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The Tarnished Silver Age Of Jewish Hip-Hop Crossover

The word “Crossover” as a descriptor of a musical genre tends to have some degree of inherent negativity.  Generally when one crosses over from their wheelhouse genre to one where they are more or less alien, it’s for the sake of public acceptance, record sales, or record label exec. insanity in some form.  However, there’s one genre in music’s history that as a whole is a considered to be so bad, so much a function of the above mentioned ill-intentions that some refer to it merely as “crossover.”   I’m talking about the scourge that is “rap rock” or “rap metal,” a musical genre that reached it’s apex on the soundtrack for the 1993 Dennis Leary film Judgement Night, and eventually brought us the likes of Limp Bizkit.  Today, rap rock may be overwhelmingly dismissed by most record geeks, but it did have its moments.  And regardless of whether you dislike or abhor crossover, Jews had a major part in its inception. If we’re currently in the Golden Age of Jewish hip hop, the years spent fusing heavy guitars and hip-hop beats are more like a Silver Age with a really bad tarnish.

In 1980s New York, Hardcore punk found itself brushing up against hip-hop at every turn.  Not unlike the atmosphere that birthed Jazz, the low-income neighborhoods of the city were mixed with African Americans and Jews.  The hip-hop and hardcore communities were respectful, admiring one another from a safe distance and borrowing form each other subtly.  The Beastie Boys started out with a straight forward hardcore sound, which turned into hip-hop by album number two.  But if you listen to the early New York City Hardcore albums by The Cro Mags and Warzone, and compare them to the early hardcore bands of the rest of country, the distinguishing factor was a vocal quality similar to hip hop.  One of the best examples falls on the Gorilla Biscuits album “Start Today,” on the final self-titled songs in which vocalist CIV raps his way through the following lyrics.

Gorilla Biscuits in your fucking head/ One more time and you’ll be dead/ Better watch out/ better be scared/ headed for the dragons lair.

Just like the punk scene of the 70’s, New York’s 80’s hardcore scene had no shortage of Jewish members, from the Beasties to Regan Youth’s Dave Rubenstein, and later to Danny Diablo of Skarhead to James Drescher (AKA Jimmy Gestapo) of Murphy’s Law.  By the early nineties, hip hop had exploded into the mainstream thanks in no small part to Rick Rubin (a Jew), and it was around this time that metal bands began to team up with hip hop artists after Rubin put Run DMC and Aerosmith together, ushering in this new meeting of the genres that saw Ice T’s band Body Count infuriating a nation with their song “Cop Killer,” and hip-hop groups employing live bands along with DJs.

The collaboration of Anthrax and Chuck D on the song “Bring The Noise’ is among the most surprising moments in crossover, both in quality, and when you consider Scott Ian’s Jewish upbringing and the lyrics from “Bring The Noise.”

Farrakhan’s a prophet and I think you ought to listen to/ What he can say to you, what you ought to do.

When the soundtrack to Judgment Night was released in 1993 it reached #17 on the Billboard Chart, representing almost the breaking point of rap rock’s potential as a genre.  With eleven hip-hop/rock collaborations including the title track by Biohazard (featuring Jewish members Evan Seinfeld and Danny Schuler) with Onyx.  The album received good reviews, but did little to bolster the success of the film.

Since Judgment Night, quality rap rock has mostly petered out.  In the late 90s, bands like Limp Bizkit and Incubus came and went from the top of the charts, and today it’s the stuff that The Gathering of Juggalos is made of, but nobody can deny the very Jewish link to the very confused sound.

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