Kulam Medabrim al Arie's Thesis

Arie is writing a thesis on Israeli hip hop. If you want to read it, feel free. It's 80 pages and academic. If you want to know what he thinks, read the blog. And make comments. Cause if he didn't care what you thought, he wouldn't make this blog. For real.

Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

So I made aliyah. And I have a real job. I wonder why I still keep this blog.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Chapter 3

Where were we? Oh yea, this thesis is about Israeli hip hop. About that...
So starting in 83 they were getting some hip hop. Mostly American stuff they got from the Brits. By 90 there was MTV. Still a lot of American stuff, technically from the Brits, since it was MTV Europe, but it was MTV, so it was really just good old American music from good old Americans. Something like that. Then in 93, Nigel Ha'Admore busts out with Hummus Makes You Stupid. A full album of rap in Hebrew. It sounds a lot like reggae, or ragga. He calls it Camel Muffin. Cause he's in the Middle East. But ragga isn't what they get on MTV. So it's awesome, but they don't really buy it. And Ha'admor says fuck it, you don't buy me stuff, I won't make it. So Ha'admor disappears. And Shabak S' says fuck it too, except they say it so much that their album is too vulgar to ever get released. So Is Hop comes, and they basically just suck, so they go. And Shabak comes back, still talking about drugs, still talking about sex, but Israelis dig it. And suddenly, Shabak wants to be like the ghetto. "Straight Outta Yavneh?" As in the home of the Palestinian Talmud? Uggh, something tells me that Yavneh ain't a whole lot like Compton. But Shabak says so, cause hip hop is from the ghetto. And Israelis dig.
See they want to be like America. And why the hell not? America's the only country in the world that's not always shitting on Israel's parade. why would israelis want to be like the french, anyway? except for maybe the eurotrash in Tel Aviv. And no offense to Hadag Nahash, cause they know that they're Israelis, and israelis are supposed to be from the Middle East, and when they're not, they're like Europeans. Cause America is far away. But Israelis hear the American stuff, they want to be like Americans. So they act like Americans. Or they act like the world thinks is cool. Whatever.
And hip hop is political as shit. Why? Cause Israel is political. Cause when you spend two months a year occupying territory that you might not even want to be in to begin with (or you do, but you're still a soldier amongst a lot of people who aren't Israelis) and you worry about being blown up every time you get on a bus, you're political. You might not have a clear idea of how to fix the situation, but you know it's pretty shitty the way it is.
So Israelis give their answers. And Subliminal says it's cause Israelis aren't being Zionist and Jewish enough. And then he delivers a monstrous Fuck You to the Palestinians, in Arabic no less. And Israelis dig it. And he's a pretty good rapper, no question. So he makes it big. And brings 10 of his friends with him.
But he isn't the only angry one. There are lots of angry Israelis who are angry not just cause the situation is fucked up, but the fucked-up situation stops Israeli society from fixing any of its other problems. Like the poverty gap. Yea, there are poor people in Israel. And they rap about that. Or the sexism. Women are part of israeli pop music for 50 years, and suddenly hip hop puts them back in the kitchen? Well you got some pissed-off women. And someone who like being sex objects, but on their terms, not anybody elses. So they say it. And you've got one really pissed Israeli. What's he pissed about? The Chechens cut off his fingers. So now, what's his is his. And no Palestinian is gonna take away his land.
But who's really pissed? The Palestinians inside of the Green Line. Cause they've been in Israel for over 50 years, and they still feel like they don't have rights. Sure, they're better off as second-class citizens in Israel than as no-class citizens in some dictatorship. But why should they be treated any worse than the Jews. They were living there for a long time, and they didn't tell Europe to become rabid anti-Semites. So they're pissed. And sometimes they're heard as Israelis. In Hebrew. And sometimes not. But they're there, and not just in some token look at me I'm a left-winger I sing with Arabs sort of way. They're just there. And T.N. is a hell of a rapper.
But not even T.N. hates Zionism as much as Rocky B. He thinks all right-wingers in Israel are racist. But no one listens to him. Except his friends in Jerusalem. And people who like good music. But he doesn't seem to have any followers just yet. Zionism seems to be cool with most Israelis, even if they need some changes.
So those guys turn to Hadag Nahash, or Sagol 59, or Mookie. Cause they're all about Israel, but it needs to change. People need to stop fighting, stop occupying, stop treating each other like they don't know how to have a conversation. Cause people deserve more than knowing what someone else's bumper sticker is.
And if hip hop does nothing else, it causes lots of israelis to like each other. cause if you live in hadera and want to rap with a guy in eilat, you can meet in jerusalem and do it, and it's still a day trip. so they hang out, and record with each other, and cypher on the streets. just don't piss of HaTzel. He's a big guy, and he's tough-looking, but he doesn't like to take shit. So just don't talk shit. Otherwise, it's all good.

Chapter 2

Like I said, Israel does its own thing. That thing happens to be taken from what everyone else has done, but Israelis do it in their own way, too. So hip hop was no different. But you gotta know what was going first. Otherwise hip hop just doesn't make sense in Israel.
So it all started with Zionism. 1800 years or so of Jews living in Palestine in some small number did not matter to Herzl. Or maybe it did, I don't know. But it didn't really matter in the scheme of things. Jews started coming in to Palestine (or eretz yisrael, whatever), and they wanted to create a new culture, the culture of the new Jew. and they did. and that culture was basically a western one, except they wanted to be new, so they made it eastern. Which means they took a western musical foundation and added some Yemenite styles of singing. And thus was born Israeli music.
So what about the Jews of Palestine, who had their own music? That was arab stuff, not Israeli, so it wasn't played on the radio. And it wasn't sung in sing-a-longs, which were huge, and spread Israeli music all over the country. All the lovely Ashkenazi Jews, singing with their brown (Sephardi [Mizrahi]) counterparts, who were giving up a lot of their cultural heritage in a place that was a lot closer to their old homes than it was to the Europeans'.
No matter, that was music. Lots of Russian folk songs. And then came the palmach, Israel's premiere pre-Army unit. And they sang Red Army Songs. And then came the Army Bands. Israel's only pop singers for the better part of 15 years. Right out of the army. Then these pop singers decided they wanted to still be singers when they were through, so they kept up. And they heard rock, and they liked it, so they did it. In Hebrew, not like the sephardim who played rock in English in Tel Aviv clubs, They played it in Hebrew, and it sounded a lot more like Israeli folk songs than it did rock. Except for Shalom Hanoch, but I digress.
While all this was happening, Israelis were getting their music either from Army Radio, Voice of Israel, or foreign stations. And Israel kept realizing that Israelis were turning to foreign stations, so they added the foreign stuff to their stations. Had to keep their listeners up on Hebrew.
And then came the Six-Day War. And Israel no longer was in danger; Israel was big and strong and wiped the floor with its neighbors. So there was a lot of euphoria. And a little bit of flower power. And a hell of a lot of new lands, which had way more foreign influences than Israel had seen before. So rock made it. Too late for Israel to realize that they should have given the Beatles entrance visas, but rock made it anyway.
Then comes 73. Israelis are feeling great. Sadat attacks, Israel hurts. Abie Natan gets tired of this Voice of Israel shit and starts the Voice of Peace off the shores of Tel Aviv, far enough into the Sea that he isn't under Israeli jurisdiction. So Israelis get access to even more foreign stuff, their army's hurting. No more need for the Army bands. They basically go away. Rock is in. But the Yom Kippur war taught Israel that they needed new leaders every now and then. Out with Labor, in with Likud. Who elected Likud? The same Mizrahim (remember, all those Jews from Muslim countries) who didn't release any music for 30 years. And so they had some power. And with that same power they used to elect Likud (whose economic policies were worse for the poor Mizrahim than Labor's, except they were less overtly racist) they decided to say fuck you Israeli music system, here's the authentic shit. And so they released their Hebrew versions of Greek, Turkish and arabic songs. And they were pretty good. So Israelis started buying the Mizrahi stuff.
Which takes us to the 80s. Israeli rock hits a lull, in my humble opinion, besides Waiting for the Messiah by Shalom Hanoch. But Mizrahim are getting recognized. Israelis are realizing that being Israeli can mean being Sephardi, not just Ashkenazi. People are protesting Lebanon. It's all good. Israel is less about that oneness and more about lending people some individual thought and identity expression.
Around that time, they get trance music. They eat that shit up. They're dancing and Djing all over the world. Especially in India. Good times.
And somewhere through all of this, they're figuring out what it means to be Israeli. Cause really, how were they supposed to know? Israelis have only existed in the 20th century. But they're struggling, and you see that struggle in the music, just as the lack of struggle was there before. and then they hear hip hop. and they have the internet. and the intefada starts. and they have private radio stations and private tv channels and MTV. and it all comes together.

Chapter 1

So in this chapter, I talk about hip hop. Except my thesis isn't about hip hop. What gives?
Yeah well, Israelis don't give a fuck what Tricia Rose has to say about hip hop's origins. Intertextual layering that expresses black identity of life in the ghetto in a transatlantic afrodiaspora? Word. Israelis probably just don't give a shit. What do they know? Hip hop is black music. Hip hop is sex. Hip hop is ghetto. Hip hop is gangs. Hip hop is protest. They know that it's done by black people. But they probably don't really understand its roots. So it really doesn't do me any good to look at hip hop's roots and say "Israelis use hip hop to express their own diasporic blah blah blah." cause that isn't how life works.
so why does it matter what happened in hip hop? cause I gotta know what happened to make the hip hop that Israelis know. or else how do I know what Israelis think of hip hop? and if i don't know what israelis think about hip hop, how will I know what it says about them?
So it starts with Kool Herc, who brings in stuff from Jamaica. And it evolves in the U.S.
And Jamaicans went to the England, so it evolves differently in England. And then they hear U.S. hip hop, and it evolves differently still.
And it evolves in France, in a way unique to the French. cause the french have been co-opting the same african-american rooted music (blues, jazz, r&b) for years. so they have a blue print for making hip hop.
And it hits Israel. And Israel has the influence of Britain. And they dig the dance scene. But they like hip hop also. So they run with it.
Nigel does it. He fails. Is Hop does it. They fail. Shabak does it. They sell 6000 records. Which isn't much, it's the equivalent of maybe 300,000 records in the U.S. But they're young, so they keep at it. And they go gold. And they go to Jamaica. And they get better. And Subliminal does it. And he gets big. And Hadag Nahash and Sagol 59 are doing it. And it gets bigger. And by 2004, it's real big. The bad news is that by 2005, it's already getting smaller. The good news is that the ones who are still in are getting better.
So Israel's got some hip hop. As they would say if hip hop actually did change Israel, "milah." But they don't. Cause hip hop didn't change Israel. Israel's been doing its own thing for 80 years or so. Just check out Chapter 2.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Anti-Orientalist Rant

It happened again. Some other newspaper (this time The Guardian) decided to write about hip hop in Israel. The scene has changed since the last time the papers were writing about it. Before it was Subliminal vs. Mookie. Now it's Subliminal vs. TN, with Sagol 59 thrown in the mix. Fair enough. Subliminal is proud of Zionism (his conception of it); TN doesn't like Zionism (most conceptions of it- he seems to be just fine with Jews living in Israel as long as Israel isn't a Jewish state and there's Right of Return); and Sagol is left-wing and raps with Arabs and Jews alike. Word.
But what is this bullshit about Israeli music being apolitical? And why the fuck does everyone think that any song about peace is leftwing?
Hey Guardian- right after the Six-Day War, a fucking army band sang "don't sing praise, don't whisper a prayer, bring peace." The author of that piece is right-wing now, but it was a political statement in the wake of the Six-day war. The piece was banned.
And in the 80s, Shalom Chanoch released a whole album about the way that the Lebanon war was fucking over the country. and yehudit ravitz sampled an entire song from the passover seder (had gadya) to ask how long Israel would play into the cycle of violence. No politics my ass. Army radio can get away with a lot (so says Sagol), so they play political stuff as long as somebody important isn't paying too close attention. And as Subliminal points out, Israelis don't buy music anyway, they pirate it; if your beat is good, they'll buy the ringtone, so your words can say a lot more.
People need to stop pretending that hip hop came in and changed Israel. MTV changed the way Israelis get music. But their hip hop is just another way of saying musically the same thing they've been saying for 70 years. If hip hop is more open than other genres, it's because Israel has changed to make it so, not because hip hop suddenly allows every Israeli to listen to what other people have to say. It's just an easier way of saying it.
And what's this shit about Sagol being Talib Kweli or Mos def? I like Sagol a lot, and he has some good things to say. But I feel like even Sagol would disagree with that. Half of his songs are tributes to hip hop greats (yom yafe, revolution will not be televised), a bunch are about how nicely he can throw together dirty words. He has Summit Meeting, but he said himself that his music is not about politics. Israel's small enough that one rapper can combine sex, politics, bullshit and the rest, cause there aren't enough people for each to really have its own genre.
Seriously, Israel is not America. Why compare every fucking rapper to someone in America? I used to do it, too, and sometimes I fall into the trap. But we need to stop pretending that whatever happens in Israel mirrors the way it happens in the US. When they have similarities, it's because there are similar roots, similar circumstances, etc. But America is not the world. And not every place outside of America is the same either. So what happens in Israel is Israeli. Not American. And let's stop pretending otherwise.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Premise

So people say that hip hop is the CNN of Black America (Chuck D said it first, but people love to quote him). And they love to say it's the CNN of the streets (and misquote Chuck D); or of the youth, or of the information age (what the fuck? isn't CNN the CNN of the information age? Was there CNN before the information age? ). And somebody, somebody I like no less, says that hip hop is the CNN of the third world. Now that's all well and good, but whites listen to hip hop, and so do adults, and so do people who don't really know what the streets are. And I'm willing to bet that people in the first world have a lot more access to hip hop than people in the third world (to buying it, seeing it on MTV, downloading it off the internet, etc).
Fine, Arie, you say, so people listen to hip hop. But Chuck D meant that because more blacks make hip hop. Sure, that's true, but who does CNN belong to, the broadcasters or the viewers? There are a hell of a lot more viewers. And there are a lot more listeners of hip hop than there are artists. And a lot of these listeners could give two shits about what happens in the streets or the third world. But they do like to hear the word play, the beats, the samples, or whatever their local Clear Channel urban station tells them they want to hear.
So guess what. Israelis listen to radio. And they watch TV. And they sometimes like what they hear/see. So some of them started to rap. And Israelis liked listening to people rap in their own language. With lyrics as deep as "hummus makes you stupid," who blames them? And then a few of them decided to deal with problems. Because that's what musicians, poets, and most people who express themselves do. And then, a few had the brilliant idea to talk about their problems only after they became popular. So people listened to them. So they see hip hop, and they see NWA dealing with life in the ghetto, and they go, the ghetto started with Jews. We live in a ghetto. We're surrounded by people who are different from us! Let's be like the Americans and make our hip hop like that. And Israelis like that. So that's what they do.
So whoever said that Israeli hip hop is an oppressor turning the tool of the oppressed against them, you're an idiot. And to all those people who think that you need to be a minority or oppressed or silenced to do real hip hop, check it out. In Israel, everyones a minority, and everyone's oppressed, and nobody listens to each other, so they may as well be silenced. So Israeli hip hop makes perfect sense. To me anyway.