One night, when Eyal Davidi was 10, his parents left him and his brother home alone without a babysitter. Bored, the boys found an old tape deck, and recorded themselves beatboxing. Davidi went to bed that night knowing exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up.
Fast-forward a few years, and Davidi was well on his way to achieving the dream. He’d chosen the monicker Shekel—he’s Persian, and both Persians and rappers are really into money, he likes to joke—and began making strange and wonderful music that attracted the attention of local MCs. Raiding his parents and grandparents old Iranian records, he’d find beautiful vintage Persian pop songs and mix them with irresistible beats. In 2008, he was approached by three young men who wanted him to join their band, Produx. Two of them, Shmuel “Aristo” Yosef and Shimshon “Chicho” Adama were Ethiopian-born Jews who saw American hip hop music as a way to channel their hopes and frustrations. The third, Ravid Plotnik, was a chubby orphaned kid from Petach Tikva who got his stage name, Nechi Nech, from the Amhari word that best described his look: lily white. The very first track Shekel made with the band stirred a sensation, announcing the rebirth of Israeli hip hop, at the time considered somewhat moribund:
The band’s success was short-lived—it broke up, citing artistic differences, after only one album—but Nechi Nech was quickly becoming one of the country’s biggest stars, in large part thanks to Shekel’s mad collaborations. But while his friend was rocking large arenas and sitting down for fawning interviews, Shekel was feeling more melancholic. A few bad breakups left him contemplative and gloomy. He put his music aside and tried—and failed—to get and hold a host of day jobs. He worked in construction for a spell, and then found a part-time gig cleaning bus terminals. One night, as he was sweeping and mopping, he looked up and saw that one of the posters he was dusting was for a friend of his from his hip hop days, who was now famous enough to merit his own billboard.
It was enough of a blow to Shekel’s ego to send him back to the studio, writing not for himself but for a long and stellar roster of friends and collaborators, Nechi Nech included. Last year, he released his first album, “Radio Junam,” the second word being Farsi for “soul”:
It was sad and gorgeous and it marked the return of Shekel. By the time Wiz Khalifa landed in Tel Aviv for one quick concert last summer, it was Shekel and his buddies there on the stage as the rapper’s warm-up act.
And now there’s Shekel’s brand new song, “I Dress Nicely,” a dreamy Drake-like track about love and sex and fame and loss and all the other things that matter to you when you’re young and growingly well-known and still wounded. It’s just the track you need to take you to the weekend, a touch of Israeli-Persian-American love: