Can Jewish Rappers Use the K-Word?
Not all bad words are created equal. 25 year-old rapper Lil Dicky (né David Burd) found that out when his music video “All K,” the fourth single of his debut mixtape So Hard, was flagged as age-restricted. Why? Lil Dicky, a Jewish rapper, used the word "kike."
It didn't matter that he's Jewish, or that he used the word satirically to address an obvious double standard. People complained, and the gatekeepers complied.
Now keep in mind, we aren't here to sing Lil Dicky's praises, necessarily. But rap music is often a home for chest-beating and hyper-masculinity, which makes Dicky a rare commodity even if you question his talent. He operates somewhere between joke rap and frat rap, and is part of a new group of independent emcees who use GarageBand and YouTube to release music. Without a label to answer to, Dicky is able to put out whatever he wants, whenever he wants, no questions asked.
For Dicky, the online response has been immediate and mostly positive. His shtick consists of relating to suburban white kids while throwing in bolts of blunt social commentary. For some listeners, this can come off as out of touch, like in "White Dude," an ode to white privilege. “Where I’m eating when I’m high is where they eat at to survive (food chains).” He finishes the track by asking rhetorically why Latinos can use the n-word in their raps: “That shit don’t make any sense. I’ve been thinking about that shit a lot. Because, like, if I could say the n-word, it would really help my rhyme scheme out. It’s like the perfect filler word.”
Lil Dicky's debut mixtape, So Hard. For the free download, click here.
It’s this type of comedy that has the power to simultaneously draw in listeners and push them away. Dicky says he's received some negative feedback on his video, understandable in a culture where most YouTube commenters make those two muppets in the balcony look like Jack Handey. But regardless of how you feel about Dicky, the questions he raises—about n-words and k-words and every stereotype you can think of—are legitimate. However, answering them with satire causes John Q. Public to take him either too seriously… or not seriously enough.
“I don’t really set boundaries for myself,” he told me recently. “I don’t do things to be shocking. It has to have some sort of intelligence behind it. A lot of what I do has to be based on social truths. It’s social commentary, and the best satire is controversial. I think everything I have done thus far is fair.”
Fair is really all about perspective. Take someone like Drake, who identifies as black and Jewish. He has no problem dropping an n-bomb in every verse, but if he said the k-word once in song, he’d be publicly reamed, and risk his endorsement deals. Even though Drake seems to use his connection to Judaism as a token chip for broader market appeal, he still came under controversy for incorporating a “re-bar mitzvah” into his “HYFR” music video last year.
Dicky doesn’t have to worry about that yet—he’s not making much revenue off a free mixtape—but the comparison emphasizes how drastic hip-hop double standards can be when financial interests become part of the equation. “No rap videos on YouTube get age-gated. There are so many rap videos on YouTube where it’s a bunch of black guys doing the exact same thing I’m doing, except they’re using the n-word. It just seems there’s a higher standard of judgment on me.”
Calling out hypocrisy is often the purpose of satire; actually changing perceptions takes more time and commitment. Dicky’s take on leveling the field for offensive words isn’t just a one-off attention grab. On “Ham,” he raps: “Ladies get them pants down/ Sorry to my god and my synagogue and my mom because this kike is going ham now.” And on “The Cypher”: “Pretty clear right here that the kike the best (that’s my n word so chill)/ Never scared nor embarrassed, ask my ex.” These lyrics are blatantly self-aware, and Dicky uses them because he “wants people to have these types of conversations,” conversations about what is and is not publicly acceptable.
Jewish rappers, even though there aren’t many to choose from, have confronted these topics of identity and political-correctness before, but those who have done so never reached a relevant platform. In 2000, the New York Times characterized MC Paul Barman’s debut EP as “deliberately, the whitest hip-hop record ever made.” Barman’s raps overlapped aesthetically with Woody Allen dialogue. There’s also the Latino-Jewish group Hip Hop Hoodíos, who released the song “Kike on the Mic” on their album, Raza Hoodia. Mainstream acts like Drake, Mac Miller, and the Beastie Boys can always be identified as Jewish, but Judaism and Jewish stereotypes aren’t the focus of the music.
MC Paul Barman
The public and the media, however, have no problem praising and supporting other rappers for lyrics with social commentary. When Kanye raps, “Fuck you and your Hampton house/ I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse/ Came on her Hampton blouse/ And in her Hampton mouth,” he’s using the same sort of racially charged lyrics that might make you laugh or shake your head, depending on how easily you're offended. He’s also Kanye, and not Lil Dicky, so people treat him differently, even if Kanye is trying to provoke conversations about similar social issues.
All of this shows nothing, except that there are different ways to ask the same questions when it comes to society’s double standards. Some of the differences have to do with skill, context, perspective, and intent, all of which Lil Dicky is aware of when he makes a punch line or uses the k-word in a rap.
“I’m speaking to and for a subsection of people that’s way bigger than the amount of people making it rain in the strip club. While it may seem like I’m this renegade alienating people, I think I’m actually way more relatable than any other rapper around. [Eds. note—Yeah, right.] I operate by my own personal code of what I find to be acceptable. I’m not worried about crossing a line that I shouldn’t cross.”