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|'Israel's Eminem' wins fans, angers critics
||By universal sea
Originally published on
about an Israeli rapper
|(Read UMagazine's interview with Subliminal here...)
Middle East Eminem: Kobi Shimoni, left, and Yoav Eliasi are Subliminal and the Shadow.
'Israel's Eminem' wins fans, angers critics
Tel Aviv - Israel's hip hop king, Subliminal, says people have told him straight to his face, "Man, you're a fascist."
In spite of - or perhaps because of - such controversy, the 24-year-old rapper's mix of hip hop attitude and right-wing politics has become an anthem for young Israelis hungry for a secular Jewish identity and confused by three years of conflict with the Palestinians.
Kobi Shimoni and partner Yoav Eliasi - aka Subliminal and The Shadow - seldom name their enemy, but songs like We Came to Expel the Darkness and My Land are clearly directed at the Palestinians.
The rapper says he's selling pride and a dose of reality.
He says he is using hip hop as a weapon
"The lyrics are we (Israelis) should never be divided again. Only together will we survive and maintain Israel. What is so wrong with that?" Shimoni says in an interview, wearing a rhinestone Star of David around his neck.
Subliminal and the Shadow's Hebrew-language gangsta rap rocks nightclubs, army bases and pizza parlors from the Golan Heights to the Red Sea resort of Eilat. More than 54 000 Israelis have bought the latest album, a runaway bestseller in a nation of just 6,6-million people.
Subliminal's popularity has set off warning bells: some parents ban the music from their homes and critics rail against the "Subliminal phenomenon" in the press.
Israeli youth adopted hip hop at the end of the 1990s. Ethiopian Jews and Israeli Arabs have taken up rap's traditional role of giving those who feel oppressed an identity and a sense of power.
But Shimoni, like many Israelis, feels just as oppressed by Palestinian suicide bombings and shootings. He says he is using hip hop as a weapon.
The son of Jewish immigrants from Tunisia and Iran, Shimoni says his beef is with Palestinians and not the Arab world.
His ties to and falling out with Israeli Arab rapper Tamer Nafar are the subject of a documentary, Channels of Rage. A former Subliminal protege, Nafar identifies with his Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a sentiment that ran up against Shimoni's hard-line politics.
"They're both victims of the reality in Israel. They're children," said the documentary's director, Anat Halachmi.
Subliminal's edge is unusual in Israeli musical culture, which is known for folk guitars and upbeat disco. "There is a tradition of being rebellious, but up to a certain limit," said Motti Regev, an Israeli music professor.
Shimoni started rapping in English at age 15 in a Tel Aviv club. A visit to a Los Angeles recording studio convinced him that Hebrew would make his act unique.
The rapper has a clothing line, under the logo TACT or Tel Aviv City Team. Each item, from caps to red hoodies and baggie pants, is emblazoned with a Star of David, along with stitching reading "The Architects of Israeli Hip Hop."
"Two years back, the (Star) of David was like a mockery. Nobody would walk out like that and have been proud of it," Shimoni says.
Though Shimoni is a self-described member of the Israeli right wing, the former soldier says his family supported then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak in his efforts to win peace with the Palestinians.
The peace effort's failure, and three subsequent years of violence, convinced Shimoni negotiations don't work. Although he offers no specific positions on how to resolve the conflict, there's no mistaking his anger at the Arabs and his belief in toughness.
"If there's a conflict between two thugs in the neighborhood, they will sit down in a room and beat each other up until they almost kill each other," Shimoni says. "And then they won't fight anymore."
That message got to Elan Carter, a 19-year-old Israeli army corporal from Netanya who got a Subliminal and the Shadow CD as an army induction gift from his girlfriend. The lyrics made him proud to fight for Israel, Carter said.
The cover of Shimoni's second album, The Light and the Shadow, shows a muddy fist clutching a silver Star of David pendant. Not all the songs are political. Some songs are bump-and-grind tracks over the whine of Persian strings. But on at least a third of the album, Shimoni focuses on the conflict.
One Subliminal song says: "The country's still dangling like a cigarette in Arafat's mouth." In the hit "Divide and Conquer," he sings: "Dear God, I wish you could come down, because I'm being persecuted. My enemies are united. They want to destroy me. We're nurturing and arming those who hate us. Enough!"
That song is "the first patriotic anthem of the second intifada," music writer Gal Ohovsky wrote in the daily Maariv, in a reference to the current fighting.
Halachmi's documentary film traces the careers of Subliminal and Nafar going back several years. As violence escalates after 2000, their lyrics move further apart.
In one scene, Nafar sings, "What's that? Another Arab's been shot," and in another tells an interviewer he can understand why a Palestinian blew himself up in a Tel Aviv club. By film's end, the two rappers nearly come to blows.
Shimoni has been called the Israeli Eminem, but Bakari Kitwana, author of two recent United States books on hip hop culture, said there are few similarities to the US rapper.
"Eminem is not appropriating hip hop and turning it back on black people," said Kitwana. Subliminal's music is "a kind of turning on the oppressed instead of being a tool of empowerment for those who are oppressed," he added.
Shimoni's intent isn't always clear.
In Bottomless Pit, the rapper warns an unnamed enemy: "Anybody who messes with me ends up in a coffin." Guns lock, load and fire in the background while the rappers sing about shooting a pair of brothers in the street. These are words and sounds out of the rap anthems of the gang wars of Los Angeles, overlaid with references to Israeli Merkava tanks and Tel Aviv locales.
Is he preaching violence, reflecting a grim reality or just trying to sell records?
"I always put my messages between the lines," Shimoni says. "You know: 'Subliminal."' - Sapa-AP
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