Hip-hop salvation

Oakland-based singer/songwriter Hyim has a Middle East peace proposal he’d like to float: Send 10,000 kids to the region, have a heart-to-heart with their Arab and Israeli counterparts and then get ’em all singing.

“Kumbaya”-flavored pie in the sky? Hyim doesn’t think so, and the musician/self-styled peace educator lives life accordingly.

It’s all a bit incongruous: a young Jewish man, hailing from a family of doctors and teachers, who found his artistic (and personal) salvation in music, especially hip-hop.

And he’s no white hip-hop wannabe, cruising the suburbs in daddy’s Beemer.

Hyim — born Hyim Jacob Ross 30 years ago — is the real deal, a product of the tough Oakland public schools and an eyewitness to the pain and thuggery of the streets.

His father, Robert Norman Ross, a Potrero Hill Health Center physician, was gunned down in a murder-suicide committed by the crazed husband of a former patient. Hyim was just a boy at the time.

Today the former angry young man is a mature recording artist and official spreader of joy.

That’s the underlying message of his CD, “Let Out a Little Peace,” newly re-released on his own independent label, Family Productions. Hyim wrote, produced and arranged the CD’s 11 songs, and he played guitar and piano as well.

Hyim’s music is tough to classify. He calls it “urban world beat,” a nice way of saying he doesn’t exactly fit with the cookie-cutter music industry.

Which is exactly how he likes it.

His lyrics tend to zero in on themes of love and reconciliation, occasionally with a subtle Jewish flair. In “Let Out a Little Peace,” Hyim sings: “We will create this peace/One by one/Accept our grief without vengeance/And let this cycle cease.”

Is he talking about Israel? Or about a boy, enraged that his father died so senselessly? He won’t say.

What he does say is that music remains an engine for social change, and he plans to stoke it as much as possible.

“Hip-hop is the poetry of a generation that’s had materialism shoved down its throat,” he says. “It’s about finding power when you’re feeling powerless.”

Hyim says delving deeply into hip-hop helped him overcome his father’s murder, as did making his own music. It took him years to work through it, but he did so in a way that helped him embrace life, rather than leave him embittered.

He attended Oakland’s Skyline High School, befriending kids of every ethnicity. At the same time, Hyim never forgot he was Jewish, becoming bar mitzvah at the East Bay’s Kehilla Community Synagogue.

“It’s part of what I am,” he says. “When you become conscious of cultural awareness, you have to find your own harmony and seek your roots.”

Hyim is eager to take his musical message to the streets. But whether success comes quickly or not, Hyim is following age-old advice: Enjoy the ride. “When God gives you a skill, it’s a non-mitzvah to disregard it.”

Hyim and The Fat Foakland Orchestra will perform 9:20 p.m. Nov. 22

at The Boom Boom Room, 1601 Fillmore, S.F. Information: (415) 673-8000.

Hyim’s CD “Let Out a Little Peace” is available through his Web site — www.hyimvibe.com — for $10 to $15, sliding scale. Also at Amoeba, Berkeley and San Francisco; Streetlight Records, San Francisco; Ear Witness, Oakland; and some Rasputin’s.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.