Kendrick Lamar ‘Not Committed’ To Cousin’s Hebrew Israelite Group

Despite some speculation, rap superstar Kendrick Lamar does not belong to the Hebrew Israelite organization of which his cousin is a member, according to the group’s leader.

“He is not committed to IUIC. So, just be aware of that,” Bishop Nathanyel, the founder and leader of Israel United In Christ, a New York-based Israelite group, said in a video uploaded Friday morning. Nathanyel appears to be responding to queries about whether Lamar was a formal member.

Still, Nathanyel said, “we do wish the brother Kendrick well. We pray he stay strong in the spirit.”

“It’s going to be a hard road once he admit he’s an Israelite,” Nathanyel said.

Nathanyel addressed the camera while sitting next to Lamar’s cousin and IUIC member Carl Duckworth, who goes by Karni Ben Israel. Israel introduced his cousin to Hebrew Israelite beliefs months earlier, teaching him in personal Bible sessions.

These Bible lessons made such an impression that Lamar included on his latest album, “Damn,” a voicemail from Israel reciting Hebrew Israelite doctrine. Elsewhere on that album, Lamar also recited, “I’m an Israelite, don’t call me black no more,” a line that Hebrew Israelites celebrated as an endorsement of their movement.

Hebrew Israelites are people of color, mostly African American, who identify as genealogical descendants of the biblical Israelites. The movement is diverse in its own right, and there are multiple branches or denominations.

IUIC traces its organizational history to a school formed in Harlem in 1969 that has splintered over the past decades. IUIC members are recognizable by their purple-and-gold clothing and the group has a very strong online presence, including weekly video broadcasts.

IUIC is a hierarchical organization, with Nathanyel presiding over the group’s international headquarters in New York City. It does not appear that Nathanyel, a former New York City detective, knew about Lamar’s familial connection to his own group before the album was released.

Lamar’s lyrics were celebrated by members of IUIC and other Israelite groups in recent weeks. Memes of Lamar wearing Israelite clothing circulated. Videos of group members rapping to Lamar’s music were uploaded online.

However, some IUIC members did show discomfort with what they saw as the “worldly” or “sinful” elements of Lamar’s latest album. “I wouldn’t suggest just going out and buying the album,” one member known as Deacon Abbayael said during a Periscope video. “And the only reason I’m saying that [is that] we want our people to come out of sin.”

In the Friday video, Israel sat next to Nathanyel and addressed him as “sir” as the two spoke from inside an RV in Jacksonville, Florida. Responding to prompts from Nathanyel, Israel said he is in touch with his cousin and is still teaching him.

“He text me and said there is a lot of… people flipping on him now,” Israel said. “I just constantly try to answer all the questions that he ask me — or I look to the leadership, you know, for questions that I don’t understand.”

Contact Sam Kestenbaum at or on Twitter, @skestenbaum


Sam Kestenbaum

Sam Kestenbaum

Sam Kestenbaum is a staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.

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Kendrick Lamar ‘Not Committed’ To Cousin’s Hebrew Israelite Group

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