The Rhyme and Reason of Israeli Hip-Hop

Anti-establishment: Hadag Nahash, a popular Israeli hip-hop group, recently released its sixth album, which contained four English-language songs.
Anti-establishment: Hadag Nahash, a popular Israeli hip-hop group, recently released its sixth album, which contained four English-language songs.

Published March 03, 2010, issue of March 12, 2010.
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Hadag Nahash is one of Israel’s most popular hip-hop groups, topping the charts regularly with their politically provocative, genre-bending music. The six-member band recently released their sixth album, appropriately titled “6.” The Forward’s Ezra Glinter spoke with front man Sha’anan Streett about the new album, writing English songs and representing Israeli culture abroad.

How would you say your music has changed since you started Hadag Nahash in 1996?

Every album, we get a little bit less pure hip-hop. We took [this album] to psychedelic places; we took it to reggae places.… We don’t have any English tracks on any other album, and on this one we decided to record four of them.

Do you think the English tracks will boost your popularity with American audiences?

It could be helpful, or maybe the opposite. Maybe it’s easier for them to cope with us as the funkiest thing alive that speaks Hebrew.

Your lyrics are very anti-establishment, but outside Israel, Hadag Nahash often becomes a de facto ambassador for Israeli culture. What’s your reaction to this?

There’s very few good things I can say about any establishment, but Israel is a democracy, and we are allowed to sing what we believe in. So for them, it’s a good way to show that even people who are against the current Israeli government can be successful and have audiences.

Do you ever find yourself the object of anti-Israel protests?

There was one show in Austin, Texas, where there was a demonstration, but I said: “It’s a party tonight. Let’s try to put everything aside; come join the party.” And some of them did.

Do you think your shows can be a venue for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue?

Hadag Nahash is pro any peace activists in the world from any religion. Anybody who’s helping push this region in the direction of peace and not of war, anybody who’s helping push my hometown, Jerusalem, to a state where there’s no more mess, is welcome in our show.

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