Exclusive: Kosha Dillz, a most unusual rapper, fights anti-Semitism

Kosha Dillz, who grew up with Israeli parents in New Jersey, brings a fresh perspective to the hip-hop world. He’s collaborated with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Matisyahu. 

By Joseph Wolkin, World Israel News

Kosha Dillz is one of a kind. His unique background sets him apart in the rap world, just like his name.

Rami Even-Esh raps about everything from his own character to Judaism and anti-Semitism. He even has songs in Yiddish and in Hebrew. But this 38-year-old is making a difference far beyond the mic.

Kosha Dillz, who grew up with Israeli parents in New Jersey, brings a fresh perspective to the hip-hop world. He’s collaborated with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Matisyahu. Now, he’s making a name for himself.

From creating a Passover Seder at the Coachella Music Festival in California called Matzahchella to hosting an interfaith Friday night Shabbat program, Kosha Dillz is fighting anti-Semitism by bringing Judaism to the public eye.

While some well-known names in the music industry spout anti-Semitism, Even-Esh is spreading a message of dialogue and peace. He wants to talk with those who have been taught lies about Jewish people, and he’s ready to answer their questions.

Kosha Dillz spoke with World Israel News about how he started in the music business, anti-Semitism in pop culture and more.

Q: When did you first start to rap?

“I grew up on hip-hop in the ’90s. I was completely involved in it. My best friend at the time did rap battles in New York, and I wanted to do them, too. I loved one-on-one competition, so I got into the battles.”

Q: What were those battles like?

“I just love competition. I was figuring out how to navigate those worlds by competing. I was wrestling my whole life, so I looked at everything like a fight. I love fighting. It’s a pastime for me.”

Q: What comparisons do you find between the rap and wrestling worlds?

“It’s one-on-one. The competition will always lead to what an old T-shirt says, ‘Two men enter, one man leaves.’ I liked that and I want to be the one that wins. I don’t mind losing, but I want to go against the best people. I continuously kept going in that direction. You have to be better than the next person. People like to see fights. It’s a true test of who’s better.”

Q: What does rap mean to you?

“It’s self-expression. It’s different when it becomes a business because the rap battle is transformed to different parts. You have your own personal battles, self-reflection and how do I take this to a different level? Life is a battle. I just wrote an article for Variety, and it’s like I’m a representative of Jewish people and pop culture in rap. I’m the Jewish rapper. I’m not like Lil Dicky or Mac Miller. I’m my own thing.”

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Q: What inspires you to write new music?

“You have to keep it fresh. New things happen in your life. I want to make a hit song. I had my first song that had over a million streams on Spotify. You always have to create something. It’s like when you’re at the gym and you say you don’t want to keep working out, but you have to keep working out all the time. All of that work will pay off.”

Q: What does it mean to know your hard work is paying off?

“You have to keep working. Sometimes, you work really hard on stuff and the ones you don’t have an intention of becoming big become big. That’s what happened with my song with this guy Kaskade. I randomly did it and it had 1.3 million streams in a few months.”

Q: How do you connect your Jewish identity to your audience?

“I like to identify as a Jew, but I don’t like the content I’m rapping about to be Jewish. Because my name is Kosha Dillz, I can rap about anything. If you look at a catalog of songs, every album there will be some Jewish representation. I like to remind people that when I fight anti-Semitism, me existing in a space that’s not a Jewish field makes it like I’m the Jewish guy. I have a song in Hebrew. I have a song in Yiddish. That’s how I do it, and I do it in a way that’s considered dope to everybody. Most of my fans aren’t Jewish. If you come to a live event around the country, other than New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, most aren’t Jewish.”

Q: How do you find the perfect mixture of Jewish music and songs that aren’t based on your heritage?

“You have to be good and work with the best people in music, period. I’ve been doing it long enough that people who I am in pop culture. I’m known as a niche part in that pop culture, which I’m OK with. I might not rise to extreme fame, but I’ve created a base for myself and continuously reaching people. I try to make Jewish stuff cool.”

Q: How would you describe your style?

“It’s a mix of east coast rap with a lot of Indie pop melodies. It’s freestyle-centric. It’s a lot of stuff I come up with on the spot when I’m in the studio.”

Q: You’re known for putting on a great show and really interacting with your audiences on a personal level. Is that what separates you from other rappers?

“What separates me from other rappers is that there’s not other rappers like me. My name isn’t lil this or lil that. Kosha Dillz is specifically separating myself with a name and identity like that. There’s a theme in the movie A League of Their Own, and they say, ‘Don’t try to hit a home run. Just hit them where they ain’t.’

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“There’s enough fans for all of us out here. By being authentic to yourself, whether it’s being proud of your Jewish heritage, style or charity work, people are inspired by you doing something different. A lot of people have passions, but they don’t make money from their passion.”

Q: You mention charity work as a key. How did you get involved in the specific charity work that you do?

“I did something called Soul Vey, which was a Black and Jewish-themed Friday night Shabbat with Holocaust survivors, a Black rabbi, a Orthodox rabbi, a Muslim rapper and more. It’s something no one else that’s doing. I work with an organization called Value Culture that does charitable events. We did Shabbat at an aquarium, bringing Passover Seders to Coachella and a lot of it is intermeshing cutting-edge stuff to fight anti-Semitism with interaction.

“I don’t believe in these massive organizations where you raise money to fight something that exists in the ethos. You can’t fight anti-Semitism with money. You raise money and bring people to Auschwitz – that’s what you’re better off doing and creating content. I think that’s cool and the other stuff doesn’t work.”

Q: So you see Ice Cube and Nick Cannon taking the steps to learn about their words of hate and why they are anti-Semitic. Now, they’re meeting Jews and really learning. Why do you feel there is anti-Semitism rising in the entertainment industry?

“It’s a great question. In pop culture and social justice, everyone is important. But Jews have always been on the bottom because we’ve been hated the longest, so it’s the least exciting. For Black Lives Matter, this is a recent phenomenon that’s been happening, but they’re having their moment right now. There’s certain things that are new, and it’s like being in a new relationship where you’re so excited and you’re going all-in. Then, it drowns out and you say it’s not as exciting anymore.

“For Jews, we’re like the legacy act of rap or rock. We’re still around. The rising anti-Semitism is more socially acceptable because it’s disguised under different things like Israel. There’s so many anti-Semitic tropes that have been reinvented in different ways, and it’s confusing.”

Q: Have any other rappers accused you of cultural appropriation? What about any anti-Semitic incidents?

“People have said that online, but never to my face. When you have to go to places to meet them, give them my CD and work with them, you don’t contact them on Twitter. You go meet them, they see you’re cool and you can actually rap. You earn your stripes. People can say anything on the internet. It’s way less frequent that someone will say it to my face. Because people are online, they feel very comfortable behind a keyboard.”

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Q: What are some goals you want to accomplish moving forward?

“I have a new album coming out that’s completely done, and I just want to keep releasing music. I have tons of content and tons of experiences, and I want to keep sharing them. The goal is to be acknowledged and have bigger songs. In quarantine, I’ve garnered millions of streams and views, so I’ve had a successful time on the internet. My goal is to be self-sufficient without touring. The entertainment business is done right now.

“A big reason for the rise of anti-Semitism is the aspect that no one is doing any shows. For sure, Wiley would have more work or Nick Cannon. I lost a full U.S. tour and I would’ve been making so much more money. I want to re-adapt to how I’m going to get my message out and reach people.”

Q: How important is social media for you in that case, especially during the pandemic?

“It’s really important. It’s not everything because we can meet people and speak on the phone. But if you’re writing content that’s challenging other ideas, getting messages and reaching people because I’m writing about them in articles, that’s such a joy. You have to keep on figuring it out.”

Q: As you see what’s going on in the world with the rise of anti-Semitism, what is your message for rappers who have been spreading words of hate without fully realizing what they’re saying has a deeper meaning?

“Feel free to ask me without judgment before you want to go say something. I’ve had people reach out to me to ask me things. Jewish people forgive, but the internet doesn’t. It’s an interesting mindset to not judge this person who’s asking this question, because this is someone who’s been told something by somebody who told them wrong. It’s not their fault. But you have to justify your circle. You can be racist even if you have one black friend, and you can be anti-Semitic if you have Jewish friends. Because there’s so few Jews in the world, it’s hard for people to know a Jewish person versus knowing a Black Jewish person, a brown Jewish person, a gay Jewish person and Orthodox Jewish people.

“We need to diversify our circles and figure out how to participate in the conversations with everybody else. It’s never the move to say something negative about other people, even if it seems fun and will get you interaction. If you have a question, ask me.”