When in a pickle, performer gets a lift from Jewish rapping

Jews are well represented in many professions, but rap artist is not one of them.

Kosha Dillz, who wears a large Star of David around his neck as he beatboxes around the stage, is trying to change that.

“People often say to me at my shows, ‘You don’t seem Jewish,’ and that’s my demographic,” says the 33-year-old rapper, born Rami Matan Even-Esh in New Jersey. “I really want to bridge that gap and represent rappers in the Jewish world.”

Kosha Dillz photo/spin magazine-jolie ruben

Dillz will be performing in San Francisco at the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s “Night at the Jewseum: Kosher Rhymes” on Thursday, Oct. 2. Designed for the “after-work crowd” ages 21 and up, the event celebrates the Days of Awe with shows by Dillz and Bay Area Jewish beatboxer Kid Beyond, and music by DJ Alarm, among other activities. Specialty drinks and nosh will also be available.

“The show is going to be an introspective look at who I am as a person,” Dillz says. “It’s an alternative to what people might consider the norm for Jewish music.”

Born to Israeli parents, Kosha Dillz, who got his name from a pickle jar, began rapping with his friends when he was 17 and performing shows at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City’s East Village.

A child of the ’80s, he grew up listening to cassette tapes of bands such as Metallica, Green Day and Rancid. After earning his bachelor’s in English at Rutgers University, he realized music was more than an outlet, and something he wanted to pursue as a career.

“Rapping just came easily to me,” he says.

Dillz raps about a variety of themes, but Jewish heritage pops up throughout his songs. He drops in words like ‘oy vey,’ ‘abba’ and ‘challah’ in his rhymes as he seamlessly transitions between Hebrew, English and Spanish.

He calls his music “playful” and says it “helps to bridge the gap for people who don’t know anything about Judaism.”

Dillz grew up speaking Hebrew in an “Israeli home with Orthodox values.” He did not attend Jewish day school —  “maybe because it wasn’t free,” he muses, “but we didn’t go to sleep-away camp, either. We spent our summers in Israel instead.”

It wasn’t until after college, when he got caught up in drugs, was charged with a felony and had a few stints in jail that he became more observant. He met ba’al teshuva Jewish rapper/reggae artist Matisyahu in 2004 and the two hit it off. Like Matisyahu, Dillz turned to Judaism after battling substance abuse.

“I got clean after my life was completely unmanageable and was opened up to my relationship to Judaism again,” Dillz says. “The Jewish world came back to me full circle.”

He’s a veteran performer at the South by Southwest festival in Austin and has been on stage at the Sundance Film Festival. Dillz has done gigs with Matisyahu and dropped beats alongside Wu-Tang members Rza, Ghostface Killah and rapper Snoop Dogg. He’s made several albums.

Now residing in Los Angeles, Dillz says he is observant and keeps kosher to the best of his ability when he’s on tour.

Adam Swig, 29, of San Francisco, can be credited with introducing Dillz to the area’s young adult Jewish community.

“It was Jewish fate,” says Swig, who lined up Dillz to perform at the “Big Mitzvah” dance party earlier this month.

“We met at the Rebelution-Matisyahu show last summer at the Greek Theater” in Berkeley, Swig relates. “I said, ‘hey I’m not some fan boy, but I’m putting on new Jewish events and I think Bay Area Jews would get you. This is fate, we’re going to create something magical.’ ”

Dillz was happy to comply. “Not a lot of people do what I do — that’s a benefit of being a Jewish rapper, know what I mean?”

“Night at the Jewseum: Kosher Rhymes,” 5:30-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F. Free with museum admission, $5 after 5 p.m. 21 and up. www.thecjm.org

Abra Cohen