November 18, 2011
Mac Miller and a generation of Jewish hip-hop
Earlier this week, the 19-year-old “white Jewish rapper” known as Mac Miller reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts with his debut album, “Blue Slide Park.” According to ABC News, the album sold 144,487 copies during its first week of sale, and prompted the high-praise headline: “Mac Miller: The Next Eminem?”
Despite the hype, Showbiz411 declared Miller’s album “juvenile” (excerpting the lyric: “f—- the police ), but added that he is a skilled, self-taught musician. At the age of 6, Miller taught himself how to play piano, guitar, drums and bass.
Miller was born Malcolm McCormick in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a Christian father and Jewish mother, according to Wikipedia. Miller was reportedly raised Jewish, became a Bar Mitzvah and is chatty about his Jewish identity during interviews.
In 2010, he spoke to the Jewish Chronicle, Pittsburgh’s local Jewish paper about tattoos, Hanukkah and his Bar Mitzvah:
Miller is part of a growing list of Jewish artists attracted to the hip hop genre, including the African-American rapper Drake and the Israeli group Hadag Nahash. And who could forget the famous trio from New York City who became The Beastie Boys?
The attraction to hip-hop may be instinctual for an ethnic group with proven storytelling skills. Hip-hop, more than any other genre besides Country music, encourages a narrative form of self-exposure.
Which may be why the Israeli hip hop artist, Shorty, visited Tufts University Hillel earlier this week to describe her experience as an openly gay musician living in Israel. The event, part of an “Out in Israel” series sponsored by Tufts Hillel, was designed to educate students about the civil rights accorded to the gay community in Israel, and judging by reports, Shorty maintained her tough-gal exterior even while discussing her outsider status.
The Jewish relationship to self-expression is complicated, since, for much of history Jews were safer if they hid or downplayed their identity. But for these young artists, Jewish identity is a source of pride (as Mac Miller raps in the video below, “I read the To-rah!”); its central focus is not on survival, but rather, flourishing in an age of unprecedented possibility.
Meet Mac Miller in this video produced by Shalom Life: