Lil Dicky: the most Jewish rapper in the game

"Professional Rapper" music video. YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT


I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Lil Dicky as I waited backstage for him ahead of his performance at the Hoxton nightclub in Toronto. Having read the Noisey article that labelled him an “asshole,” I was slightly anxious. After conversing with Dicky, however, I realized that this was not at all the case; he’s simply brutally honest, blunt, and passionate about what he’s doing.

Born David Burd and raised in an upper middle class Jewish family in the Elkins Park neighbourhood of Cheltenham Township, Philadelphia, Lil Dicky rose to prominence with his first-ever YouTube video, Ex-Boyfriend, which garnered a million hits in a mere 24 hours. Excited by the notion of succeeding as a rapper/comedian, he left his career as a copywriter with advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and devoted his efforts, and his bar mitzvah money (some $10,000 US), to his music. Once that money ran out, he launched a (successful) Kickstarter campaign that asked his fans to “fund phase two” of his rapping career.

Where rappers like Childish Gambino, Drake, and even Kanye West have already obliterated the “traditional” hip hop narrative, Lil Dicky takes it to the next level. He’s the antithesis of what you’d expect a rapper to be, and not only because he’s white and Jewish. It’s his origin story, his frugality (and desire to seek fame over fortune), his focus on being the first proud, privileged white male in rap, and his unrelenting devotion to making fun of himself. Sure, there are many conscious and intelligent rappers out there, but how many of them boast about graduating first-of-their-class from Richmond? How many rose to superstardom by rapping about how small their penises are when compared to other men they checked out at the urinal?

Like his icon Larry David, Lil Dicky has a tendency to use his culture, and consequently, his religion, as focal points in his content, and has written his fair share of lyrics that could be deemed controversial, particularly to the Jewish community. The music videos, for one, are certainly risqué and brimming with NSFW content.

But then again, that’s what has made Jewish comedians like David so relatable, by presenting scenarios that pay homage to their heritage, while simultaneously ripping it apart (see the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode called “Palestinian Chicken”). This is why it’s ultimately Lil Dicky’s Jewishness that truly sets him apart as a rapper. Yes, Drake threw himself an adult Bar Mitzvah in HYFR, and Mac Miller wears t-shirts in Hebrew and has a Star of David tattoo, and Action Bronson brags about drinking Manischewitz. But Lil Dicky uses Jewish motifs in his music whenever he can, from wearing traditional Jewish garb as a cartoon character, to the synagogue landscape, matzah and Israeli flags in All K, to the interludes with his overly Jewish, overprotective parents on his debut studio album, Professional Rapper.

Whereas many preliminary interviews saw reporters questioning how Lil Dicky was going to be taken seriously, with his debut album selling over 22,000 copies in its first week and appearing at the No.1 spot on the Billboard rap charts, not to mention featuring artists like Fetty Wap, Rich Homie Quan and Snoop Dogg, it seems a futile exercise to question how serious the skinny Jewish kid from Philly is being taken now.

As a comedian, but also a rapper, would you say you were more influenced by 2Pac and Biggie or Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David?

Definitely more influenced as a human being by David and Seinfeld, but musically speaking, by 2pac and Biggie.

And lyrically?

Lyrically, Seinfeld and Larry David, but not really flow-wise, as those guys aren’t flowing, right?

Would you say that your rap and comedy go hand in hand, or are they separate entities?

I separate them, it’s all a reflection of who I am as a person. Sometimes I’ll write a somber song, it all depends on what I’m feeling as a person. I want to showcase that I’m more than just a guy who jokes around, I have serious conversations with people too.

There are comedy-rap groups like Lonely Island who have never been taken as seriously as you are as a rapper. Why do you think that is?

Musical integrity. I think we’re on two different levels.

What would you say if I told you that you were the most Jewish rapper of all time?

Lil Dicky's 'So Hard' mixtape
Lil Dicky’s So Hard mix tape

I’d say I have to be in the running. Honestly, I think I’ve overblown my Judaism in terms of how actually observant I am. I’m not observant in the slightest but I definitely identify culturally with it. On my mix tape cover [So Hard] I had a Star of David, but maybe that’s more a product of, what else was I going to put on fire that’s, like, a sign of myself?

Is it true that your first music videos and mixtapes were produced with your bar mitzvah money?

Yes, that’s true. My first video was made with my bar mitzvah savings.

I heard that you opened for 112 when you were 14, how did that happen?

They came to my overnight camp, and saw me, and they asked me to open.

Was it a Jewish camp?

Yeah (laughs). I was this little rapping kid, and they liked me.

Do you think you’re giving suburban kids who would have never become rappers because they aren’t ‘street’ enough someone to look up to?

Yeah, though I haven’t thought everything in that sentence. I don’t like being a preachy person at all, but I do have two core messages: one is be yourself, and the other is that you have to go for Plan A, and until Plan A fails, there’s no Plan B, don’t settle for Plan B. I think they’re seeing that those things are entirely possible, and just like it happened for me, they can apply themselves and work at their goals and it can happen for them.

In the video for Jewish Flow, you freestyle battle against Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. Where did this idea come from?

Well, the song is not really about him, but in the chorus I do mention the Holocaust, and I wanted to, in some way, use the Holocaust in the video. I did a lot of research and I saw a lot of Hitler’s speeches and thought ‘Wow, he’s so animated’ and it really looks he’s rapping, so we just went with it.

Did you get any angry emails about it?

Not as much as you’d think, though it’s not necessarily the one my parents were emailing to their friends (laughs). If I got a lot of hate for it, I haven’t seen it. I’m sure it’s out there though.

Did you ever get any angry responses from the Jewish community?

I think the benefit of being an up-and-coming cool rapping Jew outweighs me being offensive, so the Jewish groups have pretty much left me alone.

Are those interludes featuring your parents real?

You couldn’t fake something like that.

Was it your intention to make that relatable to Jewish kids in particular?

I wasn’t thinking how people would relate to it, but now I’ve learned that a lot of people have. My parents are just absurd characters, and classic Jewish parents so I felt I had to document it. I think who I am as a person has a lot to do with my parents, and I think that’s important to show. I’m probably as neurotic as I am because my parents were overprotective and made me think about shit all the time.

There’s a stereotype that exists that Jewish people are “careful” with their money. Is the song $ave Dat Money satirizing that in any way?

I wouldn’t say it’s satirizing it, I just happen to be proud to be frugal, so if it’s a Jewish stereotype the stereotype falls on me being a Jew, and that I actually live that. I’m the guy that likes finding a bargain.

Did you actually not spend any money to create the music video?

I spent a little money to create it, but otherwise I actually made money on it.

Ever go on Birthright Israel?

I was rejected.

What? Why?

It was full, they accepted me months later, but all my friends had already gone.

Have you been there?

Never been, but I’m excited for the day I go to Israel.

Would you play if they asked you to?

Yes. I’m excited for the day I go to Israel.

Were your parents supportive of your choice to leave your job and pursue music?

Yes, but I didn’t leave until I already had a video online and it had proven successful, and I think their trepidation was more about me putting stuff online while I had a job.

As we finished off the interview, Dicky asked me if I was going to stay for the show (the opener, Matthew Chaim from Montreal, is also Jewish). I responded, “definitely,” but noticing the abundance of vodka and Sapporo beers available, couldn’t help but asking, “Could I pull a Lil Dicky and drink some of this booze for free?”

He, and his roommate-turned-manager Mike Hertz, laughed and said “Drink as much as you want, man.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.