Israeli Hip-Hop Groups Have a Lot to Overcome, But the Music Keeps on Keeping On (Video)

For many, Israel is immediately associated with religious war and strife, not entirely incorrect but exceedingly short-sighted, as much of the country’s ancient cultural history is overshadowed in the media by ongoing conflicts with Palestine and other tragic goings-on that have plagued the Holy Land for all of its short lifespan. With the advent of the internet, many are finally able to get a glimpse into the other aspects of Israeli culture, whether it be through food and travel programs or series like Noisey’s “Hip-Hop in the Holy Land,” which documents the lives and careers of Israeli artists who are using their music as a platform on which to present messages of solidarity and peace in a world plagued with violence and discrimination. Artists like Shyne, whose conversion to Judaism while being incarcerated has made him one of the most visible American Hip-Hop artists to represent an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, have also contributed to the nexus of Hip-Hop and Israel, but the local hurdles are what makes the country’s Hip-Hop contributions unique.

The country’s unique set of characteristics have, in a way, made it the perfect hotbed for a rising Hip-Hop culture, as documented by a recent article at Forbes. Writer Zack O’Malley Greenburg outlines the circumstances of the historic area in a piece titled “For Holy Land Hip-Hop, Grim Challenges And Silver Linings,” in which he discusses some contemporary Hip-Hop acts in Israel and how they manage to survive in an industry populating what can only be described as a hostile environment. Greenburg mentions Israel’s geographical limitations, including the fact that making a name for oneself in a major way is made difficult by the country’s small size. “In a country with roughly the same population and size as New Jersey,” he writes, “it’s difficult for a career in music to scale,” a fact exacerbated by things like “rampant piracy, a lack of large venues, hostile neighbors and periodic warfare.”

It’s not all bad, however. Israel is in many ways perfectly suited as a hotbed for successful musicians despite the hardships faced by local acts hoping to break through on an international scale. “In a way, the limitations of the region conditioned groups—hip-hop and otherwise—to the new realities of the new music business well in advance of the streaming revolution,” O’Malley argues. Due to Israel’s small, somewhat insular Hip-Hop culture, hometown acts can reach local celebrity status quite easily, giving the young people of the country a strong, powerfully interconnected outlet with which to voice their frustrations with the government and oppression.

Such vocal blow-back against oppression is embodied by many of the artist who took the stage at last week’s Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival, where reggae musician Matisyahu (with whom Shyne recorded “Messiah” in 2010) closed out the week’s events with a performance of a song promoting peace. Israel’s history of politically involved Hip-Hop has been around for much longer, and as O’Malley writes, a 1995 song by Hadag Nachash (also a collaborator of Shyne’s) called “Shirat Ha’Sticker” helped place Israel on the global Hip-Hop map. The song is “based on bumper sticker slogans sporting a wide spectrum of opinions in the wake of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination” and “helped the group’s album move 15,000 copies, which translates to roughly 750,000 in the U.S.–and even caught the attention of the New York Times,” writes O’Malley. Check out the video for the song here, which has now garnered more than two-million views on YouTube. For examples of contemporary purveyors of Israeli and Palestinian Hip-Hop, visit Noisey.

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