Israeli rapper Subliminal has built a music empire
The first song Ya’akov Shimoni ever wrote was called, “Genesis.” The lyrics — in English, Hebrew and French — were about pollution, global warming, Mother Earth and the destruction of Israel’s natural resources. It was 1997 — long before “An Inconvenient Truth” became a blockbuster and the green movement reached an unprecedented level of hipness.
“I always wrote about things that are not cool,” said Shimoni, a.k.a. Subliminal, Israel’s reigning hip-hop mogul, who will be the headlining act at this year’s Israeli Independence Day Festival on May 18.
As a young Israeli rapper in the ’90s, he shopped his demo tapes around to various music distributors. He was given the following advice: “Don’t ever rap about politics again. It’ll never sell.”
Subliminal proved them wrong.
The stocky 28-year-old has built a multiplatinum music empire on songs that tout Israeli pride, serving in the army, the hope for peace and, during the height of the second intifada, a hawkish stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is widely credited with being a founding force behind “Zionist hip-hop” along with his long-time rapping partner, Ha’tzel or “The Shadow,” one of several members of Subliminal’s powerhouse team of performers, the T.A.C.T. Family. In addition to Yoav Aliasi, other artists that have ridden the wave of success along with Subliminal include Shai 360 (Shai Hadad), Booskills, Sivan and Itzik Shamly.
Subliminal’s first album, “The Light From Zion” (2000), broadcast an unabashedly pro-Israel message to the world with songs like “Living From Day to Day.” The explicitly political lyrics were startling to an Israeli audience used to lighthearted dance beats. He received a harsh rebuke in the media, labeled an “extreme rightist” and a “producer of hatred music” by some, according to the rapper’s official biography. But his young audience, seething from rising violence in the streets, was surprisingly responsive and the album eventually went gold.
Plowing ahead, Subliminal became more provocative as his T.A.C.T. (Tel Aviv Street Team) label grew in influence with its own professional recording studios, street teams and Tel Aviv clubs. His single, “Divide and Conquer,” was lambasted by left-leaning Israeli journalists, but embraced by the public as a patriotic anthem to counter the raging intifada. In a public retort to the Palestinians’ demand for territory, Subliminal wrote “Biladi” (“My Land”), naming the song in Arabic so that his message would reach the desired target. In the song’s lyrics he asserts: “We’re here and we’ll never leave.”
Israelity Tour teases trips with an Israeli beat
Shai Haddad, a.k.a. SHI 360, was also stirred musically, turning to hip-hop to express his feelings. After making aliyah in 2006, he wrote what has become the Birthright Israel theme song, “Home.”
Haddad now performs the song in front of thousands of people at Birthright’s “Mega Event” concerts.
In a move that echoes this fusion of cultural exposure and music, the Taglit-Birthright Israel Alumni Association, recently rebranded as Birthright Israel Next, has launched the Israelity Tour — a seven-city West Coast concert extravaganza aimed at exposing young American Jews to Israeli culture, promoting the free 10-day educational trips to Israel for 18- to 26-year-olds, as well as cultivating the connections alumni of the trip have already made to the Holy Land and one another.
Israelity kicked off in Seattle on Feb. 6 and focuses primarily on major Jewish communities where Birthright trip registration rates are significantly lower when compared with those from East Coast communities. The goal is to make Birthright a household name, said Sydney Henning, the group’s national initiatives director.
Birthright says Los Angeles registration rates for trips are fairly high among West Coast cities. Still the organization considers Los Angeles an important destination to augment its alumni programming. The Los Angeles leg of the tour will play the Avalon in Hollywood on Feb. 16.
Flipping the Birthright model on its head, the Israelity Tour is “Where West Coast Meets Middle East.” Instead of bringing Americans to Israel, the tour brings Israel to America, with music performances by Israeli hip-hop luminary Subliminal a.k.a. Kobi Shimoni and his seven-member crew — the T.A.C.T. Family (Tel Aviv City Team) — funk/hip-hop band Coolooloosh and folk singer Citrin.
“I really believe in what Birthright is doing,” Shimoni said in a telephone interview from Seattle. “I respect their efforts, and I want to help in any way that I can.”
MUSIC VIDEO: ‘God Almighty When Will It End?’ Subliminal and Miri Ben-Ari
Subliminal and Israeli hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari:“Adon Olam, Ad Matai?—God Almighty, how much longer?”
(Hebrew with English subtitles)
Yes, we know we have two translations here.