Hip Hop in Urban Borderlands

Music-Making, Identity, and Intercultural Dynamics on the Margins of the Jewish State

by Miranda Crowdus (Author)
©2019 Monographs 240 Pages


Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Frameworks for Urban Hip Hop in Israel
  • Part One: Places, Genres, and Players
  • 1 South Tel Aviv in Focus
  • 2 Musical Backdrop
  • 3 Hip Hop: Local and Global Flows
  • Part Two: Rehearsals, Performances, and Other Encounters
  • 4 Hip Hop in South Tel Aviv’s Third-Spaces
  • 5 Hip Hop and Collective Memory
  • 6 From the Torah to the Arab Spring: Intertextual Highlights
  • 7 Intercultural Dynamics: Initiatives and Obstacles
  • Conclusion: Summary and Reflections
  • Bibliography
  • Index

| 9 →


Hip Hop in Urban Borderlands: Music-Making, Identity, and Intercultural Dynamics on the Margins of the Jewish State is the first volume in the Jewish Music Studies book series of the European Centre for Jewish Music (EZJM) at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media. It is the first in the series representing the new directions taken by the EZJM since its reorientation and restructuring in 2015, now drawing attention to the complexity of Jewish music in all its forms and manifestations. Miranda Crowdus, a knowledgeable and innovative scholar, plays a significant role in the reinvention of the EZJM as an academic institute, as well as in the development of Jewish Music Studies as a contemporary field of study and research in Germany and beyond. Her book is the first in the world of Jewish Music Studies that explores critical issues regarding the interrelationship between Jewish and non-Jewish identities in recent Hip Hop practices in the State of Israel, paving the way for a modern, critical, culturally-nuanced and comprehensive mode to study Jewish music.

Since Hip Hop’s emergence as a musical genre and cultural phenomenon in the USA and its subsequent growth in the global sphere, it has embodied important thematic, stylistic, and cultural ties to Judaism and Jewish musical traditions. Hip Hop practices have also been fundamentally connected to the lives of Jewish artists coming from a wide variety of countries and cultures. Thus, ‘Jewish Hip Hop’ – as a mirror of the social, cultural and religious structures of the Jewish community – offers a variety of perspectives from which it can be studied. Along with analyses of the incorporation of Klezmer, Reggae, and other world music and traditional Hip Hop production techniques, Jewish Hip Hop has been studied using the particular perspective of the relationship of Jewish artists with commercial Hip Hop performance, and of ethnic identity constructions as well as of gender; for instance, the way artists like Matisyahu or the Hip Hop Hoodíos have manifested discourses of masculinity within Jewish culture (Cohen 2009). Connections between Hip Hop and Israel have received recent scholarly attention. Research often explores local production even while the passionate connection between Israelis and the African-American style is a special concern. This connection leads to constructions of local identities by using a ‘foreign’ subcultural form and expressing local artists’ longing for a stable, clearly defined, sense of cultural belonging within the context of a highly globalized Israel (Dorchin 2012). ← 9 | 10 →

Miranda Crowdus’ book is not only firmly located in these discussions, but more importantly adds a new perspective to current scholarly discourses on Hip Hop, as it primarily focusses on the social-musical interactions within non-mainstream Hip Hop groups, across a range of identities and performance spaces. The main focus is the syncretism and social protest in intercultural exchanges embedded in Hip Hop practices in the urban context of the diverse neighborhoods of South Tel Aviv. Crowdus has the courage to go new ways since she restricts her interdisciplinary approach to this musical genre in Israel, focussing on subjects one might not expect when reading a book about Hip Hop. Theoretically speaking, Crowdus dives into the highly sensitive notion of ‘third space’, namely, the urban border-areas of South Tel Aviv, in which local Hip Hop practitioners and their audiences negotiate identity, politics, and cross-cultural communication. These musical conversations are characterized by unprecedented localized intercultural encounters, and are simultaneously surrounded by an overarching international conflict. Drawing on her fieldwork experience and qualitative data, Crowdus highlights specific case studies to demonstrate how the diverse performers and audience members both consciously and unconsciously embody the paradox of political disparity and co-existence through their musical idiom and through various characteristics of the music-making process.

Crowdus makes a special effort to present a spectrum of the stories of individual artists and bands she interviewed, such as System Ali, who experienced difficult social and political circumstances. Her overall research goal is to explore the complex dynamics of intra-Jewish, intra-Palestinian, and other identities present in Hip Hop musical practices in contemporary Israel. She takes the reader from a broader focus, highlighting how the Hip Hop groups under investigation operate and are regarded globally, to a narrow scope enabling an analysis of how, in the context of ethnic conflict and co-existence in contemporary Israel, identity construction and negotiation is experienced in different ways by the individuals physically co-existing in shared urban space. Hip Hop is one of the most researched current musical genres in both Israel and Palestine. Crowdus’ book is the first that untangles the complexity of interactions at play in the specific delineated urban spatiality of South Tel Aviv, and the first that suggests innovative ways to frame and interpret the intricate, multivalent negotiations of identity in Hip Hop performers within, without, and beyond the nationalist prism. Given this enormous innovative contribution to the study of Hip Hop in Israel and its complex relationship to other musical genres and practices, we are pleased to be able to present this book as ← 10 | 11 → a vital component of the EZJM series on Jewish Music Studies and hope it will lead to many more related studies.

Prof. Dr. Sarah Ross

Director, European Centre for Jewish Music

Hanover, November 2017

| 13 →


Naturally, I am very grateful to a great many people who have made this work possible. First, I would like to thank Professor Sarah Ross, director of the European Centre for Jewish Music, for her constant support and guidance. I would like to thank my PhD supervisor Dr Laudan Nooshin at City University London for her support and invaluable feedback during my doctoral research that made this book possible. And of course, I am very grateful for the University Doctoral Studentship awarded to me by the Department of Music at City University London. I am also grateful to the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research (SEMPRE) who awarded me a generous grant to undertake fieldwork and language study.

A special thanks also to the academic community for their support and invaluable advice throughout this process, in no particular order: Professor Stephen Cottrell, Dr Abigail Wood, Dr Amnon Aran, Dr Hannah Ewence, Dr Rachel Beckles Willson, Dr Alexander Lingas, Dr Phillip Bohlman, Dr Sarah Manasseh, Dr Galeet Dardashti, Dr Fiorella Montero-Diaz, Dr Murray Forman and my colleague Dr Regina Randhofer at the European Centre for Jewish Music. Also a special thanks to the staff at the Center for World Music at the University of Hildesheim, including Professor Raimund Vogels and Dr Michael Führ. I would also like to recognize Professor Edwin Seroussi at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for supporting both my work and the EZJM’s current research projects. Finally a special thanks to Dr Murray Foreman and Dr Uri Dorchin with whom I had so many innovative discussions at the International Hip Hop Studies Conference at the University of Cambridge in 2016.

I offer a special thanks to the musicians who unselfishly gave up their time and energy to contribute to the success of my project. In particular, I want to thank Neta Weiner, a prolific musician, actor, and a wonderful human being. During my initial phase of fieldwork, Neta introduced me to the people, music, and places that made this research possible. I also extend a special thanks to other System Ali band members who were all so generous with their time: Yonatan Kunda, Yehonatan Dayan, Muhammed Mughrabi, Muhammed Aguani, Liba Hendler, Amne Jerushe, Enver Seitibragimov, Moti Ben Baruch, and Luna Abu Nassar. The members of the group DAM, Suheil Nafar, Tamer Nafar, and Mahmoud Jreri deservea special thanks. Finally, I would like to acknowledge my wonderful friend and mentor, Yair Dalal. I also extend a special acknowledgement to Shai Haddad and all of the music practitioners who accompanied and ← 13 | 14 → encouraged me on this journey, who I may have accidentally omitted or who did not wish to be acknowledged by name.

Last but not least, I would like to acknowledge the inextinguishable support of my partner Shaun David Crowdus. I also thank my children, Tobias, Gabriel, and Talia, for their energy and candid opinions. And, a special thank you to my mother, Dr Natalie C. Polzer, for motivating me and for her innovative work on Durkheim that was the springboard for some of the theoretical innovations herein.

| 15 →


When my colleagues and I at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media first discussed the possibility of a book series at the European Centre for Jewish Music (EZJM), we did not necessarily envision that our first book would be about the role of Hip Hop in negotiating boundaries of identity and belonging in contemporary Israel. However, after some discussion, we decided that such a publication would be ideal for representing the new directions in which the EZJM has been going since Professor Sarah Roß became its director in 2015, expanding our research prioroties to examine Jewish music in all its diversity and complexity. Hip Hop is investigated here through the lens of current Jewish and non-Jewish musical practices in a delineated, dynamic, highly politicized urban space. I am delighted that this monograph based on my PhD thesis (Crowdus 2016) has been chosen to open this new series in Jewish Music Studies at the European Centre for Jewish Music at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media.


Notwithstanding my fascination with Hip Hop since the 1990s, particularly with its more alternative manifestations, I did not begin my fieldwork in Israel with the goal of writing about it. I had initially conceived of the research as a way of examining the role of Muzika Etnit Yisraelit (Israeli Ethnic Music) in conflict transformation. I had already done significant work on the topic including an illuminating interview with the musician Yair Dalal. Each time I visited Israel, I happened to stay in South Tel Aviv because it was an interesting area that had affordable accommodation. Also, as a person who is always, to some extent, engaged in ethnographic fieldwork, my conversations with the locals revealed the area to be of interest in terms of the music that was being produced and consumed at varied – and sometimes unlikely – urban locations. My interest prompted by both the music and by my day-to-day interactions and observations in the urban space of South Tel Aviv: hearing the the periodic calls to prayer from the nicely-kept mosque, that rivalled the roars from the Maccabee football stadium; watching the bikini-clad joggers, the young Palestinian man, the cat-lady with her trolley; visiting the beach and passing by the groups of Chasidic boys praying, soldiers with machine guns slung across their backs, secular Jewish-Israelis drinking coffee; observing Eritrean migrants selling bootleg CDs ← 15 | 16 → with hand-written Amharic labels; swimming in the sea with a group of burka-clad women. These engaged, ethnographic experiences first alerted me that this area and the performance spaces within it were somehow different, both from Tel Aviv to the north and Jaffa in the west. It was in this environment that I became increasingly aware of Hip Hop performance, not only at local venues like The Barby Club, but at the Central Bus Station, on the streets, in the alleyways and in the sandy patches of backyards in the Florentine neighbourhood, and in places with no real address at all. Although some of the music that I experienced could firmly be located in the genre called ‘Hip Hop’, other music defied categorization due to many factors (e.g. the use of multiple musical genres, similarities with ‘spoken word’ poetry). The aspects of Hip Hop that I found most interesting experienced at these locales were musical flexibility, a connection with the liminal spaces in the specific South Tel Aviv context, and its accessibility as a means of expression to disenfranchised youth. Moreover, unlike other musical genres in Israel, Hip Hop attracted many different practitioners, often from different or even opposing political, social and religious stances and positionalities. My fascination with the genre was further compounded when, after being invited to a System Ali rehearsal at their studio in Bat Yam, I noted that viewpoints or personae that I had perceived as inimical, coexisted on the same stage in performance. These juxtapositions could be anything from contrasting political views to different semantic ‘worlds’ of spoken expression, including various uses of multi-lingualism.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
Popular music Israel Third space Collective memory Intercultural Communication Intertextuality
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 240 pp., 10 fig. col., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Miranda Crowdus (Author)

Mirana L. Crowdus is a Research Associate at the European Centre for Jewish Music in Hanover, Germany. The common thread driving her work is an engagement with Jewish identity and musical expression. She completed her MPhil in 2011 at the University of Cambridge, and her PhD at City University London in 2016.


Title: Hip Hop in Urban Borderlands
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
242 pages