The first time I met Nechi Nech was at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, a rough spot unto itself, in a clothing store/radio station/recording studio that reeked of weed and was covered in Israeli hip hop albums/posters spanning the last two decades.
Why me?, he asked. Why Israel? Why Israeli hip hop?
Why Nechi? Because Nechi is the best.
The rest we’ll get to later.
We’re talking about the guy who is widely regarded as the king of hip hop in our little nation-state; the guy who, last Thursday, brought out over 800 mostly male, mostly teenage, loyal fans who know every word to every song and stayed over an hour after the show to get a hug, a selfie, or a signed t shirt.
We sat down with some tea and started to talk about life, growing up in the suburbs, and getting out. Unlike most Israeli musicians, Nechi isn’t based in Tel Aviv, and that’s something he’s proud of. He was born and raised in a suburb called Petach Tikva, and has the hometown pride of someone who knows their town is the underdog.
If I had to choose one word to describe Ravid, it would be humble. He is sweet, kind, and gentle, and even after seven years in the game he has the wide-eyed look of someone who isn’t really sure this is happening to him. They say you can tell what kind of person someone is by how your dog feels about them; he invited me to bring my puppy, and then sat with her in his lap for well over an hour while he petted her to sleep.
I asked him if he does this full-time, and he said, you thought I did this full time? The man has no idea what power he wields.
What we kept coming back to is making Israeli music in Hebrew. Hebrew is by no means a widely spoken language — there’s an estimated 7 million fluent speakers worldwide, representing less than .1% of the global population — so making music in Hebrew is, if not a statement, then a commitment. But just like Plotnik is proud to be from Petach Tikva, he’s proud to be Israeli; his roots are deep in East Coast hip hop, but even deeper in traditional Persian and Mizrachi music. His producer, Shekel (Eyal Davidi) draws largely from Persian and Mediterranean influences. By taking traditional hip hop and moving those values into Hebrew, Nechi Nech is creating a new wave of rap, a new generation of musicians and fans who can relate to the original boom-bap but in their native tongue.
Thursday night was Ravid’s third time headlining the Barby, Tel Aviv’s most well-known underground music venue. When we got to Barby, about thirty minutes before the show started, the venue was already packed in the Nechi crew’s traditional BOOM SHAKA LAK t-shirts, and there was an impromptu b-boy circle in front of the stage.
Imagine Eminem’s biggest fans in 2001 — this is what we’re talking about, but Israeli. Kids who saved up allowances and babysitting money, who begged their parents for rides and came with the energy of an army going to war. When Ravid thanked the audience, he meant it; his fans are the grassroots kind, the kids who headbang and raise their hands, who came with lighters only to wave them during the slower songs.
Beyond the microphones and the amps, Nechi came with a full band — something often lacking in today’s hip hop scene. While he often raps over computer-generated beats, and has a producer named Shekel that he doesn’t seem to go anywhere without, Ravid’s understanding of and respect for traditional live music is what sets him apart from rappers in Israel and abroad.
A highlight of Nechi’s show was the brief appearance of Tirasexual (Cornsexual). Tirasexual rose to fame with a show on Channel 2, and their comic relief form of hip hop added to Nechi’s show mostly in respect to his crowd control. Bringing out the boys was a pretty big surprise, and one that impressed the crowd — something not easy when you’re talking about testosterone-soaked teenagers.
Nechi Nech likes to say he has the body of King Kong and the face of Godzilla; that might not be true, but he has the stage presence of any giant you can think of. For the encore, Ravid asked if anyone would mind if he played a song from the beginning of the show — something we’d like, he promised. And we did. In a move that reminded me more of Kanye than anyone I’d seen grace that stage before, the band went back into one of Nechi’s classics and a song that opened the show, Bur v’Am HaAretz, or Ultra Ignorant, and the crowd went wild. And then, as the show started, it ended. A group of teenage boys breakdanced their way outside. The hardcore fans waited for Ravid to come out. And when the time came for me to finally give Ravid a hug, he looked like the most grateful man alive — a man who knows he’s on the tipping point of something very special.
Israeli must-listens, from Ravid to you: