When Jews and Blacks Got Along Better Than Ever — in Hip-Hop World

Rap Stars Pay Homage to the Relationship Between the Two Communities

Rap Cantor? In the largely NSFW song ‘Work,’ A$AP Ferg asserted, ‘I be out tomorrow, my lawyer’s Jewish.’
Getty Images
Rap Cantor? In the largely NSFW song ‘Work,’ A$AP Ferg asserted, ‘I be out tomorrow, my lawyer’s Jewish.’

By Gon Ben Ari

Published December 31, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

History tends to treat the largely cordial relationship between African-Americans and Jews as a thing that ended around 1991, in Crown Heights. But in 2013, hip-hop was one place where Jews and African Americans got along just fine.

Some of the most talked about releases in hip-hop this year were recorded by Jewish artists: Drake, Mac Miller and Action Bronson. But 2013 also saw a slew of Jewish mentions in hip-hop. “I be out tomorrow, my lawyer’s Jewish,” sang A$AP Ferg in January’s “Work.” “He put in work, got these n—-s going bezerk.” By August, a YouTube video compilation went viral, showing rappers Kanye West, Cam’ron, Killer Mike, Gucci Mane and Jay-Z thanking their Jewish lawyers in songs; a huge Star of David bling adorned the cover of Rick Ross’s latest “The Black Bar Mitzvah.”

But is the relationship only financial? Taking as examples Rick Rubin, Lyor Cohen, the Beastie Boys, and Matisyahu, it seems that hip-hop has always beat someplace in the Hebrew chest itself. Jewish prayer is probably the closest thing to hip-hop in terms of words sung in high speed. Larry David has pointed out the resemblance between hip-hop’s “-izzle” suffix and Yiddish; Sarah Silverman has noted that “Yo!” is the reverse of “Oy!” Perhaps these similarities are the result of the Caribbean influence at the roots of hip-hop. Singing about “Zion,” the Rastafarians chant “yeah,” “jah” and “hey,” recalling sacred names of God in Hebrew.

Does hip-hop practice Kabbalah? This may sound far-fetched. But looking at the cover of Ab-Soul’s last hit album “ILLuminate,” which features the sacred blueprint of the kabbalistic Tree of Life, it seems the mystic and the historic aspects are really one and the same. A large portion of Jewish faith is rooted in the recognition of God as matir asurim, the Unchainer of Slaves. And hip-hop and Judaism have always been all about breaking out of slavery. In slavery-aware 2013, hip-hop’s fascination with Jewish money-making may be read as an appreciation of a similarly persecuted minority’s survival mechanism.

Seattle ex-gangsta rapper D. Black converted to Judaism, changed his name to Nissim, and this year released “Sores.” The single, featuring a hazan, weaves together the narratives of a Holocaust survivor and a black slave. Maybe this is what 2013 had been: an act of recognition between two traumas.

Gon Ben Ari is an Israeli writer currently living in Brooklyn. His second novel, ‘Sequoia Children’ is being translated into Hebrew.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.