Identity rap comes to Israel

Rami does most of his freestyle rap in English, but now that he is learning and speaking more Hebrew, he is composing more in Hebrew.

Freestyle rap  comes to Israel (photo credit: Courtesy)
Freestyle rap comes to Israel
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The name is Dillz, as in Kosha Dillz, but it’s not about pickles. Rami Matan Even-Esh, recent Nefesh B’Nefesh immigrant and freestyle rapper, goes by the catchy name of Kosha Dillz.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Rami grew up with an awareness and understanding of his Israeli roots. Rami’s parents grew up in the town of Kiryat Tivon, approximately 15 kilometers southeast of Haifa, and as a child, Rami would spend summers in Israel, visiting his grandparents.
Rami’s grandfather fought in the 1948 War of Independence, and his father saw combat both in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. Rami excelled in wrestling and was a Division I NCAA wrestler at Rutgers University. Unfortunately, he became a drug addict, sold drugs, was arrested and was sent to prison for several months. Before being arrested for the final time, he visited Israel on a Birthright trip in 2004, and vowed that he would someday return. Rami, who had been pursuing his rapping career while living in Los Angeles, made aliyah this past September, and has been drug and alcohol-free for more than 15 years.
Freestyle rap is a style of improvisation in which lyrics are recited with no particular subject or structure, and Rami found that he had a knack for coming up with creative lyrics. When he began his career in rap, he gave himself the name “Kosha Dillz” as a slight homage to his Jewish heritage. When people started making fun of the name, he changed it to “KD Flow,” which sounded far less Jewish. Eventually, he says, he returned to his first nickname.
“I decided to own it. I decided to change it to my liking.” Kosha Dillz was back in circulation.
After going through an extensive drug rehabilitation, Rami met and performed in 2004 with Matisyahu, the well-known Jewish singer, rapper, and alternative rock musician.
“Matisyahu was the first Orthodox Jewish person I ever met in my life,” he says, “and I didn’t understand any of it.”
In 2009, he toured with Matisyahu in Europe and the United States. In 2012, Rami tasted even greater success when his recording of “Cellular Phone” was used during the Bud Light Super Bowl commercial, which received acclaim as one of the top Super Bowl ads that year. He performed in Hebrew at the BET awards in 2012 with Robert Diggs, known by the stage name “RZA” of the Wu Tang Clan, one of the best-known hip-hop groups in the US. In 2016, Rami once again teamed up with Matisyahu, touring and recording, and fighting antisemitism with the critically acclaimed “Dodging Bullets.”
“Every time I was in Israel,” he says, “I would always talk about staying longer or living here.” Having lived in Israel since September, Rami says that while life in Israel can sometimes be difficult, it also has its rewards, and he delights in the daily pleasures of Israeli life.
“I can wake up and take my scooter by the Mediterranean Sea at 7:40 in the morning. I take a step back, and say, ‘Whoa, this is where I am.’”
After arriving in September, Rami moved to Jaffa, because a friend living there had an open space. His newest music video, “Schmoozin,’” which was released last week, was filmed in Jaffa, and one of the co-stars of the video is an acquaintance that he met at the Nefesh B’Nefesh TLV Hub, a co-working space in Tel Aviv.
“We want to communicate the concept of shmoozing and getting the deal done and having a pride and joy in our hustle and bustle,” he says of the Jewish and Yiddish-themed video. “‘Schmoozin' is also the joy in our daily life, and I want the music video to represent a tougher image of Jewry, in a time where we are perceived as weaker people in a world of attacks against Jews.”
RAMI CAME to Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh group aliyah flight and says, “Getting to Israel is easy. You can stay for a few months. You can go on vacation. But to live here – wow! It’s nice to have a community of people. I don’t think this would have been possible anywhere else. I’m trying to be the guy who says you don’t have to be religious to move to Israel.”
Rami’s bookings have increased in Israel, but he recently returned from an extensive music tour in the United States, where he says his work is well-known. Freestyle rap, he explains is a way to enhance one’s life experience.
“Freestyle is a language unto itself. Freestyle is a mentality that you can turn on at any given moment. I have a lot of experience of turning on at any given moment.” While he says that freestyle is “improv, and just do it”, he adds that mastering it takes a great deal of practice. He acknowledges that the informal freestyle mentality can be helpful for living in Israel.
“Israel is more of a freestyle culture. Everything in America is ‘plans, plans, and my schedule, and I’m booked.’ Here, everyone has time.”
He says that hip-hop music is booming in Israel. Rami does most of his freestyle rap in English, but now that he is learning and speaking more Hebrew, he is composing more in Hebrew.
“I can start writing in Hebrew, and the more you write in a language, the more you have the ability to freestyle, because you have a larger vocabulary.”
While living in the United States, Rami became known as a Jewish rapper, but he says that Jewish rap does not exist in Israel, because everyone is Jewish.
“I’m a real rapper that happened to come into this Jewish thing because people told me to start performing at it.” Rami says that music should bring people together. “Hip hop should unite people in the same room, and not separate them as if to say, ‘This is Jewish. ’I can’t go to that.”
For all of his joking and wisecracking, Rami turns serious when he says what he would like to do in Israel.
“I want to become the voice for English-speaking kids from all over the world that are seeking that special thing when coming to Israel. I want a chance to tell my Jewish story, something of adversity and resilience. I have been sober for over 15 years and I understand how rap has changed my life. It is a different Jewish story.
“I want to perform for the soldiers who need entertainment like Leonard Cohen did. I want to help the talent of Israel be seen like it truly deserves. I want to sell out the Barby Club in Tel Aviv. I want to write an album in Hebrew. I created an intriguing life for myself. The other life is always there for me, but an Israel life is here for me now.”
Echoing his newly released music video, Rami says that he is a hustler and a schmoozer. But, he adds, “I know who I am on the inside. The music I’m making is who I am.”
This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh and its partners Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, The Jewish Agency and JNF-USA.