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Jewish-Latino hip hop – just the thing for #stayathome

Jewish-Latino hip hop?  It’s what you do when you have to #stayathome, or at least what I did this week.  And man was it fun.  The band is called the Hip Hop Hoodios.  “Hoodios” is a double entendre – it refers to the hoodies worn by hip hop masters in the Golden Days of hip hop, and to the word “judios”, which means Jews” in Spanish.  It was the name given by a former (and actually present) music executive, Josh Nortek, over a decade ago to a new band that combined Jewish culture and music with his and the other members’ Latino heritage and music.  

Nortek was on my radio show today, talking to me from the San Francisco area – meeting all of the social distancing rules.  I found him through a PR agent we both know, Beatrice Kimmel President of EMPKTPR in New York City. Since there are no live shows to go to and I have been watching livestreams until they seem to flow together, I decided a person-to-person conversation with an interesting character was just the thing to spice up my lockdown.  It was.

Norek got the idea of combining Latin alternative music with American- Jewish culture back in 1996 while he was a sophomore at Cornell University. He dreamed up imaginary collaborations between popular rap and hip-hop acts and Latino music.   Amazingly, those dreams came true. After working in Buenos Aires for Warner Music, he returned to Brooklyn, teamed up with his friend Abraham Velez, a Puerto Rican Jewish writer and guitarist, and convinced Federico Fong, founding bassist for multi-platinum Mexican rock band Jaguares to join them- which he told me was not hard – and they created Hip Hop Hoodios.  The new band took off – they toured, recorded, and landed songs in the Top 5 on Apple Music Latino

That was then.  Nortek is now a single dad living in California with two small children and serving as president of Regalías Digitales, LLC,  a company he founded to help Latin recording artists collect their music royalties and license their songs to film and television productions. His bandmates have similar day jobs but that didn’t stop them from deciding that after more than a decade, they should head back to the studio and make a record.  The record is still baking – no release date yet, but the first two songs to be released from it, “Turn the Clock Back” and  “Knishin in the Mission” are the joyful musical mayhem Hip Hop Hoodies are known for.

Our conversation ranged from stories of how he got some of the famous people to sing on his album, (connections, happenstance, and being in the right place at the right concert at the right time ) to the political nature of many of the group’s lyrics, integrating Jewish music and Latin beats, girls with bagel bikini tops and finding the clarinet.  Mostly, we laughed.

The conversation also mentally broke me out of #stayathome for a few minutes. It reminded me of Latin Alternative music – especially rap and hip hop, which I had kind of put on the backburner now that I am in Mexico and am surrounded by banda, rock en Espanol, Mexican Post Rock, mariachi,  fusion, and all of the other varieties of popular music in Mexico. I started with Latin Alternative in LA, going to little clubs in Boyle Heights and El Sereno and East LA and saying to my gringo self, this is cool and it is going to be big. Little did I know at the time that it was big and had been since the 1980s. But I learned quickly and was quickly drawn into a music ecosystem in my home town I knew nothing about and instantly fell in love with.  But love dims with distance and the move to Mexico and many bright shiny musical objects distracted me.  The conversation with Josh brought it back into focus and for the 40 min we were on the air, I was out of quarantine and rockin’.

Listen to the full interview here!

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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