A Zionist Hip-Hop Stance Comes to Lollapalooza

By Dimitri Ehrlich

Published June 04, 2004, issue of June 04, 2004.
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When “Reagan Baby,” the debut album by Ross Golan and Molehead, arrived in the mail, I almost tossed it in my “interesting-looking indie releases” pile, the batch of CDs that, if there were infinite time, I might one day get around to listening to — but there is not, and so I probably wouldn’t.

But then something caught my eye. The album, with a cover featuring a crude black-and-white image of Ronald Reagan offering a blithe smile that seems both vapid and venomous, was accompanied by a biography of the artist. It included the usual leftist political postures one might expect of a 24-year-old rapper-rocker — references to America’s role in arming Saddam Hussein in the early 1980s, etc., etc., etc. — but something unexpected, as well.

Something pro-Israel.

There, buried in the fine print, was what could be described only as a Zionist hip-hop stance. In Golan’s condensed version of the history of the world, he mentions the Six Day War not as an expansionist land grab, but instead as a defensive war: “June 5-10, 1967: Arabs Invade Israel Commencing the Six-Day War.”

Golan’s subtle Zionist slant would not be so shocking had most young leftists I know not been involved in a bear hug with the Palestinian cause for the last decade or so. Golan’s unabashedly pro-Israel attitude, however, is the only way in which he strays from a typical college student’s platform of distrust for the Man. And the Woman, for that matter. In “Martha Stewart,” a song written long before the lifestyle guru was convicted, Golan skewers Stewart and presciently addresses the larger issue of corporate crime, while crooning “Goodbye, Martha, my dear” over a fast-paced pop-punk progression.

“The song is really directed to the SEC and how big business used her as a scapegoat,” said Golan in an interview with the Forward. “Rather than saying goodbye to anybody at Tyco and Enron, we’re saying goodbye to Martha. Also, ‘Goodbye, Ken Lay, my dear’ doesn’t work as well as a lyric.”

The album ends with “Blinded by the Right,” a scathing assault on the Bush administration. (“You could be president if your daddy was first/If your brother the governor had the power to coerce…”)

It’s not exactly typical pop music fodder. Yet, Golan’s ear for smart, insistent hooks helps even his most stridently political content go down easy. And it may be what makes his stand on one issue in particular — Israel — very evocative.

The album skates from rap to rock to pop ballads, making stops at every musical permutation along the way, unified mainly by Golan’s political and social consciousness. “Reagan Baby” begins with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, recorded live at a grade school in north Chicago. Nineteen seconds later, a song called “Move” begins, with a mashing mix of acoustic blues guitar and a thudding funk groove. The lyrics are an odd mix of Jewish historical narrative and hip-hop bombast, delivered in Golan’s slightly nasal white-boy vocal assault:

“Welcome to Europe come on in/One ignorant inquisition/The Spanish killed those who weren’t Christian/The pogroms were an imposition/Forced out by the angry Russians/The Germans killed 12 million by crushing/The U.N. sent them back where they came from/To fight outnumbered 60 to one for Zion… /Arafat sending boy to blow up his own face/Begging to not die in vain/Back in 1967, 5735/In the place near heaven/A country a third the size of L.A./Conquered four armies in six days/Another widow thrown to her knees/What will it take to live in peace?”

“We have to fight for this land because we are a culture that has survived — not just the Holocaust,” said Golan. “I am not pro Israel do-or-die, though I tend to agree with Israeli diplomacy and I agree with the movement of Zionism. But I also have to recognize that there were certain situations where Palestinians were neglected; it would be naive of me to say otherwise. Certainly there have been times when Israel’s aggression toward the Palestinians may have been more aggressive than I would have liked, as a diplomat. But I don’t work for the Knesset.”

Golan, who describes himself as an independent when it comes to American politics, seems clearly aligned with the left on almost every issue. But his lyrics reveal a mind that is content with ambiguity and complexity.

“There’s just as much ignorance in the conservative or liberal side,” the singer said. “Whether it’s Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken — though I agree more with Al Franken — if you’re diehard, you’re picking out things that are unfair and inappropriate. Bush has done some things that were correct. I can’t argue with going after the Taliban in Afghanistan. But some people will say anything Bush did was terrible.”

In general, such nuanced views are a recipe for obscurity, as only the simplest sound bytes tend to resonate with the masses. But Golan, who recently was offered a slot performing on this summer’s Lollapalooza Tour, may wind up finding an audience after all. Note to the outdoor festival’s surging crowds of teens: As they bob their heads to “Move,” a rad fusion of Zionist hip-hop rock, they may have no idea it’s a pro-Israel jam, but Golan doesn’t mind. The Zion train is coming their way.

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