Orthodox Rapper Nissim Black Reintroduces Himself To The World

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JERUSALEM (JTA/ALMA-Emily Burack) — Nissim Black knows that wherever he goes, he’s going to turn heads.

“There’s always these questions,” the rapper explains to me from his home in Israel. “Like, ‘Well, are you still black? How black are you? How does that work? But you’re also Jewish? Jews are white?’ No they’re not!”

The questions annoy him, and rightfully so. Yes, he’s black and Jewish and Orthodox. No, that combination does not make him any less of any of those identities.

His new single, “Mothaland Bounce,” sets the record straight.

“I wanted to be able to just sort of lay it all out there, and make a statement, so I could at least limit the questions,” he says.

In many ways, the song serves as a declaration of who he is. Even though he’s been active as a rapper since 2006, “Mothaland Bounce” is a re-introduction of sorts: He’s black, Jewish, from Seattle, living in Jerusalem and “Hitler’s worst nightmare” (arguably my favorite lyric in the entire song).

Making “Mothaland Bounce” was a “relief,” Black says. “I’ve been spending time with a friend of mine in L.A., and he [told me], ‘Back in ‘hood, everybody feels like you just forgot about them.’ I’m living in a different world. I’m living in Jerusalem, I’m across the world. Even though I keep up with some family, I’m not as involved right now. People feel like I may have left that struggle, [but] it’s not really true, you know what I’m saying? It’s just a different type of struggle, but I’m still there in the struggle. I’m still with the people.”

The video for “Mothaland Bounce” pays homage to his past and his present; the visuals are inspired by one of Black’s favorite films, “Coming to America.” (In the iconic film, Eddie Murphy’s character arrives in America from the wealthy, fictional African nation of Zamunda.) The video ends with Black in a barbershop, where the barber asks him to take off his hat — when he does, he reveals a kippah underneath. The barber goes, “Another one?!” It’s funny, Jewish and pays homage to the barbershop scenes in “Coming to America.”

Left: Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in “Coming to America” (1988); right: Nissim Black in “Mothaland Bounce” (2020).

The video shows Black rapping and dancing with three groups of male dancers. They all come together at the end of the video, showing how he’s made peace with all of his identities.

“The three different groups are three different aspects of me,” Black says. “The African dancers represent the slaves that came here to America, which is our past. And then, you have the street dancers, the urban aspect.”

The video depicts these two groups as facing off against each other, representing Black “trying to figure out what I was.” The the Hasidic dancers show up near the end.

“What brought peace for me was Judaism,” Black explains, “So the Hasidic guy, he comes to break up the two things, and he brings shalom. It was all very telling of who I was.”

The 33-year-old rapper is a dad of six who has had a long, winding path toward Judaism. His journey begins in Seattle, where he was born Damian Jamohl Black to James “Captain Crunch” Croone and Mia Black, both rappers. (They were part of the Emerald Street Boys, Seattle’s first rap group, and Emerald Street Girls.) His parents split when he was 2, and his mom remarried.

His grandfather was a devout Muslim, so “my first introduction to religion,” Black says, “was Islam.” If anybody had asked Black as a kid, he would say he was Muslim, the rapper recalls, because of his grandfather’s influence on his life. But at 13, he converted to Christianity after attending a summer camp, the Gospel Mission Youth Center.

The conversion was “good for me,” Black says, “because I was already part of a street gang, Disciple Nation folks, and this helped me get away from the street mentality for a long time.” (Disciple Nation refers to the Black Gangster Disciples, or BGD, that Black also refers to in “Mothaland Bounce.” Funny enough, the main logo of the group is a six-pointed Star of David.)

On “Mothaland Bounce,” Black plays on this mix between his history and present, rapping:

He said it’s God’s plan, but, I’m God’s man / I used to run with BGD / I dropped the B and put an O after the G / Six points still big up King D

In the synagogue, camouflaged, but I can’t wipe the skin off / I’m proud of it / It’s a loud a bit, but I’m not trying to criss-cross.

This verse is Black at his best: laying it all on the line. Acknowledging his past, talking openly about his spirituality, and addressing the reality of being a black Jewish person. Plus, the “God’s plan” lyric is a nod to the song of another black Jewish rapper, Drake.

At 17, he had a potential offer from a record label and wanted to pursue it — the state of hip-hop at the time was focused on a “gangsta rap type of thing,” so the record label pushed him to adopt a “harder persona than what I was giving them.” He ended up releasing his first singles on an independent label under the name D. Black. (Here’s one of his few music videos from that era, released in 2006.)

Then, Black explains, as success started happening with his music, in 2008, “I got in an altercation with another artist, and this altercation led to a kill-or-be-killed situation.” This situation led him to start praying over how he ended up where he was.

“Eventually, all my praying and soul searching led me to Judaism,” which felt very natural to him. Black had grown up in a Jewish neighborhood in Seattle, and used to walk by a synagogue on his way to elementary school. Coming full circle, he ended up moving back to his childhood neighborhood with his wife after both converted to Orthodox Judaism under Sephardic Rabbi Simon Bezaquen. They married in 2008, but remarried after their conversion in an Orthodox marriage ceremony in 2013 at the Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation in Seattle.

The wedding of rapper Nissim Black and wife Adina in Seattle, March 5, 2013. (Via JTA News)

Making and releasing “Mothaland Bounce” was a big risk for Black, whose music in the last decade has been aimed at a primarily Jewish audience.

“I’m very shocked at how much this song has been shared, how well received it was,” Black says. “In terms of the Jewish world, it was a big risk; a lot of them are religious.”

Black was worried that they wouldn’t understand a song in which the influences are clearly black culture and black history.

Yet this shift is in line with things he’s been thinking about since moving to Israel in 2016, when he made aliyah with his wife and children. Living in Israel, he’s been inspired to create a more universal sound. “Mothaland Bounce,” therefore, demonstrates this new Nissim Black sound: one that’s not just aimed at Jews but at everyone.

“I’m casting a net a little bit further — a lot further — than what my current audience has been,” he says.

“Being here in Israel, especially after living in Jerusalem, is like the center of the world. Everybody comes here. Everybody comes here!” Black exclaims. “I feel like my mind has sort of expanded, and my music’s becoming even more and more universal.”

Moving to Israel has pushed Black out of his comfort zone. On his new record, he says, there are things he does that he “wouldn’t have done” back in Seattle.

“I’m even creating at a crazier rate than what I was before, with even more obligations of life! I have more children,” he says with a laugh. “Creating is almost like I’m like a kid all over again.”

Black and his wife, Adina, have six children; their eldest daughter, 11, is set to become a bat mitzvah in a month and a half. Their youngest son is 7 months old.

Nissim at his son’s bris, Aug. 4, 2019 (via @NissimOfficial on Twitter)

When I asked if he was looking forward to his daughter’s bat mitzvah, he said, “Yes and no,” with a laugh. “It’s so hard, you want to keep them all young and small and dependent on you. It’s hard to really give that up! She’s becoming more of a teenager. It’s really tough.”

Life in Israel has been an adjustment for Black and his family.

“Coming from Seattle, I wasn’t used to this many hot days in a row,” he jokes.

“It took me a little bit,” to adjust, Black explains. “I come from a different background, you know, [a] more urban — trying to be nice and say this! — background. Usually when you step on my shoe, or you bump into me, or you push me out of the way, that means that you want to fight. In Israel, it doesn’t mean it,” Black laughs. “You have to get used to it. I’m very much adjusting to the way things move in Israel.”

Being a black religious Jew has definitely not always been easy for Black. In 2018, he was in the news after he shared that his children hadn’t been accepted to yeshivas (Jewish schools) because they were black. He went to visit with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who told him that “being ‘black’ is your ‘mayla’ [virtue] not a ‘chesaron’ (lacking).”

But he remains positive, and wants people to know that “I put my heart into my music and I love to give my heart to everyone. I’m a lover of humanity.”

His relationship to Judaism also shifted once making aliyah.

“The prayer and the devotion to spirituality in Israel is amazing,” Black says. “I could have the most amazing conversations with a Jew or a Christian or an Arab in Israel that I can’t get anywhere else in the world. In terms of spirituality, the place is on a whole other level.”

That’s why he is so excited that his new music is reaching an audience outside of the Jewish community.

“I feel like one of the most beautiful things about me being able to make music as a Jew is that I can talk about spirituality in a way where it doesn’t conflict with people,” Black says. He’s never proselytizing; he loves that Judaism has a “universal message of spirituality.”

But of course, he still leans into his Judaism — it’s who he is. The video for “Mothaland Bounce” is intercut with Black, alone, in festive Hasidic dress — in addition to his long peyos, traditional side curls, he is wearing a bekeshe, a Hasidic black coat, tallit, prayer shawl, and a shtreimel, a fur-trimmed hat.

The visuals of Black Jews dancing in “Mothaland Bounce” are important to Black, as are any mainstream images of Black Jews.

“Unfortunately, primarily in New York, there’s been a lot of violence [in] the relationship between the African-American community and the more religious Jewish community. It’s been very, very shaky and it’s gotten uglier and uglier,” Black says.

He believes that by showing black religious Jews, it will help bring awareness that these two communities aren’t as separate as they may perceive themselves to be. He wants people not to just think someone is the “enemy because of the color of [their] skin.”

“Awareness will definitely help to have the proper conversations that need to be happening between the two communities,” he says. “I would hope that this [song] will be one step forward in that direction.” His mere existence, he hopes, will open dialogue.

“Quite honestly, I owe my life on a physical level, for sure, to the African-American community. They gave me everything I need — including my parents and everything. But then on a spiritual level, Judaism has given life to me. I feel like I owe my life [to Judaism]. I’m willing to sacrifice even my standing and notoriety in [the] very religious world to be able to try to bring peace between the two, because it means that much to me.”

His ultimate dream? To be on the world stage, and for his music to be a “springboard” for vital conversations about acceptance. He wants to “shine God’s light in the world.”

“The power that I have [is] that I can share what nobody else can: my story,” Black explains, “which is very, very unique in itself.”

He’s right: There’s not a single person in this world like Nissim Black.

Header image and all other images (unless otherwise credited) via “Mothaland Bounce” music video.

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54 COMMENTS

  1. I would never buy one of his CDs and I don’t know why anyone would. Just listen to him on Spotify, and if you feel guilty about him not getting much in royalties, send him a check in the mail for the cost of the album.

  2. I was not impressed with his music, it reminded me of rap, a genre of “music” that curses and denigrates women. Furthermore his statement of violence between blacks and Jews is not correct, ALL the perps were black and ALL the victims were frum, its like saying that the Jews and blacks had a pogrom in crown heights or that Nazis and Jews fought a war and it ended up as 6 million Jewish dead.

    • Excuse me What do you mean it reminds you of rap? It is rap. Personally, I don’t go for this type of music or for any of the new ra- ra bang -bang music played at jewish weddings today. But, I think Mr Black has done an excellent job of putting a positive spin on rap.

  3. Kol hakavod. Nissim is wonderful Yid with a special neshama. Someone who was born a Yid will NEVER understand the struggles and hardships that a Ger Tzedek has to endure. The Torah recognizes this and has special commandments to be sensitive to them. Those who left negative comments above made a chillul Hashem and should be ashamed of themselves. You think that just because you’re an FFB you’re greater than them?! It’s the same thing with Baale Teshuva. You think you’re better? Such arrogance.

    • What does Kol hakavod mean and why can’t you just write it in English?

      Just kidding I’m not an idiot (or yingale) and I know at least basic Hebrew and Yiddish

      • What does it mean to issue toothless threats about releasing the spam gremlins, etc., when everyone with half a brain is wise to who you are, o 0a5760777dc3117d38c5b8e2cd5f2e43? And why were you previously claiming that you’re doing this in order to keep things normal around here, where then you go under one of your many aliases (hashomer, that time) and try to stir up arguments? Are you one of those poor sad sacks with multiple personality disorder or something?

          • You don’t have a question. You have a desperate need to appear relevant. Because if it was just that you had a question, why then it’s been answered any number of times already.

            And yes, anyone can look at the details of the image that’s supposed to appear next to your username, and see the Gravatar link, and that it’s the same one that’s appeared with other usernames (including when you attempted to impersonate me). We’re a lot smarter than you think.

    • Ummm, I’m so inspired…not. So basically we are bringing goyishe music and culture into ours. I’m shocked at how many “frum” people listen to goyishe music and singers today. Because Yiddishe singers sing goyish, we have become desensitized to ekeldige goyish music. If Missing black wants to sell his songs to blacks it’s his choice, but when his CDs appear in Jewish stores and music websites, it’s a big problem, it legitimizes goyishe music and we start to think that it’s ok.

  4. Wow amizing!… Nissim Black has such a beautiful nishuma and wow for the ones like me that enjoy rap it’s amaizing to take something you love to do and turn it into a Yiddish form of doing it!…. And for all haters or the ones with nothing nice to say you get a mitzvha by just not posting anything like keeping it to yourself!! … My blessing is may he and his dear family always live a beautiful connected life as they are doing !…. Hashen has amaizing children of ALL TYPES!…. Love the music keep it up!….

  5. Nissim Black is AMAZING. Look at the negativity in many comments here, and imagine what he faces in his everyday life. Always being judged and nitpicked… but he’s still going strong!

    Stay strong Nissim Black!!!!!!! Ignore the haters – and successful people always have haters. It’s just a sign of your success. (And you definitely have more fans than haters.)

  6. Nissim should either stay a rapper and cater to that culture
    or hes welcome to join the fold and be connected with hashem and do services of hashem
    not start combining his rap history /culture connecting it the one and only and sell us a bag off goods that thats his calling and hes such a wonderful person (u gotta see how he davens… good)bla bla bla
    and then become klal yisroel preacher at shabatons etc.
    this is a sick phenomenon and twisted …… and the video proves it ….
    sit at ur corner and look in the sidur .

    • Excuse me, but who are you to determine who is “connected with [H]ashem” and “do[ing] services of [H]ashem”? Would you say the same thing about a person who’s good at writing, or art, or medicine, or whatever, that if they become frum (or a ger) they should abandon that?

  7. I read an interview with Nissim Black, and he wrote this song after seeing the news about multiple acts of violence from African-Americans against Jews. He said he is willing to risk his reputation in the frum world to try and bring peace and stop the attacks on the frum community. I think it’s very noble of him.

    This is from the interview:

    “Unfortunately, primarily in New York, there’s been a lot of violence [in] the relationship between the African American community and the more religious Jewish community. It’s been very, very shaky and it’s gotten uglier and uglier,” Black says. … “I’m willing to sacrifice even my standing and notoriety in [the] very religious world to be able to try to bring peace between the two, because it means that much to me.”

  8. All the people that make stupid comments don’t have to listen to his music if they don’t like it.
    I personally listen to rap music and other genres. Unfortunately, Jewish music is boring and missing content. I was so happy to find a Jewish rapper who is actually good.
    Also, just listen to nissim’s story and research who he his before you put him down

    • “Unfortunately, Jewish music is boring and missing content. I was so happy to find a Jewish rapper who is actually good.”
      wow what a statement! soul searching is a better way to go.
      taking ur new status of Ger and pumping up ur goyish art and making it into a holy project of bringing peace and becoming a preacher is not what we need, take ur place in society and live a normal life
      (if possible-most dont) not 15 min after putting on one hat then half hour later the next style and an hour later ur already a Rabbi.

  9. Hey hatters.
    Mr. black reads these comments your so worried about your neshomas? You will burn in hell for embarrassing a get tzedak.
    Your such big tzadikim? don’t put a filter in your internet put a filter on your mouth first!

    • Trying to make people feel guilty doesn’t change the fact that his music is totally goyish but is being sold as “Jewish music”. If Jewish distributors don’t carry his CDs/DVDs then it’s ok, but when it enters the frum marketplace and is peddled as “Jewish” then it’s terrible.

      Nobody will burn in hell for pointing that out. And no, geirim cannot “tantz oif tzvei chasunas”… You cannot kasher the goyishe chazer culture and you cannot kasher rap. Yiddishkeit is not about making people feel good when they are bringing Jews to lower standards.

      • Chinky, if you really, truly believe there is something wrong with this song, ask a Rav how to handle it correctly al pi Torah. I doubt the Rav will pasken that it is your place to do anything at all, and surely the Rav will not approve of you going online to criticize this man publicly to thousands of people even if the Rav agreed with you about the music. So even if you’re right (about his music), which is not clear, you’re wrong (about how you are handling it).

        • Rap, and any other genre that is goyish, should be clearly called out as such, publicly. I’m sure Nissin Black is a very nice person but he’s trying to combine two cultures. Judaism is HAVDALAS from other cultures and we need to make that clear. I don’t need to ask a Rav about something so basic to Judaism, even if it’s not clear to you.

          • Go ahead and speak out against “rap” if you want to – but not against Mr. Black. There is a difference. And you clearly DO need to ask a Rav because you apparently think it’s okay to speak out against Mr. Black in public.

      • P.S. You call it dancing at two weddings. You can hardly call the way Mr. Black as been treated as dancing. Now, he came to the yiddishe wedding and was shunned. None of his children found schools as of last year, his oldest being 10 at the time. Then, after all these years of pain and rejection, he stays solid but makes one song that you feel crosses a line, and everyone shames him online – and you dare call it dancing at two weddings. Shame on you!

        • Nobody speaks against Nissin Black personally, only against his “singing style”. His songs were always on YouTube and his rap style never changed. You can be angry till the heavens, but obviously the moisdos he wants to send to have certain standards against and don’t agree that someone dining rap and having his songs on YouTube should be admitted to their moisdos. I’m sure that different moisdos with lower standards would admit his children but Nissin Black doesn’t want to send them there!

          I never said he’s not sincere, but I am saying that he’s trying to combine two cultures which is against what Yiddishkeit is all about.

      • His music is by definition Jewish, because he is a Jew. Other Jewish musicians draw their influences from European and mainstream American sources. A famous Rabbi once took the songs of Hungarian peasants and elevated them to Chassidic nigunim; there is no reason the same can’t be done to the genre of rap.

        • There’s such a thing as secular Jewish music like the Yiddishists used to sing, there’s such a thing as prusta Jewish music, that is not the music of Yehidim who’s music should uplift every Jewish souls to holier lever. What one Rebbe did in another century does not give permission for other Jews to go to the rotton core if the secular music industry and slap on a hechshcher. It’s a chazer fliesh hechsher and nothing more.

          Just because you are desensitized to goyishe music doesn’t make it ok to market this music as frum, Jewish music for the frum crowd. It doesn’t mean music can’t be in a contemporary style, it doesn’t have to be 19th century style music. For example Uri Davidi has the right balance of modern while not being goyish and prust.

        • silly comparison .
          and trying to force this vomiting style onto us with a play with other non jewish actors alongside him… Did the Hungarian rabbi do that as well?
          Horrible in plain words…. All this happens when bal tshuvas and geirim think they figured out whats needed to uplift Yiddishkeit.
          some become rabbis, some singers, some other type artists some combine it together . oh, “its their calling” and without them klal yisroel is lacking representation.

          • By calling it a “vomiting style”, you are revealing that you actually just prefer other music styles and are trying to impose your own music preferences on others.

  10. It’s shocking and sad to see some of the comments on VIN in general. But the comments on this article in particular shows how narrow minded and backwards some of the people here are.
    There’s nothing wrong with Nissim’s music, I actually find it inspiring. But just because it’s not what they’re used to people make nasty comments.
    These are probably the same people who could not accept a Jew that doesn’t wear the same hat as they do.

    • placing names as “narrow minded” and so on still doesn’t justify the style coming out of this Ger Tzedek and trying to inject it in us by saying he trying to bring piece…..
      and if someone gets inspired by this music and lyrics then theres something wrong with him till that point .
      why does it have to come with the title of Rabbi and preach to us , we have Rabbis with a torah background that know how to answer our questions and not via a Rap song.

  11. Nissim is an amazing person who has entered our beautiful religion and given up so much in order to keep mitzvas and lead his life as a true committed jew
    We are obligated to follow what the torah tells us ואהבתם את הגר and חלילה not to cause them any pain or distress.

    Please be very careful what you post.

    No one is forcing anyone to listen to any type of music. Everyone can make their own personal decisions and keep to their boundaries. But to shame a person on a public forum is a big sin.

        • Whether or not it’s a “goiyshe” music style is completely arbitrary. Hashem created this style and Nissim Black’s exceptional skill in it.

          PLEASE NOTE: the above was not written by me. The original Beeh poster.
          Somebody has copied my details. pretending that I replied to it.

          In response to yeker:
          You do not have to respect or agree with anyone’s music but you must still love the ger and not cause him any pain or distress.

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