Happy Hanukkah! The Jewish "Festival of Lights" comes early this year. (Blame the ancient Hebrew calendar for the annual confusion—it doesn't line up with our modern one.) Hanukkah is the time when Jews worldwide celebrate a miracle that supposedly happened at a temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C. Back then, a group of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees defeated the Greeks who had taken over the city. When they cleaned up the temple and rededicated the place to Judaism, they needed oil to burn in the lamps overnight. (For religious reasons, you were supposed to keep a lamp lit in a temple overnight.) They only had enough oil to burn for one night, but (here's the miracle) that little bit of oil burned for eight nights—long enough for them to get more oil, and keep things going. So that's why the holiday lasts for eight days. (Well, eight nights, technically, and seven days.) And why we light an eight-pronged candelabra called "the menorah," adding a new candle each night. And that's why, also, it seems like a good time to give thanks to some of the most notable Jews in hip-hop history. So sit back and light one (a candle) as we spin some records and the dreidel and celebrate the 8 Jews of Rap.
Written by Jeff Rosenthal & Eric Rosenthal (@ItsTheReal)
"If nice guys finish last, the odds were dead set against Drake. There are nice Jewish boys, and then there’s Drake, who is Canadian-nice. The popular narrative is that Drake had it easy as a child, landing a major role on Degrassi: The Next Generation at fifteen and quickly gaining the keys to Young Money Entertainment and Rihanna’s, uh, glove compartment.
In reality, life is rarely made easy for Jews or Blacks, and Drake happens to be both of those things. His “Wheelchair Jimmy” persona became an escape in the years after seeing his parents get divorced, at a time when his mother struggled with bills and his father went to prison. (Drake somehow spun this to a positive: While locked up, his father would pass the phone to a fellow convict named Poverty, who’d coach Drake on his lyrics and delivery, breaking him out of his shell.) In 2008, Jas Prince introduced him to Lil Wayne. That’s when the ground shifted, when birds took flight and dogs started barking; that’s when everything changed. Where there was air, there was Drake.
So Far Gone was a seven-song EP offered up for free on his Blogspot; it became the fifth-highest selling rap album of 2009. It’s been the same ever since: as Al Shipley noted this September, “For 212 of the last 222 weeks, at least one song by or featuring Drake has been in the top 10 of Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop airplay charts—he has literally never left heavy rotation on rap radio once since becoming a star.” While other rappers try to grab his ankles and trip him up, Drake keeps rollin'.
Corks have been popped, bottles have been thrown and beefs squashed. He's sung when you wanted him to rap, and palled around with Bieber and RiFF RAFF for no other reason than to annoy you. And yet, he seems unchanged, bringing Kanye and Stevie Wonder to his local Molson Amphitheatre; he's that same Jewish kid from Toronto. He earned his bar mitzvah (at thirteen, a moment re-enacted in the “HYFR” video.) But the most Jewish thing he’s ever done is get injured while playing basketball.
Check back tomorrow for our next great Jew of rap.
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