Ben Solomon, a slender Jewish teenager with thick-rimmed glasses, represents an unlikely face of American rap, a genre popularized by black performers who make headlines with songs about drugs and violence.
Solomon — who calls himself “King Sol” — tries to give his songs a more upbeat spin. “It ain’t the drinking or the partying, that’s not what rap’s about,” he says in one song.
In another, he raps, “Society is based upon stupid adherence. They sell you on perfection, wait until it goes on clearance.”
The 18-year-old San Francisco native already has made three rap albums. He sells “King Sol” T-shirts and beanies on his website, and his Facebook page has about 600 fans. His SoundCloud page boasts more than 1,000 followers for 25 tracks of music, with his latest album, “Be Somebody,” having been released in May.
Rap may not be a lifelong career for Solomon, he said in a recent interview, but he believes his music sets an important tone in an industry tinged with aggressive, violent messages in many artists’ lyrics.
“The constant swearing, talking about drugs … not just drugs, things like violence and misogyny,” he said. “The problem is there’s not enough positivity coming out of rap.”
He inserted those positive vibes six months ago in a music video uploaded on YouTube by his school, University High School, rapping about its basketball team in advance of a game against rival Lick-Wilmerding.
The video, “Devils’ Anthem,” is less anthem and more a compilation of basketball footage mixed with faculty and students dancing cheerfully and lip-syncing King Sol’s song — as well as a cameo by Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.
“This is all that we do. This is all that we know. Time to lace up the shoes. Time to put on a show,” King Sol raps in quick succession.
The song, which has garnered more than 17,500 views, sparked a less-than-friendly response. More than half the reactions to “Devils’ Anthem” are thumbs down. A video surfaced two days later from Lick-Wilmerding with a meaner message: Sol, you are a spoiled kid who shouldn’t be rapping.
“We ain’t havin’ this nonsense Andy Samberg-looking rapper,” raps one boy in the response video. “Boy, better wax those eyebrows … I guess it’s a testament to investments your daddy makes, spending all that money.”
Unfazed, King Sol said he has heard it all before.
“I’ve been sunk down by ridicule, like, ‘Bro you’re white, you’re such a nerd, you go to private school … Where’s your backwards hat? You’re wearing glasses. That’s not cool,’” he raps in one song, “Life,” released in 2014.
Solomon grew up in the Richmond District, attending Congregation Emanu-El with his mom, dad and younger brother. His interest in rap began in middle school.
“I’m not really sure what drew me to it, I think it was just different,” he said. “With something like singing, you have to be vocally talented, whereas rapping is something where if you do it enough, and you keep doing it, you’ll eventually be able to do it seriously.”
He noted his music is mostly not spiritual and does not refer to Judaism. But religion has influenced his lyrics.
“There are a lot of Christian rappers out there … [my music] is not the same religion, but it’s the same idea that morals should be incorporated into music,” he said.
Solomon will attend Tufts University in the fall, but said he won’t seek a degree in music. He instead is thinking of a degree in possibly economics or “probably” computer science. He does mix his interest in music and computers, having recorded and produced all his tracks in a bedroom in his parents’ house. The latest album he had mixed by Miami producer DJ Double A.
He said it is “very, very difficult” to make it in the music industry, especially as a white Jewish rapper, which he said is a niche already filled by performers including Andy Bernstein AKA “Abdominal” and Arian Asllani AKA “Action Bronson.”
“I want to pursue rap in a responsible way,” King Sol said. “I want to be grounded in something else that I can go into and have a legitimate career.”