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Celebrate Zose Hanukkah with Your Old Droog





Celebrate Zose Hanukkah with Your Old Droog



On this, the last day of Hanukkah aka Zose Hanukkah, consider this provocative hypothesis: Hip Hop and Hanukkah are brothers from another mother. For one thing, both are tied to numerology. Hanukkah lasts eight days and nights--the number eight being a “number of completion” that symbolizes the “metaphysical world” in Judaism. Cut that number in half and you've got the fabled “four elements” of Hip Hop: DJing, MCing, B-Boying, and Graffiti Art. Plus both Hip Hop and Hanukkah incorporate an extra number “to grow on.” During Hanukkah there’s the ninth candle in the middle of the menorah--called the shamash--used to light the other candles as the holiday progresses. And in Hip Hop there’s the well-known trope of the “fifth element” variously said to be knowledge, beatboxing, basketball, fashion, or some other something. 

Also, both celebrate the warrior spirit. The Jewish holiday honors the Maccabees, the rebel warriors who took control of Judea, while Hip Hop celebrates verbal warriors who brandish liquid swords in street cyphers or Verzuz battles, and DJs who battle each other in parks, playgrounds, and turntablist competitions. Zooming out another level, hip hop celebrates the warriors who battle socio-economic oppression and white supremacy. 

Finally, Hip Hop is sometimes described as the art of making “something from nothing," and likewise, Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of a paltry supply of lamp oil somehow lasting eight days inside the newly retaken Temple of Jerusalem. So you see, practically the same thing! Let’s go ahead and declare “Hip Hanukkah” the portmanteau of the day and get Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical.

Which brings us to the real subject of this piece and the inspiration for the chin-stroking thesis above: the Brooklynite rapper of Jewish-Ukrainian ancestry known as Your Old Droog, who yesterday released the Hanukkah-dedicated single seen at the top of this piece. For five years-plus YOD has been making waves in the hip hop underground, a favorite of heads who recognize his formidable skills and appreciate his verbal acrobatics, encyclopedic references (forget about consulting Genius since YOD had all his lyrics removed from the site), clever punchlines, and grimy ‘90s-style beats. Collaborations with the likes of Danny Brown and Heems have only cemented YOD’s reputation. 

Often compared to such upper echelon verbalists as Nas and MF Doom, YOD achieved early notoriety when he first started posting tracks on SoundCloud minus any additional social media presence or photos or personal info of any kind. This quickly led to rumors that YOD was actually Nas recording under a pseudonym. After positively IDing himself in a 2014 New Yorker profile and subsequently selling out a show at Webster Hall, it was revealed that he was actually a heretofore unknown white dude from Coney Island. Your Old Droog had seemingly come out of nowhere and created “something out of nothing” right out of the box.

But in reality more than just “some white dude” as his last two records have made clear--concept albums focused, respectively, on his Jewish heritage and Eastern European ethnic ancestry. On the first day of Hanukkah, late in 2019, YOD dropped Jewelry. The third full-length released in an insanely prolific year, the album opens with a track called “Shamash” (the ninth menorah candle referenced above!) that opens with the sound of a matchbook being struck which transitions into a hazy, dubby beat with incantations over the top that all sounds either highly spiritual or like someone coming down from a latke binging session. 

[[Editor's note: A Jewish colleague informs us that this track "samples someone reciting the blessings that we say each night as we light the Chanukah candles." We advise caution to Deli readers looking to this publication for advice or instruction on religious practices of any kind. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming...]]

But soon you’re snapped back to lucidity with the track “Jew Tang” (Ain’t Nuthin’ to F*** With!) that with its buzzing, lumbering beat feels like nearly getting run over by a Mitzvah tank barreling down Eastern Parkway with (one time?) Hasidic reggae icon Matisyahu in the passenger seat. Here and elsewhere on the album YOD spits bars that slant-rhyme “Cash Rules...” with “Kashrut” (Jewish dietary standards!) and chrome mags with Cro-Mags (NYC hardcore legends!) and lots of other mind-expanding lyrical mashups besides. If there’s a better portrait of punk rockers and hip hoppers and multi-hued Brooklynites of all types existing together in all of NYC's true grit and glory I’d like to hear it.

if there one thing you can surely say about Your Old Droog is that you’ll never find him “writing the same thing over and over / like Bart Simpson in detention"--a charge he levels against wack rappers in “The Greatest To Ever Do It”--since on every project he takes on a new direction. And the recently-released Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition is no exception as YOD code-switches between English and Russian (his first language) on tracks named after locales such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. It's a bold assertion coming from someone who's been frequently misperceived in the past: “if you were my complexion and poor / they just thought you were Spanish.”

A sonic travelogue, Dump YOD is a trip in the truest sense with train whistles and barrel organs and mournful horns and hammered dulcimers and that’s all on the first couple of tracks. These sounds help to sketch the plight of a “legal alien” as described near the end of “Ukraine,” which opens with YOD thinking back on being “outsiders since day one / been there since way young / used to squirm in the seat / when teachers called out my name, son.” In an age of widespread Nativist zeal it’s a potent message for immigrants and children of immigrants--who are well aware that “the hardest thing to be is yourself.” (Jason Lee)


 

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