In a field dominated by gangsters and tough images, an unlikely faction has emerged in the hip hop/rap genre. While their cultural heritage may not be as painstakingly obvious as it is for rappers like Kosha Dillz, white Jewish hip hop artists are beginning to make a name for themselves in the music industry.
Arie Hasit, a rabbinical student from New Jersey currently living in Jerusalem, wrote his college thesis at Harvard University on Israeli hip hop and its social impact. He says that “there is the prevalent notion that white people are not meant to do hip-hop,” but sees “no reason it [hip hop] shouldn’t break color and ethnic barriers.”
“Jews have been involved with hip hop since fairly early on in hip hop’s commercial stage, most notably with the Beastie Boys and [Israeli Def Jam producer] Lyor Cohen,” Hasit said.
Eli Kamerow, better known as KAM Royal, is an unsigned rapper from Washington D.C. currently studying at Tulane University. He spent a semester of high school living in Israel, where he was one of Hasit’s students, and as he slowly inches his way into the limelight, he recognizes the importance of his religion and how it sets him apart as an artist.
“I embrace my Judaism and it shapes who I am as a person,” Kamerow said. “Because I rap about my life, Jewish culture and thoughts inevitably find their way into the music… It would be dishonest for me not to allow my Judaism to influence my artistry.”
Kamerow has performed with fellow Jewish artists Mac Miller and Timeflies and has worked with Jewish music producers. He also hopes to someday collaborate with Matisyahu, the reggae-turned-pop star who is arguably the face of Judaism in the music industry today. Kamero says that he “bonded with Cal and Rez [of Timeflies] over the fact that [they’re] all Jewish.”
Most white rappers immediately draw comparisons to Eminem, the godfather of Caucasian rap, and Kamerow acknowledges that it is inevitable for white rappers to be associated with one another.
“Now I don’t think all white rappers sound alike but there certainly are some that do,” Kamerow said. “And I don’t think it’s surprising that some sound alike as many white artists come from similar backgrounds and have similar life stories.”
Other white Jewish rappers are rising to fame in mainstream rap and hip hop. Some up-and-coming and some already well-established, they have made their case in this rapidly-evolving genre. Although most Jewish hip hop artists do not come off as religious as Matisyahu, who recently left Orthodox Judaism behind, their religion does tie them together as a new wave of Jewish artists hits the music industry.
Steven Markowitz began his career under the name “Steve Witz” as part of a rap duo from the University of Pennsylvania that won MTVU’s Best Music on Campus Award in 2009. Markowitz later moved to the Bay Area and worked at Google by day and wrote lyrics and performed by night. Soon, Markowitz left Google to pursue his music career as Hoodie Allen.
Markowitz, 23, has released three mixtapes, including “Leap Year” in 2011, which includes a song titled “James Franco,” named after the Paly alum. His first full-length album, “All American,” was released in April 2012 and peaked at 10 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200.
Having toured with the likes of Mike Posner, Chiddy Bang and The Cataracs, Markowitz is on the express train for fame, especially after his hit single “No Interruption,” which has nearly 6 million hits on YouTube. Hailing from Long Island, Markowitz acts as the Jewish-boy-next-door in the music industry and has more of a pop edge to his raps. His minimally explicit lyrics reminisce on relationships and having fun and are the perfect tracks to listen to in the car or at a party.
Markowitz will be performing at Castilleja School on Nov. 30 from 8-11 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online for $15 and will not be sold at the door.
Cal Shapiro and Rob “Rez” Resnick, both 22, met at Tufts University where they were both members of the funk/hip-hop band “The Ride”. The two went on to form their own duo, Timeflies, in 2010 and currently live in New York City. Their music strives to break through the norms of music genres and create a pop-hip-hop-rap-electronic-dubstep hybrid by incorporating Shapiro’s vocals and Resnick’s unique instrumentals.
In two short years, Timeflies have amassed 100 thousand followers on both Facebook and Twitter, as well as 36 million views on YouTube. They have been called “musical masterminds” by Vanity Fair and in May 2012, MTV named Timeflies as a musical group that is “About to Break.”
Every Tuesday, the duo releases a video on YouTube aptly named “Timeflies Tuesdays.” In these videos, Resnick lays down unique mixes of popular tracks, such as “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen and “Without Me” by Eminem, as well as samples songs you never would have thought could be rap beats, like “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles and “Carry on my Wayward Son” by Kansas. Hidden in these videos is perhaps the best kept secret in America in Shapiro’s innate freestyling abilities. Picking out words or phrases from a hat and turning them into rhymes on the spot is not unheard of, but Shapiro’s talent for creating unique lyrics on the spot that actually have meaning and are often witty is second to none.
Timeflies released their first album, “The Scotch Tape,” in 2011 and came out with a mixtape titled “Under the Influence” earlier this year. Both contain original songs with more electro-dubstep beats by Resnick, yet their rise to fame highlighting Shapiro’s freestyling capabilities (and singing) via social media should never be forgotten.
If you have not heard of Mac Miller by now, you either live in an old age home or only listen to Beethoven and Bach. At only 20 years old, Malcolm James McCormick has made a name for himself by being one of the music industry’s latest wild childs.
McCormick had his bar mitzvah at age 13 and released his first mixtape two years later while still attending high school in his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. Since then, he has released one extended play (EP) and a handful of mixtapes, most notably “K.I.D.S.” and “Best Day Ever,” in addition to being signed to Rostrum Records, the label of fellow Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa, in 2010. “Donald Trump,” his most popular single to date, has garnered 70 million hits on YouTube.
One of Billboard’s “21 Under 21,” McCormick released his much-anticipated debut album, “Blue Slide Park,” in July 2011, which peaked at number one, and he is reportedly working on a second one to be released sometime in 2013.
A self-taught musician, McCormick has learned to play the piano, guitar, bass and drums, and of course, how to have fun. His lyrics often advertise his carefree approach to life and the fact that partying, women and getting high are his three favorite pastimes are no secret and have turned him into a crowd favorite.