More Jewish Rap? That’s Chutzpah

By Anthony Weiss

Published December 09, 2005, issue of December 09, 2005.
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Chutzpah — “the world’s first Jewish hip hop supergroup” — is roughly what you would expect a Jewish novelty hip-hop group to be, provided you didn’t think too hard: On its newly released, eponymously named album the group raps about Hanukkah and about nagging mothers, throws in a smattering of Yiddish and peppers its lyrics with references to “the Tribe.”

What’s that you say? Jewish rap has been done? Well, let’s see: There’s been 2 Live Jews, Members of the Tribe, 50 Shekel (who now goes by his given name, Aviad Cohen), reggae rapper Matisyahu and a few score others. (And of course, long before any of them, there were the Beastie Boys.)

But wait, wait. These Jewish rappers know celebrities. Their mockumentary DVD, “Chutzpah — This Is?” includes appearances by Gary Oldman, Sharon Osbourne and ’80s heavy metal band Def Leppard’s Vivian Campbell. It features George Segal as rap pioneer Dr. Dreck. (Segal does not actually rap with Chutzpah.)

The group’s three permanent members are Master Tav, MC Meshugenah, and Jewdah (born as Tor Hyams, Jerran Friedman, and David Scharff, respectively). Hyams brought in the celebrities from his career as a film composer, songwriter, record producer and Los Angeles preschool father.

He insists that Chutzpah is not just a novelty group: “Isn’t that racist? Why can’t Jews rap?” Rather, Hyams said, Chutzpah uses humor to convey a serious message. The message? “It all comes down to One Tribe.” In other words, Jewish unity, human unity, etc.

Serious or not, Chutzpah’s message is finding an audience. The group’s music video for “Chanukah’s da Bomb” is now appearing on MTV Online and on Video on Demand; Chutzpah is touring venues around the country, and, in perhaps the group’s surest sign of success, has been hired to play at a fancy bar mitzvah on New York’s Upper East Side.

Chutzpah’s rise confirms Hyams’s original instinct on entering the Jewish hip-hop world: “I felt like I was better than anything I had heard.”

Now that’s chutzpah.

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