OYE VEY, VATO: Hip Hop Hoodios

January 9, 2010, Judd

It’s an interesting image: two sexy, brown-skinned women, both half-Mexican and half-Jewish, dancing on the stage, wearing black spaghetti-style tank tops that read “Hip Hop Hoodios” in a Hebrew font.

Known as the Hoodio Honeys, the dancers also sing in Spanish, English and a smidgeon of Hebrew. They occasionally wear bagel bras over their Hoodio tees. This comical, surreal, multilingual eye candy provides backup harmonies for Latino-Jewish hip-hop trio, the Hip Hop Hoodios.

The Hoodios (hoodio is a play on judio, the Spanish word for Jew, with the ‘j’ silent) consists of the Cornell and Argentinean-educated MC and bassist Josué Noriega, the Puerto Rican-Jew Abraham Velez (guitar, percussion) and Federico Fong. Fong, founding bassist for rock en español icons Caifanes (a multi-platinum band that later became Jaguares, another multi-million-selling band) was raised in a self-described Panamanian-Chinese “white trash Arkansas” environs.

HHH’s multicultural antics and eclectic style cross boundaries beyond the world of hip-hop, including elements of rock en español, ska and punk. But HHH is most entertaining when delivering its quirky, sarcastic and didactic rhymes, often delivered Sublime-style in Spanglish.

The trio’s multi-culti hip-hop has won over critics and fans alike, even those who don’t know a matzoh ball from a pelota. HHH especially resonates with fans who pay close attention to lyrics and can appreciate witty (although sometimes juvenile) Jewish-themed rhymes. Fluency in Spanish is a big plus, but not necessary.

With the exception of two tracks that use sampling-“Dicks and Noses” and “Havana Nagilah”-the songs are all constructed with live instrumentation. Which contributes, of course, to the similarities with another hip-hop trio with Jewish roots and silly rhymes-the Beastie Boys, they of doing it like this, doing it like that, doing it with a whiffle ball bat infamy.

For HHH founding member MC Noriega, the Beastie Boys actually weren’t very influential in shaping his career as a Jewish-Latino rapper. More of an influence was the hardcore Jewish-rap band, Blood of Abraham.

While explaining his attraction to Blood of Abraham, Noriega shows CityBeat Hip Hop Hoodios’ music video for “Ocho Kandelikas” (“Eight Candles”), a spoof of a traditional Hanukah song that received airplay on MTV Espanol, Telemundo and other big networks (not bad for a 2-year-old band that only averages two live shows a month). Shot on the roof of Noriega’s L.A. apartment, the video features him rapping in a hot tub with a couple of the Hoodio Honeys, while the bottom of the screen flashes: “For hot Judia action, call 1-800-HOODIOS.”

“Way before Vanilla Ice and Eminem,” says Noriega, “one of the first white rap acts was Blood of Abraham.” Signed by the late rapper Eazy-E, Noriega explains, BOA were “hardcore gangsta-esque rappers who were openly Jewish in their songs.” Noriega fondly remembers the BOA song and video for “Niggaz and Jews,” which features Eazy-E running around the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and trading off rhymes with the other MCs.

The Beasties, on the other hand, though embracing spirituality on the side through Buddhism, rarely expressed their Jewish heritage in song.

“That always disappointed me,” says Noriega, who once was intern to Spin magazine publisher Bob Guccioni, Jr. “But you can’t blame them because, if they were expressive about their cultural roots, would the kids in Iowa get it? After all, they needed to make a living.”

HHH, which recently had one of its songs featured on a Spanish language Volkswagen commercial, represents a combination of the anti-neurotic, anti-Woody Allen “hipster Jew” trend and the flourishing Latino culture in the states.

Noriega says he doesn’t know what kind of reaction his band will get on Jan. 30, the date of their first gig in San Diego. When they play in Fong and Velez’ hometown of New York, “70 percent of our audience is the Jewish hipster type and the rest is Latino,” says Noriega. “In L.A., our crowd is mainly the Latin alternative rock scene.”

Noriega says HHH is about bringing different backgrounds together. But do gentiles and gringos get it? What about Jews who don’t speak Spanish and Latinos who aren’t also Jews?

“We have a big following that’s neither Jewish or Latino,” Noriega says. “Many times I wonder, ‘How did they find us-especially that mail order that just came in from Utah?’

“Does that person in Utah realize that 200,000 Jews fled Spain to the New World as a result of the Inquisition and that many Latinos aren’t aware that they have Jewish blood?” the MC asks, referring to the fact that many Inquisition-era Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism.

On their song “1492,” Noriega, who is in his final year of law school, elucidates: “Well the situation started 1492, King Ferdinand gonna burn the Jews, Inquisition came and shit hit the fan, fuck Espana, I want New Amsterdam, here’s some lyrics that will hit you with a thud, millions of Latinos got Jewish blood!”

This article was originally published in San Diego City Beat. 

Judd Handler is a freelance writer and wellness/lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He surfs uncrowded, fun reef breaks; plays instrumental alternate-tuning guitar; goes hiking in the backcountry; and is amazed on a daily basis by just being alive.