and write: “”You’re saying just what I think”” – and I love that.’
But this outspoken voice is not without its critics and Jewish rap is on the frontline between liberal and hardline Jews in Israel.
When hope for an Arab-Israeli peace were lost in the bitter violence of 2000, Israeli rap – which had previously been a fringe art form – stormed the charts. MC Subliminal has become a voice for popular anger and has attracted criticism for his militancy. ‘It’s a war of words,’ he told the BBC. ‘And I’m on a mission to let the world know our side of the story.’