Celebrate Hip Hop

An unusually uninteresting cover. Someone's idea of hip hop hip?

Celebrate Hip Hop, 2004
Sweet Louise Music, 2004

Craig n Co.
PO Box 601-115
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
To order, visit www.celebrateseries.com or call (US/Canada) 1-800-6-craig-8.

What is most fascinating about this hip hop collection is the languages and cultures it represents. Indeed, this collection seems designed to emphasize the wide variety of Jewish cultures and Jewish approaches to hip hop more than some underlying unity. Good thing. With the possible exception of Israel, where there is a vital Israeli hip hop community that is primarily Jewish (if politically and musically still diverse), most of these artists seem to be exploring hip hop first, and Jewish second. In at least one case (Hop Hop Hoodíos) I would complain that the song anthologized here, the vastly over-anthologized "Ocho Kandelikas" has more to do with "acceptable to the widest possible audience" than with representing a hip hop sense of Jewish identity (or Jewish sense of hip hop identity). A song like "Kike on a Mike" from the Raza Hoodia EP would have been far more revealing—and fun.

It is to the Israeli hip that I find myself most drawn. Hip hop is a perfect medium for the conflicts inherent in the many fracture lines of Israeli society. In this regard, the bi-lingual rap of "Sagol 59" is especially revealing, talking of social corruption, religious conflict, in Hebrew and English. The Hebrew rap is especially sharp, reminiscent of the Dylanist ramblings of Yankele Rothblit on his first (very pre-rap) solo album 30 years ago, singing of ye-ush (alienation) as though Hebrew were the natural language of rap. "Mook E"s "Cross that Bridge" is also intriguing, focusing on the general political conflict between Jew and Palestinian and the new Intifada.

Some of the English-language pieces do touch on Jewish identity. "Only the wise" by Blood of Abraham mentions Jewish themes in brief, while primarily focus on general identity. The "Hiphopkele" by Solomon & Socalled, from the brilliant "HipHopKhasene" is a marvellous deconstruction of Second Avenue Yiddish, less overt commentary, than a recontextualization of that iconography into hip hop; a distancing and fracturing that could also be said to represent the shattering of the all-encompassing Yiddishkeit of that earlier generation with the shards of many identities with which Jews (Americans with thousands of interests, among them their Jewish descent) construct their identities in the 21st century. Then the English band Emunah's selection, with its switch into Hebrew prayer at one point still seems more general than Jewish, as is Etan G's "South Side of the Synagogue". The most intriguing of the American pieces might easily be MC Hy with a very connected, Jewishly contextualized "Get your head out". On the political side that defines much of Jewish identity today, Remedy's "Muslim and a Jew" makes a lovely political statement, but I'm not sure that the lyrics go particularly deep. It may be that the significance lies in the attempt and intent. It's counter may be Antithesis' "Just Peace" making an unambiguous defense of the Israeli side of politics.

Some of the cuts I can't speak to—the music of iSQUAD is pretty interesting, but I have no way of decoding the Russian lyrics. In a sense this highlights a problem with which rock fans have wrestled for years (or, to a lesser extent—here the words are at least Jewish—fans of the newer "campfire-style" Jewish chazzanut, a la Debbie Friedman). Is it Jewish if the rhythm, beat, melody are indistinguishable from the surrounding culture? (But, of course, depending on content or context! Otherwise we'd lose entire genres of religious song going back thousands of years!)

So, here's the thing. As might be expected, Jews are making some exciting hip hop. Outside of Israel, I'm not convinced that there is an explicitly Jewish hip hop presence, any more than there is really anything like "Jewish rock" (although there is a huge Orthodox Jewish market for Jewish banality set to rock). At the same time, Jewish Hip Hop has come a long way from the self-hating shtick of "Two Live Jews". There is enough here worth listening to, and listening to again, that anyone interested in Jewish music, hip hop or otherwise, will really enjoy this recording. For someone whose hip hop experience is less than mainstream—have I gotten a new hip hop CD since, say, Saul Williams' political stuff of a few years ago?—this is a revelation of diversity, however weak some of the "Jewish" content seems to be on some cuts. More than anything, this is a collection of excellent music. Highly recommended on its own terms, or as a good starting point to explore hip hop, Jewish or otherwise.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 11/28/04


  1. Ocho Kandelikas, by Hip Hop Hoodíos, from Raza Hoodía, 2002 (J. Norek/H. Sanchez/J. Calpo) 3:32
  2. Cross that Bridge, by Mook E, from Shema Yisrael 3:22
  3. I'm Guessing, by Brimstone127, from Metamorphoses 5:47
  4. Big Ben, by the Sagol 59, from "The Two Sides of Purple 59" 6:19
  5. Only the Wise by Blood of Abraham, from Eyedollartree 4:40
  6. Hiphopkele by Solomon & Socalled, from HipHopKhasene 3:27
  7. Sweetness, by Emunah, from self-titled EP 4:40
  8. History, by iSQUAD, from Hyperlink 2:37
  9. Muslim and a Jew, by Remedy, from Code: Red 3:47
  10. South Side of the Synagogue, by Etan G., from South Side of the Synagogue 4:09
  11. Get your head out, by MC Hy, from Babylon & Beyond 5:36
  12. Just Peace, by Antithesis, from The Israel Question 5:08

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