This immortal line was made famous, and used more than once, by Russell Simmons about his cohorts at Def Jam Recordings beefing it out. The main characters behind the beef were Jews, in one case he was speaking of Rick Rubin and Lyor Cohen’s beefing. This was basically a power move made by the unknown Cohen in the Def Jam family, while Rubin was frustrated while looking for a way out.
Let us zoom far out of this moment of micro-history and veer to the bigger picture. The words Russell was intimating mean a lot, especially with regards to African-Americans’ perceptions of Jews. In my unwavering research through the many rap lyrics, made by both Jews and non-Jews, I found a few common threads. Unfortunately, African-Americans have lumped Jews into the perceived stereotypical categories, but this is not at all universal. Like the multifaceted and multi-various ways Jews view themselves within their own identity, African-Americans are shaped by many influences with regards to their perceptions of Jews. Hip-Hop is a pure form of expression, so it’s natural to investigate these many artists and their words. So, let the borthas speak!!!
Let us start where it really hurts, the bank account. The old world notion that Jews are greedy goes all the way back to the Middle Ages in Western Europe. Jews were identified with money due to their roles as local tax collectors. They were chosen by Christians to do this job due to the sin of usury. Usury is when you borrow money, while having to pay it back with interest. The dynamic would be advantageous to the Christians because when people could not pay, they usually took out their grievances, violently, on their Jewish tax collectors. Kings of kingdoms in areas such as France, England, and Spain to name a few kicked out their Jews in order to avoid payment. This concept of Jewish frugality, or even the more common greediness, remains prevalent as various people personalized their stereotypes. Unfortunately, the stereotype has prevailed and remains in part thanks to the rappers who make it all possible.
There are many examples of the use of frugality like Kanye West’s “Rock the Mic Freestyle” where he raps that “Keep me cool, No dimes but baby here go the family jewels, I’m tight with my doe like my family Jews, Uh,” Interesting how he flips the idea with regards to his genatelia, but here he’s tight with money like his family Jews, or probably Jews he’s acquianted with. Jay Z has dropped numerous Jew-shout outs for his numerous Jewish businessmen. On his track “This Can’t Be Life” he rhymes that, “I was born to do it, born to make bomb music, I flow tight like I was born Jewish.” Tight-wad Jews holding their wallets close, but Jay Z give them honest credit as well.
Interestingly enough Drake came back at Jay-Z, or actually he responds in a joking manner on his track “Still Drake,” using the beat from Dr. Dre’s track “Still Dre.” Drake rhymes that, “I was born to do it, born to make bomb music, I flow tight like I was born Jewish, Well, actually I was born Jewish.”
Busta Rhymes belted out on his track “Pass the Courvoisier, Part 1” from his album The Genesis that, “We holdin’ Jewish money now, down to the credit card, different from yours.” It is different as his international call for holding Jewish currency, which is Shekels in Hebrew, but he hasn’t dealt with Arab money yet.
There are plenty more, but this last one I realized has caused more ire, as well as confusion. The Clipse, comprising of Pusha T and his brother No Malice, were a powerhouse releasing three strong albums that were Neptune/Pharrel riddled with amazing beats and introspective lyrics of the Virginia crack game. On one of their tracks, from their Hell Hath No Fury album, they talk about cooking cocaine in pyrex cookware. However, Malice decided to use this frugal Jewish stereotype by rhyming that, “It cooks to a tight wad, the pyrex is Jewish.” Bizarre place of the term, yet it came to him and he used the verse.
Another very popular stereotype is the image of the Jewish lawyer. This image is strewn through out many rap lyrics as these artists thank, at times jokingly, their Jewish lawyers.
There are many examples of this, used by both Jewish and non-Jewish rappers, which exploits the fact that Jews are extremely overrepresented in the judicial business. Jay Z makes sure to thank his lawyer, in this case in the guise of Murray Richman who defended Jay Z’s for allegedly stabbing record executive Lance “Un” Rivera in 1999. On his track “No Hook” he makes this clear when he rhymes that, “Had to get some Chollah bread so you can holla back, and holla, my Jewish lawyer too enjoyed the fruit of letting my cash stack.”
Styles P made the reference to the top skills of Jewish lawyers and how a “Good Jewish lawyer turn a ten to a two-to-four.” On this track, titled “Da 80’s” he’s clarifying the specific ways that these “Jewish” lawyers can help a common rapper, who is usually a black male, from doing a full bid in prison. Rick Ross was confident in this as well when he rapped that “I’ll be out tomorrow, my lawyer’s Jewish,” on the remix to “Work.”
There are plenty of these Jewish lawyer images strewn throughout rap music, but it’s not only made by non-Jewish rappers. There are a few examples of Jewish rappers who use this stereotype in order to flip the concept on its head. On the amazingly debut album by the group Run the Jewels, consisting of Killer Mike (an African-American from the south), and El-P (a Jew from Brooklyn), by the same name. On the track “DDFH” Killer Mike alludes to this stereotype by rhyming “cause we smoke sour to deal with the paranoia, that they charge by the hour, can’t hire the Jewish lawyer.” This is a spin on the earlier examples as Mike laments the fact that he’s too poor to hire the top lawyers, who are Jewish. He solidifies it further by continuing the his rhyme with “Cause if you ain’t Jigga or Puff you doin’ time, and even then you might get ten, word to Shyne.” He’s referencing Jay-Z by saying Jigga, and P. Diddy by saying Puff. He also closes out the rhyme by noting that the rapper Shyne, who was signed with P. Diddy’s Bad Boy label, who did a ten year bid in prison for gun possession. It should also be noted, as a funny twist of faith, that while in jail Shyne converted, and is currently a practicing Orthodox Jew.
Drake has also used this reference, and as I noted earlier he is a proud Jew as noted through his music. Other Jewish rappers have used it in a more comedic fashion, like the uncanny slipity slop of Action Bronson. Bronson is very interesting as he intertwines the humor, which is crass, with cooking references, as he’s a skilled chef as well. One great example is his bio/cooking recipes on the track “Steve Wynn” where he rhymes that “We’re summer seam G’s, steamed red snapper – Vietnamese, catch a case, get a Jewish lawyer, beat it with cheese.”
In a great freestyle session along with other MC’s he rips it, making sure to send out the Jewish undertone of never trusting the Goyim. The freestyle, from the Industry Shakedown Radio show check out his lyrics, as he belts out on the top of the track that, “To keep it all Kosher, I’m strictly Jewish on the lawyer, When it comes to my freedom, I can’t trust it to a goyim.” Enough Said.
These are a few examples of these lingering stereotypes, as well as the complex deconstruction of them in rap music. This is complicated as the net can be spread wide when discussing the issue of Jewish imagery in non-Jewish rapper’s lyrics. Next time around I’ll show more of them, and both the good and the very bad aspects of what they could lead to or mean in the greater culture.