Antisemitism in Hip Hop
In the Hip-Hop industry Jewish performers and producers have occupied a small yet influential portion of the rap scene. Few Jewish Hip-Hop artists have successfully broke into the rap industry, the most famous of these few being the Beastie Boys who were regarded as “the white rap group who helped break rap into a broad-based white audience.” (Straton, 413) Other rappers who can be traced back to Jewish roots are mainstream Hip-Hop artists Drake and Mac Miller, however those of the Jewish heritage have more predominately impacted the rap scene through the recording industry. Some of the most influential record labels in rap music such as Def Jam, Warner Brothers, and Ruthless Records, all which were responsible for popularizing a number of rap artists, were founded by Jewish Americans. (Godson, 9) However, the prevalence of Jewish American record producers within the rap industry comes in conflict with antisemitic ideology embodied by some of rap artists in the earlier years of Hip Hop who were associated with the Nation of Islam. Although socially conscious rap in Hip Hop’s earlier years cannot be held responsible for the creation of antisemitic stereotypes accepted in today’s Hip Hop culture, antisemitic sentiments found in some lyrics during these early years legitimized the use of these stereotypes that are observed in rap music today.
Antisemitism in rap music first caught the attention of the public when Richard Griff, member of Public Enemy more commonly known by his stage name Professor Griff, expressed Anti-Semitic sentiment in his recorded interview with the Washington Post in May of 1989 http://www.miaminewtimes.com/1990-07-11/news/the-education-of-professor-griff/ In the interview Griff said, among other things that “ ‘Jews have a grip on America’ and they ‘have a history of killing black men.’ ” Griff also told the Washington Post that “Jews are responsible for ‘the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe.’ ” This antisemitic attitude expressed in Professor Griff’s comments has been traced back to Public Enemy’s ties with the Nation of Islam and support their support of MInister Louis Farrakhan, leader of this religious group (Khan, 136). In his novel Chuck D, the primary lyricist of Public Enemy, writes in his novel “Fight the Power” about his affiliation with the Nation of Islam. “I follow Minister Farrakhan for many different reasons… He wants to talk about the building of our people and that’s what he’s always been about..” (Chuck D, 210) Farrakhan, the religious leader and official founder of the reorganized Black power movement in the United States, was most recognized for “emphasizing African-American self-improvement.” (Columbuia electronic Encyclopedia, 6th edition) Farrakhan was also known for his criticism of America’s fundamentally white-supremacist society. (Columbuia electronic Encyclopedia, 6th edition) This black power and anti-oppression sentiment was emulated in Public Enemy’s politically charged lyrics in songs such as “Rebel Without A Pause” and “Fight the Power”. Although the overall message of Minister Farrakhan’s teaching was focussed on uplifting the black community in America, Farrakhan was criticized by some as being antisemitic and anti-white (Columbuia electronic Encyclopedia, 6th edition). These sentiments commonly attributed to Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam were manifested in the psychology of Public Enemy, which was exhibited by the comments made to the Washington Post.
The antisemitic attitudes displayed in Professor Griff’s interview was not a singular occurrence within the rap group’s career. Shortly after the controversy that arose following Griff’s interview with the Washington Post, Public Enemy released their album Fear of a Black Planet in April of 1990 featuring the song “Welcome to the Terrordome.” Although on the surface this song appears to address the controversy surrounding the Washington Post Interview, it has also received some criticism by the public for presenting antisemitic attitudes. http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Sept10/AltschulerCover.html In these lines Chuck D refers to the Jewish people as the “so called chosen”, claiming that their public apology made for the offensive comments in the interview were only made to appease the public.
Crucifixion ain’t no fiction
So called chosen frozen
Apology made to whoever pleases
Still they got me like Jesus.
Regardless of this public apology, Chuck D claims Americans, particularly those of the Jewish faith continue to condemn him for a comment he personally did not make. In the line “Still they got me like Jesus” Chuck D asserts that he has been made a scapegoat for Hip Hop by the Jewish Americans, just as Jesus was their scapegoat according to religious scripture.
Public Enemy’s display of antisemitic sentiment exemplified again in their song “Swindler’s LIst” which mocked the Holocaust movie “Schindler’s LIst” http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Sept10/AltschulerCover.html with lines such as “Mo’ dollaz, mo’ cents, for the Big Six / Another million led to bleed, claimin’ innocence” In this song Public Enemy compares social injustice that both the Jewish and African-American people has historically experienced, but the affliction of prejudice experienced by the Jewish people is trivialized in these lines. Chuck D accuses the Jewish people of using the injustice they experience historically to their advantage in today’s world by “claiming innocence” as people who can relate to the struggle that the black population still faces today in the ghettos of America while in reality, many Jewish Americans today do not experience the ramifications of social injustice in their every day lives. Chuck D further applies this accusation to Jewish Americans in the recording industry in his lines
Is it any wonder why black folks goin’ under
Cause niggas be sold in bundles
No pressure, tell me why they don’t care
Rap and R&B paving the streets of Bel Air
Chuck D asserts that the Jewish record producers do not take an interest in the content of his lyrics, which are reveal the social injustices black Americans face in contemporary society. Jewish record producers are only interested in Hip-Hop as a commodity that they can profit on, providing them with lavish Hollywood lifestyles.
Although Public Enemy is not the first to be accused of antisemitic ideologies within the Black Power movement, the group successfully integrated this sentiment into rap culture. Public Enemy is responsible for giving antisemitic remarks “credibility and authority” within rap lyrics. http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Sept10/AltschulerCover.html The demonizing stereotype of Jewish American record producers displayed in “Swindler’s Lust” was echoed by Ice Cube in his song “No Vaseline.” This song was written shortly after rap group N.W.A. fell apart due to an unresolvable financial dispute. In 1987 N.W.A. member Eazy-E collaborated with manager Jerry Heller to form a new Hip-Hop record label named Ruthless Records. Shortly after the group was signed to the new label, Ice Cube left the group because he believed that Heller was receiving more than his share of the profits. (Mitchell, 32) In ”No Vaseline” Ice Cube blames their Jewish manager, Jerry Heller, for the undoing of N.W.A in the line “Cuz you let a Jew break up my crew.” Rather than mentioning their managers name in his lyrics, Ice Cube chooses to associate Heller with his Jewish heritage while describing the financial ruin that he has brought upon N.W.A. as their manager. In his lines “Gang banged by your manager fella / Getting money out your ass like a mother fuckin’ Ready Teller / Givin’ up the dollar bills” Ice Cube compares their manager to a Ready Teller, or ATM machine, that has been corrupted and is stealing from those who trust in it. This is consistent with the stereotype that Chuck D creates in “Swindler’s Lust” of Jewish people, particularly Jewish Americans in the recording industry, as fundamentally self-centered, corrupt individuals who seek financial gains by any means necessary. Both Chuck D and Ice Cube specifically reference Jewish Americans in the recording industry as individuals who exploit Hip Hop or black artists for their own profits. Ice Cube takes hatred toward Jewish record producers even further by pairing antisemitic lyrics with explicit sexual depictions that allude to homophobia to create a graphic metaphor for how their manager is causing them financial injury: “Cause you’re gettin’ fucked out your green by a white boy / With no vaseline.” Ice Cube condemns the remaining members of N.W.A. for allowing Jerry Heller to exploit them and calls into question their manhood and loyalty to gangsta lifestyle. In his last verse, Ice Cube states that in order to reclaim their status as a “real nigga” they must kill the Jew in the lines
Get rid of the of the Devil real simple,
put a bullet in his temple
Cause you can’t be the Nigga 4 Life crew
With a white Jew telling you what to do
An essential part of the gangsta lifestyle that N.W.A. embodies in their lyrics is the crew. The importance of a crew and remaining loyal to the drew in this lifestyle is consistent with the mentality of remaining loyal to one’s own expressed by Chuck D as “the building of our people.” With a Jew representing their crew, N.W.A. is not remaining true to this lifestyle.
Today’s mainstream rap follows the same stereotypical reference to the Jewish people that has been integrated into Hip Hop culture by artists such as Public Enemy and Ice Cube. Artists such as Tyga, Rick Ross, and Lil’ Wayne who do not produce the same type of socially conscious or politically charged lyrics that Public Enemy and N.W.A. once preformed, have emulated similar Jewish stereotypes into their lyrics. In Tyga’s song “Apollyon’s Theme” he references the Jewish stereotype of wealth in his line “Gettin’ money like I’m Jewish.” Tyga uses this Jewish stereotype differently however, than the rappers before him. Rather than using this stereotype to show the exploitation of black artists by Jewish record producers, Tyga uses this stereotype to assert his own financial success by putting himself on the same level as the wealthy Jewish Americans who control the industry. Similarly, Rick Ross uses this stereotype in the same way to show the wealth that his crew has achieved in the rap business. In his song “Gone to the Moon” off his Black Bar Mitzvah mix-tape his lines “Black Bar MItzvah – all you niggas invited / You were invested like Jews nigga” exemplifies the intersection between the wealth typically associated with Jewish producers in the industry, and his crew. By claiming his crew is invested in his record label “like Jews”, Rick Ross associates his label with the type of success achieved by prominent record labels in the industry such as Warner Brothers and Def Jam, which he makes reference to in the same verse. Both Warner Brothers and Def Jam are Jewish owned record labels and are notable labels in Hip Hop. By claiming the affluence behind his own brand equivalent to that of the major Jewish-owned record label, Rick Ross aims to achieve status within the industry.
Although Jewish stereotypes in rap lyrics today are not used in the same way as they were in the earlier years of rap when the Black Power movement was prominent in the rap scene. These lyrics created a distinction between African-American rappers and Jewish producers that grew into resentment by lyricists such as Chuck D and Ice Cube. The artists viewed their Jewish producers as an obstacle to their success as artists and businessmen, exploiting African-American talent by using it for their own financial gain while rappers, the source of talent, profited disproportionately from this arrangement. As rap music moved further away from its roots of resistance to white oppression and African-American self improvement, this stereotype of the wealthy Jew who profited off of the rap industry was recreated into a desirable position by rap artists. Rap artists such as Rick Ross and Tyga, who arguably are in the rap music business solely to attain wealth and fame, wish to associate themselves with the type of wealth traditionally only achieved by producers in order to raise their status in the rap music industry.
Stratton, Jon. “The Beastie Boys: Jews in Whiteface.” Popular Music 27.3 (2008): 413-32. Web.
Baker, Greg. “The Education of Professor Griff.” Miami NewTimes July, 11 1990
Kahn, Katy. “The Influence of the Nation of Islam on African American Singers.” Journal of Music Research in Africa 8.1 (2011): 136-46.
Louis Farrakhan. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 11/1/2011
Spector, Michele. “Rappers Fueled Anti-Semitism in the 90s, Professor Says.” Cornell Chronicle Online. Cornell University, 23 Sept. 2010. Web.
D, Chuck. Fight the Power: Rap, Race, and Reality. New York: Delacorte, 1997.
Ice Cube, No Vaseline, Death Certificate, 2010
N.W.A., Welcome to the Terrordome, Fear of Black Planet, 1990
N.W.A., Swindler’s List
Rick Ross, Gone to the Moon, Black Bar Mitzvah, 2012
Tyga, Apollo’s Theme, Careless World, 2011