A Quick Look Into Hip-Hop's Odd Anti-Semitic Streak
There’s been a strange renaissance of anti-Semitism in rap over the last couple of weeks. Scarface blamed the Jews for blacksliding in hip-hop in a YouTube interview, while Gunplay retweeted a Holocaust joke. It’s kind of a reach to call these two incidents a “moment,” and given Gunplay’s questionable swastika tattoo, people barely noticed his transgression. But with Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and Tyler, the Creator all getting into hot water for offending civil rights activists, women, and one prominent black academic respectively, there’s some tension about rappers being offensive right now. I hope neither Scarface nor Gunplay lose money, gigs, or sponsorship over these events.
Saying blacks and Jews have a complicated history is as much of an understatement as saying Juicy J might have a drug problem. It’s hard to sum up multiple centuries of bad blood briefly, but a great example is the development patterns that led to lots of poor blacks living in areas where Jews owned stores and property. This created a resentment among black communities who relied on Jewish merchants and landlords; as leaders like Malcom X stoked these feelings, the Black Power movement gained an anti-Semitic edge. At other times, blacks and Jews have found a common bond as groups unfairly excluded from mainstream society (most notably during the civil rights movement). But my point is these tensions predate hip-hop by hundreds of years; no amount of retelling of the prominent role of Jews in the rise of hip-hop is going to speed the healing. So when Scarface, 42 years old, says there’s a conspiracy against blacks in hip-hop by, “An industry that is so fucking white and so fucking Jewish,” it’s not that hard for me to shrug it off.
It’s harder to ignore Gunplay for retweeting a joke about Hitler’s gas bill. While Scarface is a legend with his best years behind him, Gunplay is a hit single and some good behavior away from stardom. As of right now, he’s known as much for his incredible, unhinged, coke-fueled rapping as he is for having a tattoo of a swastika on his upper back. He also peppers his tapes with ad libs like “Heil Logan” (in reference to his Don Logan alias). In his defense, he fields questions about all this constantly, and his weird Nazi fixation seems like it grew out of the Third Reich’s embodiment of power and dominance and not their philosophy. He also broke out with a tape named after Tarantino’s Nazi-killing revenge fantasy Inglourious Basterds. On one hand, I don’t like one of the most promising, exciting MCs out there giving constant nods to a large-scale program to wipe out my people. On the other, I spent a lot of my formative years going “OOOOOH!” after one rapper found a really witty way to tell another that he was going to kill his girlfriend with his dick in a battle. Now I spend a lot of time listening to rappers talk about selling preposterous amounts of cocaine with an uncomfortable level of accuracy. Rap is a contradictory mix of exaggeration for dramatic effect and untarnished truth. To listen to a lot of rap is to constantly assess and recalculate what is and is not OK for people to say and do.
Still, Gunplay’s nods to Holocaust-era Germany make me increasingly uncomfortable. And while I can let Scarface’s comments slide, but I wish he hadn’t made them. As of right now, I like “Pyrex” and “My Block” and “On My Lap” and “Hand of the Dead Body” way more than I am offended by their creators’ anti-Semitism. I hope it stays that way.
Skinny Friedman is a writer and DJ living in Brooklyn. He's on Twitter - @skinny412