There’s an old Israeli song that goes “Good Jewish boy, go home”, telling the “good Jewish boy” from America to go back to America. There is no place for “good” boys in Israel. It is a place of harsh climate and harsh neighbors. One must be as strong as they are loyal. It is a place not for those who aim to please but for those who are willing to be real and flawed and themselves. And that is what Rami Even-Esh, aka rapper Kosha Dillz works to be, as he builds a new life, seeks success in life and career, and fits himself into the talented and vibrant Israeli music scene.
Talking to Rami isn’t easy. He is always working, constantly on the phone, responding to promoters, to people on the guest list, posting on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, whether it is about his new single “Nobody Cares Except You” or about Israel. “I just posted about Israel because Israeli doctors.” They are honored by the UN for saving Palestinian kids. ”I tweeted: ‘I wanted to post this because it’s nice to have good news about Israel for once’.” He says this to me as we drink Cappuccino from large clear glasses at Streets, a Tel Aviv café on Ibn Gvirol Street. His shirt is sweaty after wrestling and JiuJitsu at a local MMA and Wrestling Club. His head is clean shaved and he wears a small pink camouflage “Duck Dynasty” hat. As I ask him another question, he dips a spoon into my cup and pulls out an eyelash.
Life of a Jewish pro-Israel American rapper who is not in the top 10 is not unlike the life of most creatives. Before moving to Tel Aviv, Rami lived in Los Angeles, bouncing from gig to gig. Sometimes a chance freestyle session outside the Grammys landed him opportunities at parties and licensing deals. These would bring in some cash that seem like a lot, but realistically $50,000 one time license deal doesn’t go far. So he hustled there and he hustles here, working full time at making a life as a modern day poet.
He landed in Tel Aviv a month and a half ago on a plane with four other wrestlers including future Israeli Olympian and a Duke all-American Mitch Finesilver. Rami wrestled since he was eight, earning a spot on the Rutgers University NCAA Division 1 team. Collegiate wrestling is grueling, difficult and time and mind consuming. So in spite of being on the team, or because of it, depression, anxiety, ADHD lead to difficulty at school and drug issues. He speaks of it in his song “15 years later”, of life with drug addiction, of turning to selling drugs, of nearly being killed, which lead him to jail and eventually rehab.
Rami and I switch topics often, we talk about how it is hard to be Jewish in United States, where the society dictates such that you are not allowed to be too poor, be a bad example or be too wealthy. The role for most American Jews is relegated to upper middle class where you are not too powerful but can also show that you are contributing. This is what Rami’s parents, a nurse and an engineer immigrants from Israel accomplished, it is what his brothers who got married and built businesses created. So one can imagine how difficult is the path for a Jew with a criminal record in a field where success comes to a tiny few and usually not Jews. Ironically, once Rami left rehab, it was his love for Israel and rap that saved him. While selling cemetery plots door to door, a Jewish organizations spotted his talent and his Jewishness, inviting him to events where for the first time he began to be paid for his rapping, “For the first time I said, ‘Wow, I can be paid for this?'”. But if you read articles in Jewish press, you will rarely see mention of his drug use or his songs that don’t deal with Jewish issues. A shame because Rami has a unique life perspective and many unique songs that add to the American rap genre more than just his Zionism and Judaism.
One such song is his new single. This single is released the day we talk which is also a year after Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh. His new single is seemingly appropriately named “Nobody Cares Except You” produced by Sam Barsh. Appropriately because although Jews in America hear sympathy, we see no change as attacks increase in intensity and ferocity against the community. The song itself is sad. that was produced by Rami in United States. Listening to it you feel the ethos of a man in a country who feels all alone, the rugged individualism that United States requires of people and a community where Jewish people feel more and more isolated. “How do you feel about the song in Israel,” I ask Rami. “I feel different about it. People help each other here. I invite popular people to come to the show but I don’t feel bad when they say they can’t come.” Israel is a more “communist” country. Israel survived not thanks to rugged individualism but thanks to the Jewish people coming together, dropping their individuality and risking everything for a new state and new future. This is taken for granted by people in US, but you feel this communal behavior in Israel, regardless of the capitalism in shops.
In Israel, Rami like many Jews was able to discover his full identity. Within a few weeks of arriving, he was already on twitter with a Zionist Israeli Twitter personality Hen Mazig, performing alongside Hassidic rockers at the Ozen Bar, and opening at the Tel Aviv music venue the Barbie for Lucille Crew, a popular Israeli act. Rami said that performing at the Barbie in Tel Aviv “was my dream.”
That night I go to see him perform. I see a young artist a month after arriving, after performing in US with Matisyahu and Snoop Dog in United States, with a complete restart as a relative unknown in Israel, performing and touring with a local well-known band. When he opens up for Lucille, he has to warm up the crowd of Israelis who have never seen him and are notorious for being hard to win over. By the end of his set, everyone seems happy, upbeat. They throw their arms up in the air. Rami is pumped up but exhausted after working so hard to get the crowd into the act.
Afterwards, he can’t hangout the backstage. He has abstained from alcohol for fifteen years, and he doesn’t have a “crew” yet to sell his merchandize. So he hangs out back selling merch with Jake Herriotts, a new American Oleh and proprietor of The Pickle Jar.
The performance is over but the day is only beginning as Rami continues to promote the new song on social media, talks to people, sells shirts all in order to succeed, to afford life, a family and a career in one of the world’s most expensive cities. At the same time, create a new Israeli culture for a new Israeli state as he becomes a new member of the non-liturgical music culture resurrected after 2000 years.
You can find Rami’s music and performance dates in Israel and United States on his website: koshadillzworld.com .