As a Judaic studies major at George Washington University, he’s Noah Shufutinsky, a sophomore student. As a rapper, he’s Young Gravy, whose black, Jewish identity is core to his music. He shot the video for his recent song, “Diaspora,” in Jerusalem, and in it he raps in Hebrew and gives a passionate defense of Jewish state.
How long have you been rapping?
I’ve been rapping pretty much my whole life, whether at family functions or in school. More recently, I’ve just been working on developing my craft more, producing and getting into more of the technical aspect of it from a recording and mixing standpoint.
Who would you count as influences for your music?
I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music. In terms of general influences, I’d say Bob Marley. He’s really inspiring in terms of telling a lot of stories of struggle and overcoming oppression. As far as hip-hop goes, I grew up on a lot of classic, old school stuff that I listen to still. And 2Pac is probably my favorite. Mainly, his storytelling is something that’s really important to me, and the way he was not only able to tell his story but other stories, and his ability to tell them in relatable ways.
There are people who will refuse to be your fan because of the outwardly Zionist stance you take in your music. Do you think about that?
I understand that that’s the reality and that’s going to happen. But that doesn’t affect whether I want to release it or make me tone down my message, my narrative and my perspective. I had plenty of people who had something to say about my song “Diaspora” specifically.
I got a ton of amazing, great feedback from people who said it was a valuable perspective to present. But there were definitely detractors and people who had bad things to say, I think, inherently based in anti-Semitism and a refusal to acknowledge any part of my song or that story.
Where does your passion for Israel come from?
I was raised Jewish and I think Israel is inseparable from Jewish tradition and Jewish culture. When I say Israel, I’m not even talking about all the politics or even the religious aspect of Judaism. You can have services wherever you go, but the idea that Jewish people in our own holy texts are referred to as the people of Israel and the inherent connection to Israel as our homeland is a key part of Jewish culture. All people have the right to their homeland, especially in times of need.
Are you fluent in Hebrew?
Conversationally fluent. I can get around in Israel.
You put your identity pretty front and center, do you worry about pigeonholed as a black, Jewish, Zionist rapper?
I have a lot of different kinds of songs. My identity is not something that I hide or separate from my musical persona or identity. They go hand in hand. But I don’t think that’s all of me as a person or as a musician. I have a pretty diverse catalog, whether it’s just fun songs or rapping about growing up in San Diego, the culture where I grew up. It’s up to the listener to interpret the art.
Where do you want to go with music?
Music will always be something in my life that I use as far as telling my story and finding my voice. I’d love to make a career out of it and I’m making moves to do that right now as one of my passions and something that can make an impact. I am a Judaic Studies major and it’s another one of my passions, but I don’t think they’re necessarily mutually exclusive.
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