In 2020 when Nissim Black introduced his new single ‘Mothaland Bounce’, it was aimed at “giving tribute to both his urban past” and current Orthodox Jewish life in Israel. Growing up in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle before moving to Israel in 2016, the African-American rapper said he had had to deal with questions like “‘Well, are you still Black? How Black are you? How does that work? But you’re also Jewish? Jews are white?’”
In ‘Mothaland Bounce’, the rapper revealed all that there is to know — the fact that he’s Black, Jewish, from Seattle, living in Jerusalem. He is a devout family man who reads the Torah, observes the Sabbath, keeps a kosher house, and dresses modestly. Interestingly, he continues to rap, showing up usually in a Black hat and coat as well as a white shirt with peyot (sidecurls) to perform.
Here’s his journey.
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Black, formerly known as D. Black, was born on December 9, 1986, in a tough neighborhood in Seattle to James “Captain” Church Croone and Mia Black, who were both rappers in the late 1970s belonging to the rap groups Emerald Street Boys and Emerald Street Girls, respectively. At the age of two, his parents separated and his mom remarried.
Growing up in a family of drug dealers and takers, Black was raised by his mother and stepfather, as well as his maternal grandfather, who was a devout Muslim, making Islam Black’s first introduction to religion. All the while, Black was selling drugs and started smoking as well. At 13, he converted to Christianity after attending a summer camp.
“I had healthy relationships, not just dysfunctional ones. It felt like the home I never had.I never got to be a normal kid till I got to this place,” Black told The Guardian.
Converting to Christianity made him get away from the street mentality for a long time, he said. Then he started seeing changes in his music career, after having started rapping aged 13. At 17, a record label told him they would love to sign him but before that, he had to change his persona.
“50 Cent was huge in hip hop at the time. He moved the rap world back to gangsta rap. [The record company] asked me to toughen up my message; they wanted an edgier sound, cursing and so on. I wasn’t comfortable with that, it countered my Christian values. But then they faxed over a half-million-dollar proposal, so I started to curse pretty quick after that,” Black said.
He would subsequently release his first singles on an independent label under the name D. Black but just when he started rising in music, he got into an altercation with another artiste in 2008, and this led to a “kill-or-be-killed situation,” he told The Times of Israel. Black started praying about his situation, and those prayers eventually led him to Judaism. The move wasn’t surprising to him though considering he had grown up in a Jewish neighborhood in Seattle which had a synagogue.
Soon, Black and his wife both converted to Orthodox Judaism and remarried after their conversion in an Orthodox marriage ceremony in 2013. In three years, he and his wife, and their kids, made the journey to start their new lives in Israel and they have since not regretted it though it was tough from the beginning. “I come from a different background, you know, [a] more urban — trying to be nice and say this! — background,” he told Times of Israel. “Usually when you step on my shoe, or you bump into me, or you push me out of the way, that means that you want to fight. In Israel, it doesn’t mean it,” 33-year-old Black said, adding that he is getting used to his environment.
But being a Black religious Jew got him in the news in 2018 after his children were denied Jewish schools because they were Black. All in all, the African-American music star, who has about five albums to his credit including ‘Ali’yah’, ‘Nissim’ and ‘Lemala’, is optimistic that his music will break down the barriers between the African-American community and the more religious Jewish community.
“Quite honestly, I owe my life on a physical level, for sure, to the African-American community. They gave me everything I need — including my parents and everything. But then on a spiritual level, Judaism has given life to me. I feel like I owe my life [to Judaism],” he said.
“I’m willing to sacrifice even my standing and notoriety in [the] very religious world to be able to try to bring peace between the two because it means that much to me.”