The Noisey Guide to Jewish Rap
Or, rappers who are Jewish. With a little help from Lil Dicky.
A couple of weeks back we became fascinated with Jewish rapper Lil Dicky's “All K” video - as in, all kike – which twists the ideology of rap videos by completely toeing the line of convention, but referencing kaballah, challa and generally, playing around with the semantics of Semitics.
Lil Dicky is not the first rapper to talk around his religious upbringing, though. Even if you haven’t seen that Drake video – y’know, the one where he has a re-bar Mitzvah, but still manages to sound like he’s afraid of being emasculated – rappers have been referencing the religion like it’s the hottest name drop ever.
Although some rappers choose to mention their belief like it’s a slightly misguided USP, others choose not to mention it at all, because when coupled with real things like talent, the belief of an artist has as little to do with their authenticity as McDonalds has to do with health food. Still, alongside Lil Dicky, there are enough rappers with a Jewish connection to write at least a chapter of a rap-game Torah.
With this in mind, here’s the Noisey Guide to Jewish Rap (or rappers who are Jewish). And, since Lil Dicky released a rap track talking about Judaism, we hit him up for his authoritative viewpoints on a few of the artists in question.
Since Canadians are normally forgotten by their Red White and Blue neighbors, we’re going to go right ahead and let them kick things off. Mainly because Drake’s Mother is Canadian Jewish, which probably makes Drake the most famous Jewish person from Canada. If Gil Scott-Heron is the godfather of rap, then Drake is its passively misogynistic cousin from Toronto.
Apparently, the saying goes that no matter how sad a story you tell a Jew, Drake can craft a song that will make that sad story sound exactly like the rest of his records. After appealing to the Grey Goose and Instagram connoisseurs on his debut album Thank Me Later, Drake tried to steer away from the 808s and Heartbreak-aping with his second record, Take Care. And by tried to steer away from, I mean that he straight walked along a wall of delicate mellifluous sound which sounded like the Armani stained tears of people who are richer than the common leak-downloader. Still, some people bought into it, because the record debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, proving to Americans that there’s more to Canada than the syrup they put on their breakfast and bad jokes. Now, in 2013, Drake has embarked upon the promo run for his third record, Nothing Was The Same. It hasn’t mattered much, though, because it wasn't long ago that Drake couldn’t get into the backroom of a Miami Heat basketball game. Who said Jewish people had connections?
Lil Dicky says: I’m not sure that there has ever been anyone better than Drake. He can rap his ass off, sing hooks and he’s relatable to white suburban kids, yet appealing to the urban market too. He makes club bangers, slow jams, introspective, laid back, cool rap. He can also go from aggressive rap verses, to singing without any loss of momentum, making him truly the most diverse rapper I’ve ever seen. He’s laid the groundwork for a lot of today’s rappers, whether they want to admit it or not.
Best Jewish reference: “But I really can’t complain, everything is kosher / Two thumbs up, Ebert and Roeper”
On “Don’t Mind If I Do” Mac Miller announces that he has “been a bad little Jew”. Which, when paired with lines about “smoking joints at Bill’s house” and “We just some motha-fuckin’ kids” sounds like both truth and an outtake from a Jon Heder-starring television series that probably needs to be pitched to Comedy Central stat. If you’ve ever done a relgious studies class, or y'know paid attention to the world, then you’ll know that tattoos are frowned upon in the Jewish community, yet, Mac is covered in them. Back in 2010, the Jewish Chronicle, Pittsburgh’s local Jewish paper, asked him if he’d ever taken heat for inking up, to which he replied: “People have said, ‘What if you need to get a job?’ or ‘You can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery,’ but to me, my life is my life. I chose to get tattoos because I love having art on my body to represent who I am.” Which makes his “Hebrew for life” tattoo seem even more like one of those things that you thought was cool at 16, but at 22, you realise is the reason for your self-loathing. He’s also sticking with the totally not offensive Jewish stereotype of being ostentatiously rich, reportedly pocketing $54 million last year, an impressive amount of money when you consider that his first slew of mixtapes were all free. After a doubtful debut album, which leant more toward the insipid frat-boy audience Miller had gained, rather than his original weed smoking lackadaisical street kid fan base, he’s back this year with Watching Movies With The Sound Off, which is probably the best thing that he’s ever made.
Lil Dicky says: Mac is basically the Godfather of the “college rap” scene. He’s transcended that, and become bigger and more mainstream (as in, he casts a bigger net now), but his roots are definitely in that territory. I’m not even sure if he went to college, but it doesn’t matter. The white guy rapping about doing stuff kids do in college is what I mean by “college rap.” Any up-and-coming white, college-aged rapper would be lying if they said Mac’s ascension didn’t give them the confidence to pursue it too.
Best Jewish reference: “Oy Vey”, obviously.
If you’ve never been on Hipster Jew (and if you haven’t, reconsider your online website rotation continuum) then here’s what they have to say about Action Bronson:
Bronson is an enigma. He’s a man you would never describe as a feminist (also he’s unapologetically not politically correct about gays). His songs border on the obsessive when it comes to hookers. But he does enjoy cooking. He’s built like a brick shit house, and has an enormous bushy red beard (blame the Albanian in him). Like many Jews, Bronson’s relationship with Judaism is full of pop culture references, stereotypes, and a basic knowledge of Jewish customs”
Despite being the best rapper to ever cut up his wordplay to the sound of culinary experiences, Bronson has also written a couple of songs about influential Jewish people. On Blue Chips, he has the song “Steve Wynn”, as in the Jewish-American businessman who built the Las Vegas strip. The second part of that sentence being a fun fact to store away in the brain compartment labeled Useless Information For Pub Quizzes. Thank Me Later. Back in 2011, Action also released the track “Barry Horowitz” which is about the Jewish wrestler who was part of the WWF in the 80s.
Lil Dicky says: Action is perfect example of someone looking a lot different than he sounds. He’s massive, grizzled, and relatively intimidating. But once he starts rapping, you know he’s a big teddy bear. I don’t mean that in a bad way, because lyrically, he’s a killer. But, he doesn’t try to be the rap bully that Rick Ross is, even though he looks like the white version of him. He’s just as badass as Rick, but in the laid back kind of way. Smooth flow, unpredictable rhyme scheme and lyrics that make you listen.
Best Jewish reference: “She had a Jewish dad and a Jamaican maid / Started hanging with strippers and dropping the zippers”
The Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys are not only the coolest rap group to appropriate the rap culture of the 80s for a white audience, but also the coolest Jewish rap outfit ever. And how could they not be? For the entirety of their career Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA (RIP) placed expression of personality above anything and everything else, always coming off as true purveyors of the lifestyle of New York City street kids. Alongside making automobile signage fashionable, the Beasties, often with Spike Jonze, made some of the most intriguing, forward-thinking and stoned comedic videos of their era.
Lil Dicky says: The Beastie Boys are a truly iconic rap group that paved the way for a lot of white rappers today. They were the guys that got us white folks respect within the hip-hop community. They broke the colour barrier so to speak, so the few white people in the game should thank them for getting white rappers the opportunity to be taken seriously.
Since we’ve got Lil Dicky with us, and since he likes to write, here’s what he has to say about himself and his role in the Jewish rap world.
Lil Dicky says: Most of the time, when I do a song, I want to achieve two things: impress people musically, and make them laugh. I take a lot of pride in my rap. And humour is just my form of self-expression.
I don’t really rap about serious issues and take myself seriously because my life is privileged, so there’s no struggle to speak of. If I’m going to rap about “my struggle”, it’s going to be light-hearted.A lot of what I do takes elements of mainstream rap, and flips them into a more relatable output. For example, instead of rapping about having a great night out at the club, I rap about how terrible clubs can be, or how joyful staying in is.
If rappers boast about being grimy in a street way, I talk about being grimy hygienically. If you’re a rapper then you’ve got to have an obligatory weed song, but mine is about being TOO high, like, to the point where it’s miserable. I don’t feel the need to be cool all of the time, instead, I try to have fun as a rapper, and use it as a platform to make social commentary. In it’s current state, mainsteam rap is incredibly socially irresponsible. Which means if I’m held to the same standards, I can be pretty absurd with my POV’s as well.
However, there’s a double standard. My music video for “All K”, for example, is age restricted, despite it being similar to every other rap video on the Internet. Just because it’s a well-educated white person doing the rappin, however, it is deemed morally inappropiate. I like how absurd hip-hop is, but has gotten to be a little ridiculous. So few rappers seem to care about the lyrics anymore. So my goal as a rapper is to expose rap’s current state of absurdity with my own absurdity. And maybe in a weird way, it will begin to hold rappers more accountable for their effort and topics. Call it parody, satire, comedy, whatever you want. At the end of the day, my rapping is so on point, that you’ve got no choice but to call it hip hop. That’s the key for me. It’s tough to say I’m just a joke, when I’m out-rapping everyone who’s rapping seriously.
The son of two Israeli expats, Necro, alongside his rapper brother Ill Bill, championed the ever so subtle sub-genre of "death rap" which deviated from hip-hop's usual stomping grounds to incorporate themes of violent sex and the occult, y'know, all the fun stuff. His finest moments include the enormous "Who's Your Daddy" which features parent friendly lines like, "Bitch getting fucked in your ass through your fishnets. Cutting queefs, your bound to eat shit next. A tit fest, I'm fucking dumb blondes till my dick is numb hoe lick the scum. Sticking a gun in your cunt for fun." Oy, what would his mother say?
Remember "Bad Babysitter" coming on The Box at 1am on a school night? Remember being deeply disturbed by Princess Superstar writhing around in a cheerleading outfit? Otherwise known as Concetta Kirschner, the Jewish princess went on to have a couple of below-the-radar lulz tracks before teaming up with Dutch producer, Mason, for the massive fist-pumping remix of "Perfect (Exceeder)", that to this day is played in spinning classes the world over.
Instead of fashioning a shiv every day out of prison sporks and fantasising about ending Diddy, the Belizean rapper apparently spent his infamous incarceration reading up on the Torah. Upon his release in 2009, he went on to convert to Orthodox Judaism, living under the new name of Moses Michael Levi. He also went on to beef with pretty much every rapper doing better than him, including Meek Mill and Kendrick Lamar, which I'm pretty sure is against the Torah's teachings of peace and love, but whutevs.
Honourable mention because he's great and we premiered his video "Potential Fans" on Noisey. Keep up, gentiles.
There was a time when Peaches, aka Merrill Beth Nisker, had a whole generation of liberated (read: sexually confused) female art students crotch-dancing to "Fuck The Pain Away". But way before her cult status, Nisker recounted in an interview with URB magazine that, though only culturally Jewish and not religious, she was a victim of anti-semitism as a kid, with local schoolchildren hurling rocks and calling her "a dirty Jew". Where are those bullies now? Not getting paid to thrust to electro-rap in yeast infection inviting lamé short-shorts I bet.
Well, OBVS! He may have lost the payot ringlets these days, but surely your boy Matisyahu wins the award for most Jewish rapper ever?
Answers on a yarmulke...
Follow Lil Dicky on Twitter @LilDickyTweets
Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanBassil
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