Nissim Black has used rap music to explore his varying identities his entire life, especially as he searched for religion and navigated his life in Israel. Black is an Orthodox Jewish rapper from Seattle, Wash. who currently lives in Jerusalem with his family. He’s observed three different religions and completed formal conversion processes to two of them.
Black spent his childhood in Seattle, WA as a Muslim before converting to Christianity in high school, according to Talent Recap. Born to rappers James Croone and Mia Black in 1986, his identity is entirely shaped by music. It’s also been a tool he uses in exploring his identity.
While not religiously involved, he identified as a Muslim due to his grandfather’s influence. According to the Times of Israel, he converted to Christianity in his early teens.
He began his journey to Judaism after using prayer to help him through a hard social situation. Unlike many other religions, Judaism is also an ethnicity. By converting, a person joins the Jewish religion and culture.
According to Tablet Magazine, he left Christianity between 2010 and 2012 and converted to Orthodox Judaism. When he first became part of his Sephardic Jewish community, he left behind music entirely. Sephardic Jews are Jews of Spanish descent, and they hold different traditions than most Jews in the U.S.. In 2012, he changed his name to Nissim and announced his return to music.
Making Aliyah to Israel
Years after adopting Orthodox practices, Black moved to Israel in 2016. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Black experienced an adjustment period when making Aliyah. In 2018, his children faced rejection from Jewish schools because they are Black. After the incident, Black sought advice from Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Kanievsky is one of Israel’s primary rabbinical authorities. In the meeting, Kanievsky gave Black a blessing and told him that Blackness was his virtue.
“My children were at home and not at school because there was no school that received them… We tried to get our 10-year-old into a school that fits our Hashkafa and they rejected us because of our skin color. They can ask my Rav about me, or even say it’s because of my profession. But to reject us for our skin color, is unacceptable.”Nissim Black via the Yeshiva World
At first, Black also struggled with the overall culture of Israel. Due to the different norms, Black had to rethink his reactions to how others act. In an interview for the Times of Israel, Black says “Usually when you step on my shoe, or you bump into me, or you push me out of the way (in the U.S.), that means that you want to fight. In Israel, it doesn’t mean it. You have to get used to it. I’m very much adjusting to the way things move in Israel.”
“Mothaland Bounce” and Uniting Identities
In his music, Black intersects the various parts of his identity. When he reignited his musical career, he received many questions about how his race intersected with his religion. According to the Times of Israel, he created “Mothaland Bounce” as a way to limit those questions.
In “Mothaland Bounce,” Black references his past life and shows the audience how his orthodox identity brings peace to his life. The song discusses his past life as a gang member and the racism he experiences from other Jews. Above all, the song shows how he acts an agent of peace himself through symbolic gestures and dance.