Teeni is the DJ for a hip hop show by the name of “The Bizz” that is broadcasted on the Israeli army radio station. Kids started coming on his show in order to showcase their skills and be heard rapping, however, they were always rapping in English. Tenni and others wanted them to rap in their native language of Hebrew since there were thousands of American groups rapping better in English. To rap in Hebrew at this time was basically not being done until a group by the name of Shabak Shamech came onto the scene; they are credited with not only being the first Israeli hip hop group, but also being the most responsible for the progression of Israeli hip hop.
Israeli Hip Hop differs from American Hip Hop in several ways, most notably lyrically and musically. American rappers on the mainstream level, more recently than ever, lean more towards the glamour and prestige of being famous. Israeli rappers have a more conscious style to their lyrics. They talk about more personal issues such as the struggles growing up in Israel. They also gear towards more religious themes since many of the rappers are Jewish or Muslim. Israeli hip hop has such a motivational theme behind it that local governments support the Hip Hop movement that has exploded among Israeli youth. The government has even supported Hip Hop groups who travel to other countries, viewing it as a good outlet for the rest of the world to view them through. Israeli Hip Hop is creating several positive movements among the people of the country that will continue to grow and become even more popular. Some of the things the Israeli rappers rap about can tend to be controversial as well. Normally in America, when we think of controversial rap, we think of rap songs with sexual connotations or killing a cop but what is considered controversial in Israel is a bit different. As far as media exposure of artists who address real issues like child abuse or the future of the state of Israel is concerned, Israeli artists seem to have the same problems getting heard as artists in America; they address current issues but don’t get much attention from the radio stations that play popular music or television stations. Before Hip Hop was considered a genre in Israel, pop and disco music were the only genres being played on the radio. When Hip Hop songs started becoming popular, the radio stations refused to play them. They felt that Hip Hop didn’t make people feel good so they would not play it. Most of the rap songs talked about real issues in society. The songs spoke of everything from terrorism and religion to children speaking up about abuse in their home. And as far as the ongoing conflict between the Arab population and the Jewish population, hip hop music seems to document this more accurately from various viewpoints than any other popular music or news medium in Israel.
Hip Hop as a cultural bridge
As stated earlier, the themes in Israeli hip hop can be a little more intense politically, since a lot of the themes that come through deal with the long struggle between the Jewish and Muslim populations, specifically concerning the future of the state of Israel. This can be easily portrayed in the relationship between two emcees by the name of Kobi Shimoni (Subliminal) and Tamer Nafar (TN) who are both the same age and are both Israeli rappers. But that’s about as far as the similarities go. Subliminal lives in upscale Tel Aviv where he has several successful business ventures, whereas Nafar, who raps with the trio DAM, lives in the run down town of Lod, ten miles south. Subliminal is a very well know artist who has worked with many other successful artists such as Wyclef Jean; Nafar has yet to secure a record deal. Subliminal is a Jewish emcee who had former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on his side, whereas Nafar is an Arab who gets stopped and searched in the streets. Years ago, both of these artists were friends in Tel Aviv’s humble hip hop scene. Subliminal owned a club and would invite Nafar to appear alongside him, hoping that it would help gain him exposure. In the award-winning documentary Channels of Rage, the viewing eye is given insight into the diversion of the two artist’s paths. Even when friends, there are political differences between the two men, but there is a strong hope that hip hop can bridge them. Today, however, they do not refer to each other in a friendly manner. In June 2001, a suicide bomber killed 17 people in a beach-front disco called the Dolphinarium. Not long afterwards, Nafar told an interviewer that he did not agree with the violent action, but could understand why the bomber did it. Subliminal saw the videotape, and at a show made it clear that he did not identify with Nafar, and “dissed him hardcore.” If the two men cross paths at a club by chance, their crews might come to blows (at worst). However, they are still more similar than they might realize. Each one thinks that the other is naïve, ignorant, unreasonable and an extremist. Both claim to represent Hip Hop, and both want peace in and around Israel, but they can’t agree on the details.
Shabak Samech is considered to be the first Isreali hip hop group, credited with being the most responsible for the progression of Israeli hip hop. They released their first album in 1995, and achieved platinum status with the release of their second album, which in turn made the scene available to a much larger audience. Former member Mook E describes their sound as being a combination of hip hop and rock.
Hadag Nahash (meaning “Snake Fish”) formed in 1996 was one of the first rap groups to hit the mainstream in Israel. A sprouting Palestinian scene grew along side them. Their sound consist of a mixture of world music and western pop. They have been compared frequently to the American hip hop group “the roots” since they use a live band instead of a DJ for their backup music.
Kobi Shinobi, more commonly known as Subliminal, is the most popular rapper in Israel. The album “The Light and the Shadow” with partner Shadow has sold over 1 million records world wide. Subliminal was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. He started performing music at age 12, and at age 15 met Yoav Eliasi, who would later become his performing partner under the name “The Shadow”. The two quickly became friends as a result of their mutual love of hip-hop. In 1995 the two began performing in Israeli clubs geared toward a hip-hop audience, wearing baggy clothes and gold chains. They quickly developed a following among the nation’s youth, and soon put out their first album, “The Light From Zion”. After the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 the two began writing patriotic songs. They became known as creators of “Zionist hip-hop”, a label still applied to them. In further contrast to the generally rebellious, “outlaw” nature of most hip-hop, they also praise army service and eschew drugs and smoking. With occasional Arabic lyrics and songs like “Peace in the Middle East”, they take a stance that can be described as desirous of a better future but unapologetic about the present. Subliminal and Ha’Tzel also helped discover the Arab Israeli rapper Tamer Nafar; they collaborated but eventually fell out over political differences. The bitter end of their musical relationship is chronicled in the documentary film, Channels of Rage.
Shai Haddad was born in Haifa, Israel then moved to Montreal,Canada when he was eleven. He was very resistant to the move and didn’t like the change. When attended a public school he was faced with a lot of anti-Semitism. He also received a lot of friction between the local Jewish community. He was seen as an outcast to them because his friends were mostly black and Hispanic. He didn’t dress like them, he talk like them so he became an outcast. As he grew older he finds appreciation in his new found home. The Canadian hip-hop scene helped jump-start his rap career. He would go to open mic nights and he also recorded his first vinyl single, Linguistiks, through his own label, IntelektMusik, in Montreal. In 1996 Haddad returned back to Israel to pursue his rap career. This time he went under the name SHI 360. SHI stands for Supreme Hebrew Intelekt and 360 represents his return to Israel from Canada. SHI 360’s lyrics reflect political and social themes as opposed to feel good pop that dominates the Israeli radio. In the song “Break the silence” he talks to kids speaking up about abuse from home life. He considers himself a conscious emcee. SHI 360 hopes to change the view on how radio is supposed to sound in Israel.
After a few years rapping he met Israeli rapper Subliminal who at the time was known as “Caveman” Haddad suggested the name Subliminal and he took that name as his stage name from there on out. Haddad and Subliminal started the T.A.C.T. Entertainment group. It is now the best-selling Israeli musical group of all time, with over 10 #1 hit singles in Israel and over 1 million records sold worldwide to date, and TACT Records is Israel’s largest music label.