‘Spotlight On': Eric and Jeff Rosenthal of ItsTheReal
“We’re just hip hop nerds.” Read More
How many white Jews do you know who hang out with Cam’ron and Drake? Not too many, eh? Meet Eric and Jeff Rosenthal, two brothers with a serious love for the rap game and an inherent sense of frenzied Jewish humor. Eric and Jeff (AKA ItsTheReal), began making hip hop sketch videos for fun and have gone on to amass hundreds of videos, a podcast, and a hip hop comedy mixtape, Urbane Outfitters Vol 1., featuring verses by rappers such as Bun B, Maino, and Lil Jon. Their most recent music video, “Jews for Jesus Piece,” features the brothers ghost-riding a Zipcar and folding laundry with hot models in a laundromat.
I recently had coffee/hot chocolate/tea with Eric and Jeff on Upper West Side. The two brothers are known for their finger-popping gunshots and a list of AKA’s that tout their gangster-fied names of the day. From inducting Stevie Wonder into the “Jewish Bar Mitzvah Hall of Fame” to hanging out with rapper Cam’ron and his Instagram-famous girlfriend Juju, we spoke about their approach to music, rap, sketch comedy, and hanging with rap idols.
How’d you come up with your name, ItsTheReal?
Eric: Well, we were originally known as TheReal, because every rapper claimed to be real; Young Jeezy, Kanye, but they all have such disparate backgrounds. So we were like, we’ll be “The Real,” we’ll be the definition they’re all searching for and we’ll be the truth. We were going to do thereal.com but unfortunately it was taken, so we were just like, alright, how do we secure our SEO? And then we came up with ItsTheReal.
When did you decide that you were going to pursue hip-hop comedy full time? What were you doing before? When did it get serious?
Eric: I went to school to be a feature film writer and director. I ended up working with Kanye West as a videographer of his and went to the Grammys with him. I came back to New York and started working for different record labels on a freelance basis… it’s a bizarre, funny, other type of world.
Jeff: I started working for HBO, they had a comedy website that was terrible. Then when that started to go bankrupt we were like, let’s do something together that teams up hip hop and comedy and puts us in front of the camera in a new and exciting way.
How did you get into hip hop?
Jeff: We loved hip hop from the beginning; we grew up on hip hop and Hot 97 and would come down to the city a lot to experience city life, which started to turn hip hop just naturally on its own.
Eric: We would go on road trips with our parents and beg them to play our rap tapes. They wouldn’t let us listen to this or that because of their viewpoints on how rap considered women or different social things. They just didn’t understand it for the longest time, but as it became more popular and as it became more of our lives, what they didn’t get at the time, they get now. They’d be like, “How do you guys relate,” or “what do you take from this?” We have such a high respect for the culture and everything that we’ve done is to build upon, never to break down.
How did you become friends with all these rappers?
Jeff: We were putting out sketch videos every Monday. We got 40,000 views and kept growing. I remember the first time we went out and started getting recognized by all these people we grew up on, and it was such a weird experience… the first rapper to reach out to us to make a video was Bun B. Bun is always an early adopter in terms of what’s cool on the Internet and what’s next. We shot a video with him and once that happened, it opened up the floodgates. We met with Cam’ron through his label president.
Eric: Overall, we speak the language. We are a part of this culture—we go out, we’re seen everywhere, we go to all these events, people want to be apart of something that’s different, funny, and fresh. Being real life friends was just an extension of that—now rappers will call us up and talk about everyday things.
Any surprises from any of the people you’ve worked with? Experiences you didn’t expect?
Eric: I forget who said it, maybe Dave Chappelle, “All comedians want to be rappers and all rappers want to be comedians.” They all think they’re funny, and to some degree a lot of them are. Bun B likes The Office and Parks and Recreation. Maino is amazingly funny. Any of these guys who are able to express their humor for us, it’s refreshing for us as well as for them. It’s always pleasantly surprising when Cam’ron’s like “I’m totally with you guys and whatever you want to do, I’m about it.”
Jeff: Cam’ron was super-surprising because when we were doing that video with him, immediately he was like, “I just want to do it correctly, don’t just tell me yes because you guys are trying to be nice.”
Did you meet Juju, Cam’ron’s long time love?
Jeff: Yes. One of the biggest mistakes in our lives to this point was been that we did not take an Instagram photo with her and write, “Jew, Jew, Juju.”
You guys met Stevie Wonder, too, right?
Jeff: We had to go through the most security we’ve ever gone through to get to anybody. It was just short of the president… My joke to Stevie was that over the years he’s made a ton of songs for bar and bat mitzvahs, so we would like to make a toast to welcome him as an honorary Jew—and he said l’chaim! We surprised him with “Do I Do” as “Jew I Jew” and he started to sing with us.
What was it like transferring from sketch comedy to rapping?
Eric: Our career has four different phases. First was doing the sketches every Monday morning for four years, then we did a podcast for a year. Then we did the MTV interviews which was a total departure for us because we’re not journalists and we’re not looking for deep, dark secrets or anything, we just wanted to have fun and do something totally left of what everyone else was doing. And then we did the music. So all four of these things together are a good indication of who we are. Doing the music was only natural after the sort of narrative we’ve built.
We take tropes that are known throughout the world in the most popular generation of music and flip it on its ear. We wouldn’t be taken seriously if we put out a real rap record, but we’re taken very seriously when putting out a comedy rap record.
Who would you like to work with that you haven’t?
Eric: Drake or Rick Ross.
Jeff: Drake. This is who we really are. We’re just hip hop nerds.
(Feature photo by Lauren Farmer)