Hip Hop Hoodios

A Latino Jewish urban collective.

Print this page Print this page

In the New York neighborhood where I live, Friday afternoons are marked by the near-simultaneous call of the muezzin from the local mosque, and an alarm that marks the imminent approach of Shabbat. Kosher grocery stores sit adjacent to Mexican restaurants, and signs are as likely to be posted in Yiddish or Spanish as in English. There are Jewish proprietors who speak fluent Spanish, and Bangladeshi convenient stores that stock a wide array of kosher products.

New York is like that, sometimes. Proximity causes margins to bleed, creating mash-ups and hybrids that would be impossible anywhere else.

Hip Hop HoodiosThe Hip Hop Hoodios, led by Josue Noriega (aka Josh Norek) and Abraham Velez, have found their home amidst the linguistic and musical chaos of the big city.  Employing klezmer, salsa, cumbia, guitar rock, and a rotating cast of well-known Jewish and Hispanic musicians, the Hoodios are polyglot musical omnivores, their plate filled to overflowing with fresh sounds. The Colombian Norek and Puerto Rican Velez, who were both also born and raised Jewish, have been recording together since 2001, when both Norek and Velez were involved in the Latin-music industry (Norek as a publicist, Velez as a writer).

They have attracted a crossover audience not necessarily limited to Jews in on their jokes. As they recently told an NPR interviewer, their fan base varies with each city; crowds as Los Angeles shows have been mostly Chicano, while New York audiences are comprised primarily of Jewish hipsters. Critics, though, have been united in their enthusiastic response to the Hoodios' first full-length album, "Agua Pa'La Gente" (2004), and the band's two EP's. Their new album "Carne Masada" (2009) cobbles together their greatest hits, along with some new tracks, and is--of course--a product of New York City.

If the single, "Times Square (1989)," with its shout-outs to former New York City mayor David Dinkins and former New York Mets center fielder Mookie Wilson, and its racket of wailing police sirens, weren't hint enough, the sheer sonic cacophony of "Carne Masada" would tell the whole story. The Hoodios' New York allegiances run deep. The Ferdinand-and-Isabella-bashing Inquisition jam "1492" builds to the shout "Forget Espana, want New Amsterdam."

The Hoodios (their name echoes "Judios" and also signifies an allegiance to their 'hood of choice) describe themselves as a "Latino-Jewish urban collective," which means, in practice, that their sound makes no distinction between Hispanic and Jewish roots, Hebrew and Spanish, bad jokes about Mexicans and bad jokes about Israelis.

The obvious comparison is to the Beastie Boys, who cracked hip-hop's glass ceiling, making it acceptable for three wisecracking New York Jews with a distinct lack of melanin, and a predilection for rapping about Hong Kong director John Woo and 1970s baseballer Rod Carew, to pose as rap stars. Hip Hop Hoodios are Beastie-esque smartalecks, no doubt, but their sonic palette is more focused--hip-hop beats, Latin rhythms, and Jewish samples--and their lyrical content is more jauntily Jewish. The Beasties never made a secret of their Jewishness, but it was never of as much interest to them as it was to others. Hip Hop Hoodios, in comparison, can think of little else.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Saul Austerlitz

Saul Austerlitz is a writer and film critic in New York.