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[Editor’s note – as with all the articles in this month’s social justice issue, the following is a first-hand essay from a musician. His experiences and opinions are his own, and we encourage you to join the discussion in the comments section below or on our social media pages.]
I wish I could tell you the exact meaning of what it would be like to have a name “Kosha Dillz,” which my entire family calls me by when I appear in the house. If I could only explain the feeling of what it means to represent an entire culture, faith and race of people, and I will do my best, as it can be interpreted in so many ways. Before I begin, let me bring you back to a little bit of history of crossing from “white rapper who is Jewish” to “Jewish rapper.”
When I first started rhyming in NJ, my level of hip hop consisted of ughh.com chat rooms and Real Player instrumentals, and message boards which are nearly obsolete in the world of Instagram and Twitter. All I wanted was to battle and rhyme with other emcees. I wanted to be better than everyone. I wanted to win. It was like wrestling to me.▼ Article continues below ▼
When I was incarcerated from the age of 20 to 21, I learned quickly that I was not a typical white rapper. I was a Jew, and my best friends in jail were a born again Christian named Smitty and a converted Muslim named Aggravated Chuck. I rhymed mostly about drugs (doing and selling), and eventually upon release, I returned to the name KD FLOW, to hide my Jewishness.
Upon my next return to the bars in 2004, I decided upon release with my producer Mondee that my music would be introduced to the world as Kosha Dillz. My record label was Matzah 4 Yo Mouf Records, and I released my 12” vinyl. It was the most stereotypical Jewish cover. A matzah ball, with a piece of matzah in the mouth of said matzah ball, and a yarmulke on top of the matzah ball. The lyrics had nothing to do with Jewishness. At this point still a “white rapper who was Jewish.” I was on parole and probation, and was basically rhyming, working, and staying off drugs and alcohol. Pretty simple.
Fast forward many years and many wars later, and many news articles and advancements to social media later, the definition of who I am has changed. I never thought I would sign up to be the artist who I am, trying to make “Jewish” cool, if it already was. I would never think that people would blacklist me for being a Jew because they felt I controlled opportunities, or because I cared about the rights of Israel, or because I played it up on stage (because I enjoyed it).
I truly enjoyed being Jewish as I always had, incorporating more Jewishness into my songs as more and more people encouraged me to do so. As I said before: I just wanted to rhyme and be dope.
“Make a song about The Promised Land,” someone told me. I did.
“Make a song in Hebrew,” someone told me. I did.
“Start incorporating stuff about your Israeli background,” someone told me. I did.
“That’s dope,” I thought to myself. I enjoyed the writing process and the underground, Middle Eastern sound. It was a challenge, but also sampled the early ’90s hip-hop sound while still making myself distinct from everyone else. Circa 2007-2010 I was being invited all over the world because I was on the forefront of Jewish music. I toured with Matisyahu all across the world in 2009 and also won the Summerjam Hot 97 rap battle. I was trying to make something cool that many people hated and misunderstood. It was really just a thing for me to do. But as I got more popular and ended up in festivals like SXSW and CMJ, I found myself getting scouted by the typical agent and management situation.
“You’ll never get a deal or blow up with a name like Kosha Dillz,” they told me. It was too Jewish (WTF?) Then I started to feel the backlash. Booking agents would think that I am too Jewish for them (even though they were Jewish, too). Artists felt I was too associated with Israel to make music with them, so they couldn’t tour with me (but I am dual citizen of Israel/USA). I found myself unable to go on tour with other artists and other booking agents who felt my Jewish-ness was intimidating them, because I was too intense. Religious people thought I wasn’t religious enough for them. Could anti-Semitism exist in multiple facets? My whole family was killed in the Holocaust. Wasn’t theirs too?
People say that you don’t want to get boxed into a niche. That will have you lose opportunity. I say they are wrong. I enjoy the fact that I am a niche. Embracing the truth of who I really am is everything an artist is supposed to be. And anyone who has rejected me, another door opens. I perform music in multiple languages, hustle around the world, live a hard-core adventure, and haven’t done anything outside of music for the past 5-6 years. I have performed for 500,000+ fans in 41 cities on Vans Warped Tour 2015. I was in the BET Cypher. I have performed at the Israel Day Parade on a float. I have performed at the 2012 Olympics during halftime of Turkey vs. China wheelchair basketball. I am a playable video game character in NBA 2k11/ 2k13. I have rapped at synagogues, churches, street corners, empty bars in Kansas, and in front of 15,000 people in France. If being locked in a box is so bad, then why do I have all this opportunity?
I only remind myself, because if I don’t, I forget all the opportunity I get from being myself. A super hustling, crazy freestyling, awkward songwriting, Jewish rapping bad ass Mother F’er. The best part of it all? Filling out my taxes.
Don’t be afraid to piss people off, get rejected, be pushed to the outside, and not let in. Haters will do it no matter what you are.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kosha Dillz is an American rapper, honored as one of The Jewish Week’s 2013 “36 Under 36,” an annual list of young visionaries reshaping and broadening the Jewish community. Follow him on Twitter @koshadillz.