Rapper Kosha Dillz on His Jewish Identity and the Music Industry (INTERVIEW)
by Erez Safar
Out of all the Jewish rappers with a Jewish mission and identity, Kosha Dillz is the only one to have been so widely accepted by the rap industry.
His latest album, “Awkward in a Good Way,” caps a huge year for Kosha Dillz. He currently boasts his own playable character in NBA 2K11 and 2k13, which has sold more than five million copies. Kosha is also the only rapper to ever perform in Hebrew at the BET Hip Hop Cypher. I sat down with the man himself in Los Angeles recently to discuss his album and career.
Q: How did you start making music? What inspired you then and what inspires you now?
KD: I started back in the day with friends, and this guy named Sean First Born, we had our first song called “Lightning Bolts.” At the time, my buddy Yak Ballz was writing rhymes and winning competitions, and being as competitive as I was back then, I really wanted to step it up in that area. Making music was a way to share our riches together. Everyone was hustling in their own way. One of our boys was a barber. One of our boys was selling fireworks. Although we didn’t make money yet, we were still gunnin’ for the reputation.
Q: Your new album is called “Awkward in a Good Way.” What does that mean?
KD: It means that I am different than most people. It means that its OK to be different, so stop trying to fit in. It’s about not beating yourself up for being where you want to be in life. I think people will vibe with it. We all have those moments.
Q: Most people would not listen to this album and think it’s a Jewish album or even by a Jewish musician, per se. What makes your music Jewish?
KD: What makes my music Jewish is that the music comes from a Jewish soul. So what, just because you sing niggunim means that you make Jewish music? Just because you recite something that someone else wrote…doesn’t make it Jewish. I am a “Jew” and therefore, my music is Jewish. I represent Jews on a larger and more mainstream level. You can make Jewish music in the Jewish world, but let it be known that I make Jewish music to the world, and that speaks of the same struggles that all people go through on a personal level.
Imagine the invention of candy, per say. If people eat candy inside a candy shop where everyone loves candy, the value is not so valuable. The best pieces of candy are overlooked. Bring a decent piece of candy to a prison where everything is sour…the interest level and respect will surely rise. The level of power it has will surely rise. This is what I do. I am that to Hip Hop.
Q: What’s it like to be on such a legendary rapper like Murs’ record label?
KD: Murs is a king of what I believe in. He is DIY (do it yourself) to the core and has been on every record label. It seems that all his fans follow him and not the label, and that is something that I have in my experience as an artist. I think I am gonna connect the two completely different fan bases we have and develop a strong bond of understanding between cultures. He also teaches me a lot about boundaries and keeping things simple.
Q: RZA, one of the most famous urban producers of all time, called you the “rawest Jewish kat I know.” How did you two meet and how does it feel to be called that by the founding father of the Wu Tang Clan?
KD: I met Rza at BET when I was still trying out for BET Freestyle Friday. In 2009, DJ Skane and him were in Portland and I showed up there and kicked some rhymes for him and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s son, and DJ Skane let me kick rhymes to excite the crowd. They took me on the rest of the tour and that was that.
Q: What and who are your biggest influences?
KD: I would say my family is my biggest influence. They teach me patience. Second to them, would be my roommate and best friend, and third would be my agent. They teach me how to stop worrying about other people and how to keep the focus on my craft and goals. I am so competitive I could all of a sudden start competing with a jazz band who is playing Carnegie Hall, and think I should be on the stage. As far as music, I enjoy jazz and morning shows.
Q: Who do you see as your target demographic?
KD: The youth, man. The young kids 15-25 who want to have a kick-ass time. People are passionate about life. Young kids want to do it all. They think about sex, love, school, parties, money, and the future. My music has it all. Its not a bad thing, it’s just what we all think about…to some degree. What’s important is the delivery.
Q: How do you see Judaism as playing a role in your song writing?
KD: Everything of Judaism is in it. Honor. Integrity. References to the culture of Jews. Jokes about it. Israel etc…
Q: Who are your idols and why?
KD: I never had an idol. I didn’t think Jews get down that way. Most of my heroes are my friends at this point. I don’t think I ever wanted an idol. I wanted to work with everyone I enjoyed.
Q: What is your craziest ‘on tour’ story?
KD: I think I remember a girl in Neenah, Wisconsin, being so drunk that when she left my show, she began to drive and slid off the icey road in her car into this snow pit. It was during a snowstorm. You could barely drive sober, mind you. She couldn’t get out of the snow and we tried to help her and she was so wasted she kept screaming at us to push her out and her car was like engulfed in snow. No one was around for miles. She called her father to help and he came and just scolded her and she was crying and we witnessed this whole awkward family trauma. They had to get her out of there before she got arrested for a DUI. The worst part was that there was a baby seat in the back.
Q: What’s your most embarrassing experience?
KD: I got booed off stage opening for 112 and couldn’t finish my set at Rutgers University. At the time, it was still the most I got paid for a show. Put things in perspective. Sometimes the best paying jobs are the worst experiences.
Q: What are your hopes for the near future?
KD: I really hope that we can bridge together all the understanding, and support the arts in the Jewish world. I am hoping to be that for the kids and bring them on out to support a show. It does us no good to only exist on the internet all day.
Kosha Dillz’ new album is available now on iTunes.
Full disclosure: The author of this interview is a paid representative of the subject.