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July 17, 2015 3:35 pm

New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Israeli rapper Ohad Cohen talks to Mike Skinner about his music. Photo: Screenshot.

Israeli rapper Ohad Cohen talks to Mike Skinner about his music. Photo: Screenshot.

A new documentary explores the lives and work of Jewish and Arab rappers in Israel and how the ongoing conflict in the region has impacted their lyrics, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday.

Hip Hop in the Holy Land is a six-part series co-directed by Mike Skinner, the British frontman of hip-hop group The Streets, and produced by Noisey, a music channel published by Vice news.

The first episode, published last week, shows Skinner meeting with Tamer Nafar, the founder of one of the first Arab-Israeli rap groups, DAM. Nafar says he has struggled with his identity as an Israeli Arab, and tells Skinner, 36, that he supports the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

DAM won’t perform at shows where there are Israeli audience members, the Jewish Chronicle said. In one song, the group raps about Israelis being terrorists. Another tune compare Israelis to Nazis. “They’ve taken everything I own while I’m living in my homeland,” the song claims.

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“I’m a Palestinian, living in Israel, carrying an Israeli ID,” Nafar explains. “So I cannot cancel the Jewish culture around me. I’m influenced by it in a way, for good or for bad … when I rap it’s going to come out.”

In another episode the filmmaker talks to Subliminal, arguably Israel’s most commercially successful rapper who Skinner says held more right-wing views. The Israeli musician teaches him about the security concerns many Jews have.

“But then you speak to Tamer and you can see Palestinians are not exactly happy either,” Skinner says.

A different segment of the documentary shows Skinner talking to Ohad Cohen, a previously secular Jew who now identifies as Orthodox. Cohen raps in Hebrew and talks with Skinner about his faith.

“It is surprising to see someone like that as a rapper. But it is good fun,” Skinner says. “Not many people speak Hebrew, so I guess there is a cap on your audience, whereas Arabic is a bigger language.”

Cohen’s faith is reflected in his music and he raps about divine salvation: “In each and every generation a lunatic rises among us who doesn’t want us among people of the earth. And God Almighty rescues us from the trouble.”

A new song he showcases for Skinner is about facing turmoil but still “staying afloat.” Cohen also addresses former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his lyrics saying, “We will not run away. We will not be scared… Maybe it’s you who needs to look for shelter.”

Skinner met Nadaf and his band a day before seeing Cohen and notes a difference in the kind of music each artist produces. The British musician tells Cohen, “If I was to describe your message it was one of peace whereas with the DAM guys, its one of ‘something needs to change.'”

Skinner, who stepped back from singing to make a go at filmmaking, said watching how different groups rap in Arabic and Hebrew interested him. After meeting the Jewish and Arab musicians, he says he came away thinking that he knows less than he did at the beginning of his journey.

“The more you talk to people the more complicated it becomes,” the 36-year-old explains.

Skinner, who has previously performed in Israel, said all rappers in the small country know one another, regardless of where they fall in the conflict.

“But you don’t get the silly fights we get over here, over a girl or something,” he says. “You get the sense they fight over bigger things.”

Watch episode 2 of Hip Hop in the Holy Land in the video below:

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