Hip hop music and rap was developed in the early 1970’s in the Bronx, New York by urban African Americans. Some of the pioneering rap artists include Kurtis Blow, Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five, Marley Mal, Whodini, Doug E. Fresh, KRS-One, Boogie Down Productions, the Fat Boys, and the Sugar Hill Gang.
These early rappers used a technique known as “scratching” which involves using the hands for manipulation of physical records on turn tables; moving the record back and forth to create a repetitive “scratching” effect.
In 1982, the socially explosive song “The Message” by Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five became a revolutionary message about improving life in urban America. This politically aware song is considered one of the most influential rap songs in history. It is a marriage between political enlightenment, revolutionary social uplift, and pounding hip hop beats.
Today, some of the top rappers in the world include: Tekashi 6ix9ine, Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Post Malone, Jay Z, Eminem, Kanye West, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dog, and Travis Scott. In the United States, hip hop music is the best-selling music in the country according to Billboard magazine.
In the 1990’s, rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. demonstrated the unique ability of hip hop to amplify adversarial messages known as “beefing” and “dissing”. The deaths of both Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. show the ability of “rap beefs” and disagreements to take a realistic and violent turn in real life.
However, what do hip hop and rap music mean for Jewish people and the Land of Israel?
In this post-modern age of high-speed internet and instant entertainment and music steaming, I think hip hop and rap music can transmit Judaism and Jewish values to the younger generations. With Apple headphones or Dr. Dre Beats audio, millions of young Jews currently listen to the latest, cutting edge rap music by artists such as Lil Uzi Vert, Juice Wrld, and XXXTentacion.
I encourage rabbis, roshei yeshivot, and Jewish educators to incorporate rap music in Jewish learning. Just as traditional Jewish singers such as Yaakov Shwekey, Ohad, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and Avraham Fried teach Jewish values to older generations; rappers such as Drake can educate the next generation in Jewish tradition and Torah values.
Why can’t rap music teach young Jews how to pray Shacharit, Mincha, and Maariv? Why can’t hip hop teach Jewish teens about the 613 mitzvot or commandments? Why can’t Jewish rappers such as Drake encourage young Jews to put on Tefillin daily? Why can’t hip hop teach young people to follow the Kosher or Kashrut laws?
To promote Judaism among young people, I am a rapper by the name 21 Rothschild who uses hip hop to promote Torah values and love of the Land of Israel.
Uniquely, I was born and raised in the hip hop capital of East Long Beach, California; and later I lived in the most religious Jewish town in the world, B’nai Brak, Israel. I am a marriage between African American hip hop lyricism and savage beats with hardcore Yiddishkeit, Torah-awareness dipped in gefilte fish, herring, and lox and bagels; wrapped in the light of Shabbat candles.
As 21 Rothschild, I hope to utilize the earthquake-like beats of hip hop to promote tshuva or return to Torah observance. I also wish to encourage a worldwide embrace of the Land of Israel, the Jewish Temple, Torah study, love of Kabbalah, with emphasis on Hasidic Judaism.
When I met the Lubavicher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, he encouraged me to become a “Jewish leader” or “Manhig Yehudi”. I intend to use rap and hip hop to fulfill the profound prophesy of the Rebbe by spreading Jewish values throughout the world.
“May HaShem, the God of Israel, utilize hip hop and rap music to spread the love and power of Judaism to people around the world. Amen.”