Hip Hop came from the streets of the Bronx growing amidst the ashes of burnt buildings and faded dreams. The wasteland of the now gentrified New York City was slowly cutting away at the help certain people were getting. Hip Hop was created from the parties that were mainly seen as an escape from the harsh realities right outside the doors. These communities were predominantly African American and Latino. So, the question is can white boys feel that? Or, can Jew boys feel that?
Through out the past decade Jews have lived in certain run down neighborhoods. Not all Jews escaped to the suburbs, leaving them behind to dwell in areas that were not all bright and lovely. I, for example, moved here from Israel after my parents divorced and my brothers and I lived in the middle class area of New Haven, CT. However, unlike some of my friends my brothers and I couldn’t get funding for the magnet school. Living with two brothers and my mother who was working different jobs (Big Ups to Mom – Imma) made the funds very limited while my father was still in Israel. So, I was sent to the local public school, which was predominantly black and latino. Jews, to this day, live in run down and not so pleasant areas so they have a sense of the ghetto. However, it should be clear that most Jewish Americans live comfortable lives in the suburbs, but there are still some stuck in the cracks.
In a past blog post I wrote on the Beastie Boys and how they were the first white Hip Hop group to make it big. They exposed the larger white audiences to the art and became the faces of Hip Hop by 1986. To certain critics, Hip-Hop veterans, and purist fans of the genre the Beastie Boys seemed like a novelty act with no substantial serious form. These voices were also not amused at the national recognition white men received by co-opting a black art form. Thus far in the history of Hip-Hop there were no white groups or rappers, until the Beasties came onto the scene. The question of their authenticity and co-opting of a black musical style was debated during the height of their popularity. One issue of contention was when they were put on the cover of Spin magazine, being the first Hip-Hop group to receive the honor. The cover, in 1987, caused two types of controversy, first being their seriousness as artists, and second being that they were white. One of the angry letters speaking about the race issue came from journalist Harry Allen, Known as the Media Assassin, affiliated with the Hip-Hop group Public Enemy. In his letter he decries how a black culture coming from the streets became popularized by these white men who did not participate in its development. In his opening line he lays out his fury for several reasons writing that, “Your decision to put a white rap crew on the cover of your magazine as SPIN’s front page presentation of hip-hop betrays 1) the inherent phoniness of your “alternative” stance, 2) your lack of facility with nascent black musical forms, and 3) your own racism.”
It should be noted that when the Beastie Boys met Rick Rubin he groomed them, as well as influenced their attitudes. Their crass jokes and attitudes were his influences along with their growing sense of excessiveness, homophobia and misogyny. Also, if you look at their earliest group photos you notice they are wearing the new black style. They donned do rags and addidas track suits, along with their DJ Rick Rubin. When they first performed for black audiences they were booed offstage. Russell Simmons, Rubin’s label partner, saw them and thought they were out of place, or to quote him “Assholes.” Once they stripped that and started wearing the jeans, NYC T-shirts and of course MCA’s leather jacket things changed. They should be viewed as serious artists no matter and this also shows how audiences crave the authentic, or at least their notion of the authentic, like blackface a century earlier.
The debate still rages, as it did when rapper Eminem and the Source magazine spoke of race and authenticity in Hip-Hop music, and the dispute between authenticity and the coopting of a black musical form keeps being tackled by many scholars, authors, and artists.
Music is intangible and Jews have managed to form their own niche of Hip Hop history. To this very day, as I’ve been writing on, Jewish MC’s are dropping music all over the internet, and in many other forms for future heads.
Keep on reading and Shabbat Shalom for now.