Mitzvah Freestyling


Growing up in the Oakland public school system, MC Hyim began freestyling when he was 8 years old. Today, he performs and produces conscious hip-hop, encouraging listeners to do tikkun olam — take the anger and pain from today’s society and transform it into something good: “As important as it is to acknowledge and understand the history of what we might call Babylon,” Hyim said, “it’s important to move beyond it. Though a lot of people are hurting, and we have a lot of anger, everyone needs to take responsibility for themselves — to be aware of how they are how they are negatively affected by our reality, and how to turn that into something positive.”

Hyim finds hip-hop to be a natural vehicle for his own tikkun olam, not only because of the influence of his secular environment, but also because of his Jewish roots: “Judaism is a religion of the Word, of the Book,” he said, “so it makes sense a lot of Jews would get into rap and hip-hop. Our culture is about literacy — about verbal and written and oral communication.”

As a white Jew of Ashkenazi heritage, however, Hyim navigates through tensions regarding his participation in hip-hop culture: “There is always the question whether we are co-opting, recycling, participating in culture vulturism. I think the answer really depends on what your intention is. My intention is to celebrate the positive aspects of communication and a long history of storytelling — both of hip-hop music and Jewish heritage.”

The struggle, Hyim said, is in “how to pay respect to the people who created this art form. I pay respect by being honest — by not talking about things that are not true in my own life, by taking responsibility: When you have a mic and you’re amplified, you have to be aware of how your energy is affecting those ears. What are you offering? What are you supporting? What are you taking away? Hip-hop originally was about a party. You could close the door, have a party, have a DJ say, ‘Everybody clap your hands,’ do call and response. [Hip-hop] was about creating a safe space where everyone was participating. If you’re doing hip-hop provoking violence and separation, maybe you’re telling your own story, but you’re also supporting and validating something that isn’t going to be good for the children.”

Hyim will be performing at the CD release party for “Celebrate Hip-Hop,” during which he will showcase his freestyling talents. “I’ll have the audience call out some words,” he promises, “and I’ll go off on that.”