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!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • 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.