LOS ANGELES TIMES
BOYCHICKS N THA HOOD. Can Fairfax and Beverly be as much a center for hip-hop as, say, Florence and Normandie? That’s the premise of M.O.T. (Members of the Tribe), an L.A. duo making a Jewish-oriented brand of rap they refer to as “Hebe Hop.”
Yes, it’s comedy -- the two use the aliases Dr. Dreidle and Ice Berg and their manager is referred to as Meshugge Knight, while they cite Woody Allen among their influences.
But it’s not just a joke, a la the late-80’s spoof 2 Live Jews. The group’s debut album, “19.99” from Sire/Warner Bros. Records, puts the Jewish humor in a context of accomplished satire and musical legitimacy, with such songs as “Kosher Nostra” (chicken soup for the gangsta soul) and “Town Car” (with the line, “Sold my Chevy to the Levys, but the Levy’s can’t drive”).
“We keep it on a comedic tip, says Dr. Dreidle, whose real name is Hillel Tigay, and who is the son of a Judaica scholar and fluent in Hebrew. “Yet we really see ourselves crossing over. 2 Live Jews was comedians with a drum machine. We write our stuff and the music is important.”
Tigay (who had a record deal with A&M, though a planned early 80’s album was never released) and partner Andrew Rosenthal (who was a member of L.A. art-pop duo Martini Ranch with actor Bill Paxton) plan to make the circuit of morning shows to open the doors. And once they get them open, they have big plans, including a screenplay they’re writing for their characters. Says Tigay, “We see us as a global Mensch Mob.”
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Working in the tradition of Micky Katz and Kinky Friedman and his Texas Jewboys, M.O.T. -- a pair of wisenheimers who bill themselves as Ice Berg and Dr. Dreidle -- have created a hilariously knowing brand of Jewish hip-hop, studded with Yiddishisms, yeshiva slang and joyously embraced ethnic stereotypes. Call it Boychiks ‘N the Hood or, as they do, hebe-hop.
What’s remarkable about the disc is not simply that it got made at all -- given how few buyers are likely to be conversant in both hip-hop and Yiddish -- but also how musically strong it is, with deft sound mixes and intricate, inventive raps. The most memorable cut, cutesy title notwithstanding, is “Havana Nagila,” a sexy, layered “klezmerumba” tribute to the Miami gangsta tradition exemplified by Meyer Lansky.
Borscht-belt humor has been applied to hip-hop before, but rarely with the acerbic wit and musical panache employed by the Los Angeles-based music-industry insiders called Members of the Tribe. On “19.99,” Ice Berg and Dr. Dreidle throw down terse and topical musings on anti-Semitism (“Psychosemitic”), the Jewish Mafia (“Kosher Nostra”) and the annoying problems of MSG (“Emmes G”). The musical accompaniments fall on the soft side of the rap spectrum, and several tracks are more pop than hip-hop. But the wordplay -- from the liner notes by Meshugge Knight to the virtues of a Lincoln Town Car (“big black sofa on four wheels”) to the chant that underpins “Double Dutch Lunch” (“throw your hams in the air like you just don’t care”) -- celebrates the quirky nuances of both cultures without trashing either.
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Jewish humor has been incorporated in music before, even in hip-hop (see the 2 Live Jews), but probably not with the musical chops or conceptual humor and wit displayed on 19.99. M.O.T. (or Members of the Tribe) consists of Ice Berg and Dr. Dreidle (along with their manager, Meshugge Knight) and are, in reality, Hillel Tigay and Andrew Rosenthal, once Bill Paxton’s partner in the art-pop duo Martini Ranch. With titles like “Psychosemitic,” “Kosher Nostra,” and “Emmes G,” the satirical pseudo-street rhymes are sharp and amusing, for the most part, sprinkled with Yiddish references behind original synthesized instrumentation (no samples here). The music is more accomplished than any number of supposedly serious releases, elevating this wicked satire above the realm of pure novelty -- although repeated listens may put truth to the lyric “This Hebe-Hop is giving me angina.” In a kind of Beastie Boys-Jackie Mason mind meld, the duo has come up with a Jewish Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack that may have enough lyrical and musical wit and personality to take on a life of its own, off-Broadway or at least on UPN.
Ice Berg and Dr. Dreidle, the two machers behind M.O.T. (Members of the Tribe), rap about noshing (“Double Dutch Lunch”), litigation (“So Sue Me”), Rat Pack excess (“Viva Oy Vegas”) and similar concerns over slammin’ beats and pop-savvy instrumentation. What starts out as a gag becomes a delirious celebration of Jewish-American culture and rump-shaking music; it also happens to be the funniest material since “This is Spinal Tap.” Such a deal!
Since alleged mensches the Beasties have become preoccupied with saving monks, it’s schlemiels like Busta and Wyclef whom we count on to carry the kishke on behalf of Borscht Belt sensibilities. So it figures that a novelty rap act called M.O.T. has garnered about as much respect as Professor Griff’s solo career. (Well, so much for his old theories...)
The half-witted work of Dr. Dreidel (sic) and Ice Berg (a/k/a Andrew Rosenthal, formerly half of too-late new-wave parody Martini Ranch), 19.99 is titled in a way that implies “don’t worry, we won’t hurt you, we only want to have some fun.” But while strangely earnest liner notes by manager Meshugge Knight (a/k/a Hits magazine smart aleck Roy Trakin) promise parallels ranging from Lenny Bruce to Fanny Brice, M.O.T.’s opening big-up to pleasures of trayf Chinese food, “Emmes G,” immediately recalls Everlast’s pugnacious persona circa House of Pain.
It should be presumed that any hip-hop satire this side of Chris Rock is gonna be a half-decade out of step; musical allusions here don’t get further than M.C. Hammer or L’Trimm, with a passel of played-out gangsta style. “Double Dutch Lunch” could qualify as old-school genius -- that is, if closeted Yid Malcolm McLaren hadn’t gotten there first.
Now, you shouldn’t expect much from an album whose aesthetic highlight is a whistling cameo from beleaguered actor Judge Reinhold, but at least these Hebes are hardcore enough to give a shout-out to Manischewitz’s famously flavorless Tam Tams crackers. Although 19.99 ain’t much saltier, rapzine editors needn’t fear assaults from any schnorrers in M.O.T.’s “Kosher Nostra.” Worst they’ll do is cancel their subscriptions (then buy a newsstand copy for the scrapbook. And to show their mothers.)