Latino Rappers ... With Yarmulkes?

"I am a Jew for Allah, a Jew for Jesus," screams a rapper for the group Hip Hop Hoodios.

The Hip Hop Hoodios, based in New York and Los Angeles, blend rap, Latin, and yes, even Jewish influences, in an irreverent, often hilarious style.

The group might be one of the most unconventional examples of multicultural fusion in today's hip-hop genre.

The Hoodios -- from the Spanish word for Jews, "Judios" -- defines itself as a "Latino-Jewish urban music collective" -- a rather lengthy way of saying "something you've probably never heard before."

The group's frontmen are lawyer-by-day Josue Noriega, 30, whose real name is Josh Norek and who is Jewish, and Abraham Velez, 29, a Puerto Rican Jew.

Together they decided to take a chance and fuse everything from Cumbia, a form of Latin American music with roots to African slavery, to Klezmer, Jewish music, to "B-boy" rap music.

Surprisingly, it worked.

In a crowded auditorium in New York's Spanish Harlem recently, a diverse collection of music lovers gathered to hear the group perform as part of the Latin Alternative Music Conference.

Norek said that ever since his college days, he had envisioned a hybrid rap sound that combined two of his favorite acts: The Beastie Boys, a Jewish band, and Cypress Hill, a Latino ensemble.

"It wasn't until years later that I met my co-conspirator Abraham Velez … that I realized we could actually pull off a group that reflects our bicultural identity, oddball humor, and liberal political agenda. Though we actually enjoy 'offending' people of all backgrounds, creeds, political persuasions, etc.," he said.

During the performance at the music conference, the Hoodios rocked the audience with a lengthy set, complete with a six-piece band and dancer.

The band called its set "Barriomitzvah."

The sound combines bass-heavy beats, saxophones, flutes, congas, cowbells, guitars, and a seemingly electric-powered dancer whose gyrating almost stole the show.

Unlike many other rappers, the Hoodios lets its band play.

There was time for melodic interludes with noted saxophonist/flutist Paul Shapiro, and a workout with percussionist or "congero" Neil Ochoa of the group "Si Se."

The Hoodios' fans are as diverse as the musical influences the band draws on.

Shem Herman, a 29-year-old Jew and a Latino, was at the concert.

"Not only do I enjoy the music … but I wanted to see what kind of turnout they would receive in a largely Hispanic, non-Jewish neighborhood. To my surprise, it was an interesting mix of all kinds of people -- kinda like New York."

Anne McKinney, 29, from Springfield, Ill., was drawn to the group's eclectic sound.

"I like to look out for unique, fusion-oriented groups, which certainly includes [Hip Hop Hoodios]. [Hip Hop Hoodios'] music has a creative sense of humor, which I particularly enjoy."

The Hip Hop Hoodios combines social consciousness with self-deprecating humor and the type of politically incorrect edginess that draws in the ever-coveted controversy.

For instance, the Hoodios' version of "Throw your hands in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care" replaces the word "hands" with "nose" -- much to the amusement of its many urban Jewish fans.

The band is not afraid to use derogatory terms in its music.

The song "K-- on the Mic" has generated much criticism from conservative groups and the band's signature Hoodio Honeys who occasionally adorn bagels as bras does not help draw many feminist fans.

Yet when this now bicoastal group released its second album, "Agua Pa' La Gente," on the independent label Jazzheads in 2005, it received positive reviews from well-respected publications like The New York Times and the Village Voice.

The first venture "Raza Hoodia" sold 5,000 copies as a self-released title, and the group currently boasts nearly 3,000 friends and more than 13,000 views on Myspace.com.

The band has also sold out several shows overseas.

The Hoodios are constantly changing its musical influences, and it pumps out trilingual lyrics with ease, going from Hebrew to Spanish to English, sometimes in the same verse.

In Harlem, as the final set came to a close, the crowd was immersed in its eclectic vibes and by the last song, Noriega and Velez had everyone on their feet, clapping to the mashed rhythms.

The final song of the evening was entitled "Havana Nagila," a catchy play on the traditional Hanukkah song.

It was mixed with a little reggaeton, a fusion of hip-hop, Latin and reggae music, a perfect example that falls in sync with the group's all-inclusive and accepting theme.

And don't worry -- if you don't like "Agua Pa' la Gente," the band offers a full money-back guarantee. Seriously.

For more information about the Hoodios: http://www.hoodios.com/home.html

Comments