Hip Hop Hoodios

A Latino Jewish urban collective.

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Not Your Rabbi's Jewish Music

The sheer density of the Jewish references on "Carne Masada"--musical and lyrical--is overwhelming. Religious songs, Hebrew melodies, klezmer clarinets, popular Jewish children's ditties: all are tossed together, and with a great deal of humor. Hardly educational in affect, Hoodios prefer to inject their source material with a frisson of naughtiness.

The original writers of "The Dreidel Song" likely never anticipated its use in a rap called "Dicks and Noses," nor could they have imagined the Hoodios' metaphorical use of the word "dreidel" to mean--well, something else entirely. "You call me daddy, I call you ima/I want to take you right now on the bima," they declare on "Hoodia Para Mi," imagining a synagogue seduction. They announce they're on the lookout for "a good Jewish whore," then soften the approach by listing their specifications: "bat mitzvah money and maternity hips."

Sex is ever-present on "Carne Masada," but it is not the only thing on the Hoodios' minds. "No Nose Jobs" implores Jews to keep their magnificent schnozzes, asking them to refrain from "bailing out of the community and race you came from." "Ocho Kandelikas" is a stomping rap-rock rendition of the classic Ladino Hanukkah song. And "Viva La Guantanamera," with nothing particularly Jewish about it, echoes Cuban salsa singer Celia Cruz, and shouts out to salsa legend Hector Lavoe, while the lyrics riff on closing the American prison at Guantanamo Bay.

This is the sort of Judaism your rabbi most definitely would not approve of, which is precisely what makes it so entertaining. It's the musings of boys who've spent too many hours crouched at an uncomfortable desk, listening to a Sunday-school teacher drone on. Now they're fighting back by amusing themselves with what they know.

Cultural Cross-Referencing

With Hip Hop Hoodios, Spanish gives way to English, which gives way to Hebrew, with head-spinning fluidity. "Que Pasa in Israel" begins with an amusing  confrontation between a Mexican wanting to visit Jerusalem, and the Israeli immigration officer interrogating him. The song is a declaration of allegiance to the United Nations of hip-hop, its musical style defiantly transcending all barriers of state and religion.

Barack ObamaMutts themselves, Hoodios enjoy pointing out the absurdities of others' fractious attempts at cultural purity. "Grandparents hate Arabs," they wickedly observe on "Que Pasa," "while our mothers wear scarabs"--an amulet common to the Middle East. The song pays tribute to Israel, and to Palestine, feeling no need for apology or recrimination. Hip-hop--at least the kind they make--knows no boundaries.

Unsurprisingly, for a group devoted to cross-cultural pollination and multi-denominational alliance, Hip Hop Hoodios close with a jaunty tribute to President Barack Obama, set to the tune of "Heveinu shalom aleihem." Half song of praise, half political prescription, "Shalom Obama" is a worthy conclusion to "Carne Masada," and an unabashed statement of pride in the Hoodios' world flowering outside their doors. In a world where a half-Kansan, half-Kenyan raised in Indonesia can be President of the United States, these "Spanish rapping Jews" are just another face of the American melting pot. They are also the face of the American Jewish future.

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Saul Austerlitz

Saul Austerlitz is a writer and film critic in New York.