Sam Kalnitz isn't your typical rapper. The 19-year-old student at Yeshiva University just got back from a year and a half of study in Israel, but he has never lost sight of his real love: hip-hop music.
And since his latest video - featuring him clad in a traditional black hat and suit and rapping on the streets of New York - has gone viral, his dreams seem closer than ever.
"This one is exponentially bigger than probably everything else combined," he told The Jerusalem Post
Kalnitz, who goes by Sammy K, said lots of different people have reached out to him since that video was posted, and he's hoping to build relationships and collaborations from that.
Kalnitz, a native of Atlanta, recognizes that he comes from an unusual background for a rapper, but he doesn't see it holding him back.
"Hip-hop music is an expression and reflection of who you are, and what you stand for," he said.
"The fact that I'm a religious Jew means I'm not going to curse in my music and I'm not going to talk about inappropriate things, but I'm still going to make mainstream music because that's what I want to do."
While Kalnitz is dressed in the traditional yeshivish garb in his viral video - which he said he wears on Shabbat - his weekday clothes are decidedly more casual. "The theme was to get people to recognize me as a Jewish person, so the general public... when they think of someone who's Jewish, they think of someone who's dressed like that."
Kalnitz said he fell in love with music and hip-hop at an early age: "I started writing my own stuff in like sixth grade probably," he said.
By high school he was recording songs on his home computer, and by his senior year had professionally produced a few tracks. While Kalnitz said his bubbe "is definitely my biggest supporter, she's my No. 1 fan," his parents took a little more convincing.
"At first my parents were very skeptical... obviously hip-hop does have somewhat of a negative stigma and rightfully so," he noted.
But once they realized he was producing music in line with his beliefs, and getting positive feedback, "now I have their full support."
Until now, the most attention Kalnitz received was for "Alone," the music video tribute he produced with his friend Yaakov Galen for Ezra Schwartz, the American teenager who was killed in a terorrist attack in Israel in 2015.
"Is this a normal way of living/ I'm scared to walk outside/ But that's just what they wanted/ There's no more time to hide," he raps, as Galen sings about tragedy and unity.
"I met Ezra a few times," said Kalnitz, who studied in yeshiva in Mevasseret Zion the same year Schwartz was learning in Beit Shemesh. "All of his friends, his close friends from yeshiva I was very close with them... and I felt like it was appropriate to make a tribute."
The majority of the music Kalnitz has released so far has Jewish themes, including his latest "Negatives," also with Galen, which features clips of people speaking about what they will be praying for at the Western Wall.
"No matter what I know/ The one above has a plan for me/ Everything happens for a reason/ Nothing ever randomly." Kalnitz produced a fair amount of music while studying in Israel, hooking up with fellow Atlanta native Jonathan Friedlander who gave him access to a studio and helped with production.
Another of his music videos, "Manischewitz," features him rapping around the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk: "Yeah let's crank up the party/ There ain't room for Bacardi/ And you can turn up if you're Ashkenazi even Sephardi."
While most of his published work has Jewish themes, Kalnitz said he also has a lot of mainstream music that he's recorded.
The Jewish-themed works "are the ones that are really influential and inspirational," he said. "Those songs are the ones that had the biggest impact on people and the ones I decided to put out first.
"But like I said, hip-hop is a reflection of who I am and what I do. Israel is obviously a big part of my life, so it does reflect that."
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