Rami Matan Even-Esh, better known as his stage name, “Kosha Dillz,” is an Israeli-American rapper whose message of normalization in the context of the Israeli-UAE-Bahrain agreements recently garnered international attention—retweets by Israeli consulates from all over the world including Austria, the United States, Ireland, the Philippines and even a comment from the State of Israel’s official Twitter channel, maintained by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He raps: “Regional stability, flights on El Al, science to the water, recycle, oh yes y’all. I’m talking kosher food and a mix with halal. Medicine and hummus, shawarma with the couscous. Abu Dhabi party, economics with the peace flow. Israel, UAE and Bahrain for the free throw. Just had three though hurry up and pay the man. We all buggin’, you’ll be cousins, yeah from the same Abraham. Shalom Aleichem, Salaam Alaikum, normalization from the startup nation. Part of my patience my hustle aimin.’ Bahrain, you know Askar Beaches, you better listen up when a rap star preaches. NYC parking lot vibes to the silhouette, take a vacation over to Dubai if I’m getting stressed. A lot of people love peace like me, others hate on it. I leave it to the Internet, that’s mad worthy, but see, the difference between us and them is we are willing to get our hands dirty. So give peace a chance, yeah, that is the fresh move, I’m talking real fresh this isn’t a chess move.”

Even with the song’s pro-normalization content, Kosha, a New Jersey native of Israeli parents, does not consider himself to be a “pro-Israel advocate,” per se. His goal as a rapper is to tell his own story through his music, representing his identity as a non-apologetic Jewish Israeli.

During his career working in the industry with a name that includes a reference to his identity, he speaks of constantly needing to explain himself for being a proud Jew, confronting anti-Semitism, bigotry and BDS head-on, “not through the online parade, but in my real life, working with people.”

Reflecting on the recent death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a heroine in many circles who said that she was discriminated against because she was a woman, mother and Jewish, Kosha says, “I also face discrimination as a Jew and an Israeli.”

“My Jewishness is always a conversation, no matter who I meet,” he says, “By having the name Kosha Dillz, people ask me about Israel and Palestinians, and I get judged right off the bat, hearing opinions I didn’t ask for,” he continues.

“Bigotry is a disease that takes different forms,” he tells JNS, relating that “some people didn’t work with me because of my name and because I’m from Israel”—a form of boycotting Jewish art, he points out, while some Jews distance themselves from Jewish art out of fear of perceived “favoritism.”

Kosha discredits the “weak Jew” often portrayed in Hollywood, and instead, through his hip-hop persona, seeks to set an example as a “tough Jew” and a fighter. In fact, he wrestled Division I at Rutgers University. He has been sober for 16 years after battling substance abuse that resulted in multiple stints in jail. He says he brings this fighting attitude to his work as a musician and to his identity as well.

‘My name is my identity’

Growing up in a secular Israeli household, Even-Esh began to explore his Jewish identity as an adult after becoming sober. He found that in jail, groups naturally formed by race—there was a “white section,” a “brown section” and a “black section,” but no “Jewish section,” he recalls. This made him introspective, resulted in later connecting with his heritage.

Kosha broke into the underground hip-hop scene at age 17 as a freestyle/improve rapper at Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City, sharing the stage with Mos Def, Immortal Technique, and C-Rayz Walz. But breaking in was not easy, especially with a name that associates him with the Jewish community. “People made fun of me, so I disassociated and changed it,” he says, from his original name Kosher Dill, to KD Flow.

After reclaiming his Judaism as an adult, he’s back to being “Kosha,” explaining “my name is my identity.” In fact, he maintains, “hip-hop is about identity, and it asks who are you repping? I like to rep New Jersey and Israel.”

American rapper Kosha Dillz (aka Rami Matan Even-Esh). Credit: Courtesy.

In his song “Dodging Bullets,” in collaboration with Jewish singer Matisyahu, Kosha chants about defending his land and being unapologetic about his identity as a Jew and an Israeli. Although the collaboration was not originally intended to be about BDS and anti-Semitism, it turned into a commentary about these issues, especially after he and Matisyahu faced boycotts and protests throughout Europe. He says Matisyahu helped him tap into his “Jewish side” and “Jewish pride,” ultimately influencing his music.

In his music, Kosha raps in multiple languages, including English, with a sprinkling of Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish and sometimes even Arabic, as he did in his recent rap about the Israel-UAE-Bahrain peace deal.

His music is lighthearted and authentic; he doesn’t follow any formula that could help him reach massive audiences, he says. Although his talent is fit for the mainstream (his song “Cellular Phone” was used for the highest-rated Bud Light Super Bowl commercial, “Here We Go,” in 2012; he has his own playable character in NBA 2K11 and 2K13; and he was even hacked by ISIS in 2014), this type of success is not what he seeks.

He is still often urged to change his stage name in order to make him seem “cooler” and “a little less Jewish.” But by staying true to himself, he says his persistence and strength endure.

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