Growing up is an art form at which very few rappers excel. Like ballers, boxers, or ballerinas, they start young, burn bright, and bow out in the midday of their lives, duller and dimmer than before. A young artist’s howl about violence and poverty and insecurity is exhilarating; a middle-aged musing about success and its trappings is not. Defying this trajectory isn’t easy; doing it while producing a minor-key masterpiece that meditates on technology, religion, and relationships is even harder.
All hail, then, Nechi Nech, Israel’s greatest hip hop artist, who this week released Shefel ve’Ge’eut (Ebb and Tide), his fourth studio album and one of the most beautiful Hebrew recordings in recent memory. Right from the first track, Lif’amim, you realize you’re in the presence of a giant soul: in four or five lines, Nechi riffs on Richard Dawkins, questions the concept of Divine Election, rails out against the deadening impact of social media, and gives you more to think and feel about than other artists do in entire careers. He follows this track up with Kol Ha’Zman Ha’Zeh, a song about breaking up with his girlfriend delivered from her point of view, using feminine pronouns and cutting Nechi himself no slack. Such candor and daring are nothing short of thrilling, and the rest of the album delivers on the promise, with tracks that are simultaneously contemplative, haunting, and raw.
Anyone who’s been following Nechi’s career should hardly be surprised by any of this. Still in his twenties, he paid very little attention to the success of his previous two albums, which came with increasing radio play, major awards, and legions of screaming teen-aged fans. He still lives at home, with his father, in Petah Tikva. He still spends as much time as he can on the road. And he’s still with the same group of friends with whom he started out, producers and collaborators who’ve known him too long to be impressed by his ascent. There’s no better recipe for keeping it real, and no better soil for interesting, complex, and meaningful music.
The new album is available on iTunes. If you’re looking for a welcome distraction from the vulgar circus that is American public life these days, buy it, put on a pair of good headphones, and press play. It’ll do wonders for your heart.