Kendrick Lamar and Kodak Black are popular rappers with millions of fans. They are also self-proclaimed Israelites. In a recent Genius article, Sam Kestenbaum explained that Kendrick and Kodak aren’t the first American rappers to embrace the Hebrew Israelite spiritual movement, which promotes the ideas that the ancient Israelites were black and African Americans are their direct, genealogical descendants. Doug E. Fresh, Killah Priest, and Chingy have all incorporated Israelite doctrine or symbols into their songs and videos. To Sam’s list I would add KRS-One, who mentions “black Israelites” in “Why Is That.” And who can forget E-40’s references to a dreadlocked Jesus and Hebrews ghostriding their chariots in “Tell Me When to Go?”
It’s unclear if any of these rappers are active in the movement or practice Hebraic customs, such as keeping Shabbat and the holy days. But as Sam notes, the community has produced its own rappers, like Crunk God Euro and Obadiah.
Meanwhile, in Israel, there are a number of phenomenal MCs who also identify as Israelites. Most of them are affiliated with the African Hebrew Israelite community based in Dimona, the largest group of Hebrew Israelites outside of the U.S. They rap in an amazing amalgam of English and Hebrew (most are fluent in both languages). They celebrate their identity and community while calling out injustices in Israel and abroad. And I’m proud to call many of them friends. Allow me to (re)introduce them to you, below.
But first, a few caveats. The African Hebrew Israelites have created their own positive, spiritually-oriented, and curse-free flavor of rap called “poetic prophecy,” and much of the music here falls into that category. But not all of it. That’s because some of these rappers are on the outs or have officially left the community. Yet they all proudly identify as Hebrews. And yes, almost all of them are men. Poetic prophecy, like rap at large, is dominated by men. Please check out my YouTube playlist of African Hebrew Israelite music to hear songs by the community’s many, many talented female artists.
Blackwell is the best known rapper from the African Hebrew Israelite community. He has caught the attention of the Daily Beast and TimeOut Tel Aviv [Hebrew], and he was featured in an awesome Noisey series on hip hop in the Holy Land. (Also, he was by far the best part of this hokey StandWithUs hasbara video.) A grandson of Nasik Heskiyahu (born Charles Blackwell), the first Hebrew Israelite to settle in Israel in 1968 and a co-founder of the renowned Soul Messengers band, Blackwell raps about his life as an outsider in the country and his desire for a more just, peaceful society. He often appears in his videos wearing traditional African Hebrew Israelite garments, and some of his videos have included Hebrew youth and priests dressed in ceremonial robes. Blackwell has collaborated with several Israeli artists and runs his own record label, Famo Entertainment. “The path that I have chosen isn’t easy at all,” he raps on “Ben Israel.” “But what a blessing, the Creator is watching over me.”
“One time for my arsim, two times for my Eagles [the football team?], three times for my yehudeem [Jews], four times for my Hebrews.” Blackwell shouts out different groups and places in Israel, a country where “you can do your own thing, but you ain’t go hard as us.” This video includes scenes from New World Passover, a community-wide celebration of the founding members’ “exodus” from the U.S. in 1967.
“Ben Israel,” meaning son of Israel, is the last name that most male members of the African Hebrew Israelite community use instead of the “slave names” given to their ancestors by slave owners. In this song, which features fellow Hebrew Israelite MC El Keys, Blackwell speaks about himself as “one man in the midst of the city fighting for a change.” He also gives a shout out to “Yahwah Kadosh,” which is one of the ways the Hebrews refer to God. A full English translation of the lyrics can be found in the video description on YouTube.
Just a laid-back song called “Alone in My Car” about cruising around Israel, “wasting the entire day.” You don’t really need to understand Hebrew to tap into this vibe. Uri Elman from “Café Shahor Hazak,” one of my favorite Israeli hip hop bands, contributes a guest verse.
Blackwell is joined here by Hebrew Israelite singer Zakai Quick. “I Was Born Outside the Box” is about the importance of remembering where you come from. A partial translation of the lyrics:
I don’t have citizenship
I’m a permanent resident*
According to the law (huh)
But according to my roots
I’m part of the tree that fed the Egyptians
For years we were slaves
You don’t remember?
There are Hebrews who are still lost
But there are also successful ones
So it’s all good
*Israel does not recognize the African Hebrew Israelites as Jews, so most have permanent residency status rather than citizenship. Younger Hebrews feel they deserve citizenship and have launched an online campaign to raise awareness about this issue.
In this somber song, Blackwell mentions Toveet Radcliffe, “a Hebrew girl serving in the IDF” who was found dead on her army base in February 2015. The IDF ruled her death a suicide, “but we all know her commander is the reason she ain’t come home,” he raps, hinting at a cover-up. The case is currently being reinvestigated.
Born and raised in Dimona, Ofer (pronounced oh-FEER) is best known in the community as a comedian and impressionist, but he’s also a gifted rapper and producer (and my spiritual brother, from the time I lived in his father’s house in Dimona). Although he’s not an actual prince—his father, Ahk Ahmeshadye, was a member of the community’s Holy Council of nesikeem, or princes—he definitely has the charisma of one. His lone album, “Black Light,” dropped in 2011 and represents the best of poetic prophecy: positive, spiritually uplifting, celebratory of his heritage, and just really fun. “Proud of my culture so I’m never undercover,” he raps on a track called “The Prince.” Ofer currently lives outside of London with his family but travels to Israel often.
This is Ofer’s ode to his community and his hometown of Dimona. There’s lots of slang and inside jokes here. My favorite line is: “From the shadows of death we are guarded, never once have I heard a sentence started with ‘Dearly departed.'” The African Hebrew Israelites are focused on achieving physical immortality, so when people pass away, or “make transition,” the community typically doesn’t hold funerals for them.
The title of this track means “God,” and it features a female lyricist from London, Sitriyah, and an Israeli rapper from Ashkelon, M.Milo. Like Ben Blackwell, Ofer slips easily between Hebrew and English—sometimes in the middle of a verse. The chorus of the song is:
I walk on clouds
Answer number one is God
I pray to Him for everything
He blesses me, it’s not a dream
In this post-“Black Light” track Ofer offers up some words of encouragement. He’s joined by Hebrew Israelite MCs Kareem and Gahdiel, the latter of Genius Gang. “Work is worship,” Ofer raps, echoing a popular community saying, adding, “So watch how you labor.”
A tribute to the community’s spiritual leader, Ben Ammi Ben Israel, who passed away in 2014. The intro includes a recording of Ben Ammi describing the 45-second vision he experienced in February 1966 that set in motion the “exodus” from America the following year. Ofer raps that “a vision transformed a bus driver to a savior,” but, contrary to popular belief, Ben Ammi never worked as a bus driver; he was a metallurgist in Chicago when he had the vision.
A collaboration between Ofer and Ben Blackwell, who makes reference to one of Ben Ammi’s teachings: “Truth has the power to produce the promised effects.” (It basically means that you reap what you sow.)
E.L.E—short for Eleazer, and an acronym for Every Lyric Elevates—is a lyrical force of nature. He was born in Baltimore and moved to Israel at age 11 with his mother and siblings. Many of his songs deal with the joys and challenges of growing up in the African Hebrew Israelite community. “I was brought up to show all the world that I’m another man,” he raps on “My People.” He was the frontman of New Gene, and he has released a handful of mixtapes, including the excellent “No Ordinary Village Kid.” E.L.E toes the line between poetic prophecy and harder stuff, but he always has something interesting to say.
This collaboration with rapper-producer Yoash Victorious was a response to rival Hebrew Israelite crew Unknown, who dissed E.L.E and his crew for being too straight-laced. “I’m just not impressed at all,” E.L.E raps defiantly. “If you feel you Hebrew, let me hear you when them trumpets call.”
E.L.E calls himself a god, a demi god, and a king in this boast-filled song. Producer MeshMoney supplied the sick beat. The Hebrew words are from Psalm 23, which the African Hebrew Israelites recite at the close of every Shabbat.
E.L.E pays tribute to his fellow Hebrews in Israel, the U.S. and Africa. He mentions the Meeznon, the vegan restaurant in the Village of Peace, and the game sheva evanim, a popular children’s game in the village that is played with seven rocks.
A very personal song in which E.L.E talks about becoming a man. “I did it, I changed from son to father figure,” he says, shouting out his two children. He also talks about his status in the African Hebrew Israelite community: “And I ain’t never left, Kingdom life is what I rep/ Stood on some shaky ground but loving Yah with every breath.” Nadeev of New Gene sings the hook.
E.L.E makes reference to the 12 Tribes of Israel, kale pies (the African Hebrew Israelites are vegan), and the Hilltop, a building in the Village of Peace in Dimona where Holy Day services and other events are held. “I been repping for the Village,” he says. “Mission impossible did it, did it.”
New Gene (sometimes spelled Nu Gene and New Genes)
A decade ago, this was the hottest group in Dimona. Amishai, Ben Zohar, E.L.E, Nadeev, Malkeeyah, Ritseeniyah, and Yoash Victorious (along with dancers Dahleyah and Naomeyah) tore up the stage at New World Passover 2008, performing hit songs—in the community, if not on Israeli charts—like “Do the Yah Khai,” which inspired its own dance. The group’s album, “Spiritual Icons,” was never released due to some internal drama, and they haven’t performed together for years. But their music lives on on various hard drives, including mine, where it gets heavy play.
This was a message to the youth of the community: If you can do all the other viral hip hop dances like the “lean with it, rock with it” and the “one-two step,” then you can do the “Yah khai” dance too. Watch the live performance of the song (and dance) here.
A fun song about young love with an infectious beat by Yoash Victorious.
According to E.L.E, this song was directed at the “haters and doubters” who questioned what New Gene was about. “Ayo is basically saying that conscious and positive music from the Village [of Peace] can be successful,” he told me. The Hebrew word ahki (“who you talking ’bout ahki?”) means “my brother,” in the sense of “bro.”
Michel Chism is a singer, rapper and sought-after producer who goes by MeshMoney—one of his favorite themes is money and how to get more of it. He grew up in Arad and Dimona and has collaborated with nearly all of the Hebrew Israelite MCs mentioned in this post. As a performer, his main claim to fame is having appeared on the first season of the Israeli version of “X Factor” in 2013 as a member of an all-Hebrew boy band called Mirage. (The group was eliminated early in the season.) While his explicit lyrics and tattoos attest to the fact that Chism is no longer officially part of the African Hebrew Israelite community, he told me that he’ll always be a Hebrew. He has put out a few mixtapes, including “Free” and the questionably titled “Grinding Like Jews.” (When I asked him about that, he said he respects Jews for “working hard and hustling to be wealthy.”) Think what you will, but you definitely can’t knock MeshMoney’s hustle.
A club banger featuring Hebrew rapper Gahdiel.
Mesh reflects on his life and financial situation while walking around Dimona. Hebrew youth are seen playing in the Village of Peace and dancing in the park across the street from the village. Shout out to the drone for getting those sweet shots!
Turn up? Nope. Earn up. “It’s all about the cash flow, handle your business,” Mesh rap-sings in this trap song that features E.L.E, Gahdiel, Elrookahm, and Amishai.
This short-lived group—comprised of Avishamah, Ben Ezrah, Prince Ofer, and MeshMoney—recorded an album but never released it, supposedly because it was not approved by African Hebrew Israelite leaders, who must screen all music that is officially released through the community’s Ministry of Divine Performing Arts. The group earned a spot on this list, though, for putting out one of my favorite poetic prophecy songs of all time, “Rep Yah Khai.” Fingers crossed that someone will release that album one day.
The guys vow to “rep Yah khai”—meaning to represent Yah/God—by fighting Satan, healing the planet, defeating death, and spreading truth.
Messianic Sons (also spelled Messianic Sunz)
In 1992, the spirit revealed to Chicago native Nevrockiyah that he should share details of “our prophetic destiny as a people” with the world, so he began performing in the local rap scene and formed the Messianic Sons with another brother. After that brother went to jail and Nevrockiyah moved to Israel, the Sons went through a few different permutations until Ammikhi and Gamliel—both of whom grew up with Nevrockiyah on the South Side of Chicago—joined the group. They hooked up with Dahveed soon afterward. Nevrockiyah coined the term “poetic prophecy” to describe the positive, spiritually-minded hip hop that he and the Sons pioneered and continue to produce to this day.
“It’s a must to have a righteous state of mind, y’all, in these end times,” goes the chorus of this classic MSP (Messianic Sons Productions) joint from 1995. The video includes recent and historical footage of community members doing one of their favorite activities: dancing. (I was surprised and flattered to see myself in this video beginning at the 1:55 mark, in a scene from the 2008 Dance for the Land ceremony held in the Village of Peace in Dimona.)
In a clever critique of mainstream rap’s obsession with materialism and conspicuous consumption, the Sons list all of the reasons they, as African Hebrew Israelites, are truly rich: they have their own land, language, and culture. And after 400 years of slavery and exile, they’re “back up in the game.”
This is a promotional video for New World Passover, the annual festival marking the 1967 exodus that many Israelis refer to as Chag Ha’avaticheem, or the Watermelon Holiday, because the Hebrews celebrate their freedom from “modern-day Babylon” by eating large quantities of the fruit. The brothers use the word “shosh” in the intro, which is African Hebrew Israelite slang for homie/friend. I was told it comes from the Hebrew word shoshveen, meaning “groomsman.”
A play on Biggie’s “What’s Beef,” this is a powerful call for peace—in the streets of America, in war-torn countries, and in hip hop.
“The mighty sons of Yah have returned to the Earth to take full control,” Nevrockiyah says in this track from a double album called “Daniel 2:44.” That Bible verse mentions a kingdom set up by God “which shall never be destroyed.” The African Hebrew Israelites believe they have established this very kingdom in Dimona and, thus, refer to themselves as “KOY,” for Kingdom of Yah, and “KOG,” for Kingdom of God.
The most prolific of the Messianic Sons as a solo artist, Ammikhi is known for his intricate wordplay and rapid-fire delivery, à la fellow Chicago native Twista. He splits his time between Dimona and Chicago (aka Chiraq), where he drives a cab. Explaining his artistic mission in a bio video, he says: “To what is known to many now as Chiraq and the four ends of the globe, I want to share what has been shared with me—intellect, hope, love, peace, and blessings—through song and phrase, sounds and pslams.”
Psalm 100 instructs: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.” Ammikhi makes a joyful noise on this track, with help from two Hebrew Israelite singers: Ammi The Veggie Man and Khiyah.
After discovering his Hebrew heritage, Ammikhi says he felt “emancipated from that old self that I hate.” This track includes a clip of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1968 “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. The African Hebrew Israelites view their presence in Israel as a fulfillment of MLK’s prediction in that speech that “we as a people will get to the promised land.”
The African Hebrew Israelites adhere to a strict vegan diet, and this song is a manifesto against the meat industry, set to 50 Cent’s “I Get Money” beat with clips from the comedian Katt Williams and the short film “Hambuster.”
A collection of Ammikhi’s top 10 verses, as selected by him.
An O.G. of the poetic prophecy game, Spontain (whose real name is Yahkoom) was part of the first wave of Israeli-born Hebrew Israelite rappers who called themselves D.K.P., for Divine Kingdom Product. (African Hebrew Israelites refer to their community as the Kingdom of Yah/God.) He recalled that he and his peers faced resistance when they started out in the early 2000s. “Our community did not want to have nothing to do with that particular form of expression because rapping was related to the streets,” he explained. “We created our own lyrics and put our lifestyle into the music. Now it’s become more acceptable, but we had to break that door down.” Spontain moved to Tel Aviv at age 18 to pursue his music and has served as a mentor to younger Hebrew artists. He has lived in South Carolina for the past few years but told me he still calls Israel home.
Spontain takes the listener on his journey from Dimona to Tel Aviv and back. He raps: “I’m a Hebrew Judean, and you know I don’t play/ And since I’m in this game, I’m in this game to stay.”
At the beginning of this song Spontain refers to the “realm of the eschatological judgment,” meaning the end times. He calls himself “strong, free, and not afraid” and says he will respond to whatever Satan throws at him with static. Hebrew rapper Freelancer Dixon contributes the third verse. Watch a live performance of this song here.
A Hebrew-English collaboration with the singer Meital De Razon, who looks and sounds like an Israeli Shakira. Spontain told me that he stopped working with her after she began catering to Israel’s LGBT community. (The African Hebrew Israelites do not approve of homosexuality.)
“All the saints in the house put your hands up!” Spontain raps in the chorus of this track, using the term by which African Hebrew Israelites call each other. He also uses the word mesibah, which means “party.”
Spontain gets into some African Hebrew Israelite doctrine—”serious business”—in this song. He says he wants to “expose the conspiracy” about the true identity of African Americans, calls out “mad cow” meat-eaters, and trashes on politicians and liberal democracy.
A nice freestyle.
This fasionable rapper and producer grew up in the African Hebrew Israelite community but left at age 20. He was a member of Unknown, a group of Hebrew rappers and singers that included El Keys and Avishachar “AJ” Jackson (who appeared on the first season of the TV show “X Factor Israel”). His current crew is called Trackillaz. Freelancer specializes in trap music, so his lyrics are raw and direct. “I do have positive sounds,” he told me, “but mainly I speak my mind about the harsh reality.”
A slickly-produced video for a song about booty calls, featuring Avishachar Jackson and Hebrew MC Mevu Banks.
“Don’t let nobody ever tell you how to live your life,” advises Freelancer as he dances with what appears to be a group of Hare Krishnas on a beach promenade. “I’m up on stadium no gidileem” seems to mean that he no longer dons the ritual undergarments that African Hebrew Israelite men and women are required to wear.
A demand for justice for Toveet Radcliffe, as well as for victims of police brutality both in Israel and in the U.S., featuring Gahdiel, Aminon, and E.L.E. The video includes footage from the “Day of the Show of Strength,” a proud moment in African Hebrew Israelite history when community members faced off against Israeli Border Patrol officers in April of 1986.
Freelancer and Mevu Banks take shots at other rappers over their lack of creativity.
Ben Amiel is kind of like the DJ Khaled of the African Hebrew Israelite community—he’s a capable rapper and producer, but his greatest talent might just be in bringing artists together (including, to his credit, several female ones). His collaborative album, “Breath of Life,” features all of the best Hebrew MCs rapping over his hot beats. Ben Amiel was born in Washington, D.C., spent several years in Bermuda and Los Angeles, and currently lives in Ashkelon. His father, Sar Amiel, is also a musician.
The title of this song is a reference to “Songs of Deliverance,” the African Hebrew Israelites’ own genre of redemptive music. Prince Ofer, Ben Amiel, and Ben Khai each contribute a verse, with Hebrew singer Elamar Edwards on the hook.
“From the tribe of Judah, with the strength and the heart of a lion/ And a mind and a spirit that comes from Zion,” raps Ben Amiel in this tribute to Ben Ammi and his 45-second vision (as described above). The song features two female artists, MC Naomiyah and singer Dahliyah, in addition to Prince Ofer.
This beat is straight fire. The Hebrew words of the chorus are from Deuteronomy 6:4, known as the “Shema” prayer. (The African Hebrew Israelites pronounce the Hebrew name of God as “Yahwah.”) Gahdiel raps in English, and Prince Ofer raps in Hebrew.
Another young Hebrew MC making waves in Israel, Godel is part of a Tel-Aviv based, neo-soul band called Modern Phase. He’s also done some guest appearances on other Hebrew musicians’ records. A talent for rapping apparently runs in his family, as he is a younger brother of Spontain. Godel told me that he’s releasing some solo material next month, so be sure to look out for that.
At the beginning of this jazzy number, Godel talks about growing up in “the Kingdom,” meaning the African Hebrew Israelite community, and learning “to be conscious in everything that I do.”
Atur (“Crowned Brother”) Godel was a beloved African Hebrew Israelite musician known as “The Maestro” who died in a car accident, sending shockwaves through the community. Godel says he feels pressure to live up to his namesake. He raps: “I’m trying to stay in your footsteps but I can’t even sing, neither play a guitar.” Nevertheless, he says, he plans “to make it real far and have you smiling from the heavens above.”
A pop song by Hebrew singer Elamar Edwards, featuring guest verses by Godel (credited as Dreamchaser) and Freelancer, as well as a cameo by another Hebrew singer, Yokai, who is a popular busker in and around Tel Aviv.
Godel shows off his smooth flow in this one.
I don’t know much about this crew—Gahdiel, Kayeem Worthy of KayeemShtayeem, and Zt—but they seem to be having lots of fun doing what they’re doing. To them I say, “Stay blessed.”
Another tribute to Dimona, this one shouted from the rooftops…literally. Zt, Khayeem (who raps in English and Hebrew), and Gahdiel drop some “sick verses” while their friends pop-lock and breakdance in the background. (“Coo” appears to be Zt’s nickname for Khayeem.)
“It’s a blessing to be blessed.” Can’t argue with that!
KayeemShtayeem (in Hebrew: חייםשתיים)
These two young protégés of Ben Blackwell are both named Kayeem, thus the group name, which means Two Kayeems.
“Eyes on Everybody” is about watching out for people who scheme against you.
“Are you ready to build a future with me?” asks Blackwell in the second verse of this song, which is called “Unconditional Love.” Gotta love those sultry sax lines.
There are a number of talented African Hebrew Israelite rappers outside of Israel, too. They include NYC-based MC Elyahreev Immortal [Facebook | YouTube], self-described “New World Griot” Ben-Real of Indiana [YouTube | ReverbNation], and South African duo Sonz of Law [Facebook | ReverbNation | BandCamp], who rap in English, Hebrew, and IsiXhosa.
Feel free to leave a comment below with links to your favorite songs by these Hebrew Israelite MCs or others not mentioned here. And check out the YouTube playlist I created of the videos included in this post.
Top photo by the author. Updated 9/15/17 to add Ben Amiel.