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!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • 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.