Rami Even-Esh isn’t your average rapper. Better known by his stage name, Kosha Dillz, the 33-year-old New Jersey native made history at the 2012 BET Hip Hop Awards, when he appeared on stage rapping in Hebrew with a kippah on his head.
A Sephardi-Israeli-American who boasts a Star of David necklace, Even-Esh’s Jewish identity naturally allows him to stand out. He can also rap in Spanish, has a B.A. in creative writing from Rutgers University and was featured in The (New York) Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36 earlier this year.
“The Jewish world is separated from the hip-hop world, and I try to bridge those two together,” the Los Angeles-based MC says in a phone interview. “I try to make a good name for Jews and Israelis.”
Even-Esh was initially exposed to the world of rap and hip-hop when he was a teenager. He and his friends were heavily involved with the freestyle rap scene at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City. From there his rap journey began, but not without some bumps along the way.
Before he was Kosha Dillz, he was Kosher Dill and KD Flow. His previous stage-name changes coincided with life changes, as Even-Esh suffered from drug addiction and a stint in prison. When he was released in 2005, he decided to change his name to Dillz. The name, he says, drew him to his Jewish identity and his career took off from there.
“I wanted credibility as a real MC and rapper,” he says. “I wanted to be taken seriously. [The name] could be inferred as not serious, but it also represents something big that people don’t realize. It encompasses what I’m about.”
Eight years later, he has multiple extended-play records and mix tapes under his belt, and he has performed with the likes of fellow Jewish musician Matisyahu, and rappers Snoop Lion, C-Rayz Walz, RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan and most recently, A$AP Rocky. He’s also appeared on stage at high-profile music festivals such as Hot 97’s Summer Jam, Sundance and South by SouthWest (SXSW).
Although Even-Esh can be described as an underground rapper, he’s achieved commercial success as well. His song “Cellular Phone” was featured in a Super Bowl XLVI Bud Light commercial and he’s a character in the basketball video game NBA 2K11.
When it comes to his actual music, listeners can expect variety in his songs and lyrics, which range from playful and dance-worthy to serious. His latest album, Awkward in a Good Way, was released Nov. 5. and features singles “Hangin’ Out” and “Zionist Yoga.”
The former is an example of a fun tune (he manages to throw in shout-outs to “FroYo”) and the latter is a song that will make people think, he says.
“I’m hoping this album puts me in a place of self-respect and notoriety,” he says. “It’s good for Jews, good for rap and a lot of people can identify with being awkward [referring to the title].”
Even-Esh is also working on a documentary called Kosha Dillz is Everywhere: The Hustle to Happiness, which will highlight the ups and downs of his career. And although he’s just had an album release, he’s not slowing down any time soon.
“I try to be one of the hardest working people in hip-hop,” he says. “If I continue to be myself and continue with my projects, [my career] is going to be successful in its own right.”
Listen to “Zionist Yoga” below