The good, the bad and the odd

A CD compilation of Jewish rappers from around the globe may sound like the premise for a joke, but, in actuality, it more closely resembles a movie: “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

“Celebrate Hip Hop” does indeed celebrate a dozen Jewish hip-hop acts not called the Beastie Boys. And, perhaps as an indicator of the precipitous drop-off in recognizable Semitic rappers after the Brooklyn-born Beasties are off the table, the talent level on this CD varies wildly from “kicking” to “middling” to “wouldn’t want them playing at your nephew’s bar mitzvah.”

And, speaking about acts that would get thrown out the back of the shul, producers Jeremy Goldscheider and Craig Taubman made an odd decision in placing what are easily the album’s worst two tracks at the beginning of the playlist.

The South American group Hip Hop Hoodiós lead off with the “Is this some kind of a joke?”-worthy Chanukah number, “Ochos Kandelikas,” which can’t even be saved by its Led Zeppelin-like dreamy guitar interlude.

Following that, the Israeli Mook E. lets loose with a rapid Hebrew rap that sounds more like the climactic dance number in a Bollywood flick than a hip-hop tune. The synthesizers in the background could only be more dated if they were worn around the musicians’ necks, guitar-style, and his background singer sounds about 12 years old.

So, it was a sigh of relief that greeted American musician Brimstone127, a solid, straight-ahead rapper, even if he does make the questionable decision to rhyme “pour” and “pore.”

But what sets the American apart from the first two acts is the superior production values. The difference for the listener is akin to trading in a Festiva for a Ferrari.

The oddity of listening to Hebrew rap can’t help but bring a smile, but the stylings of Israeli Sagol 59 wiped that smile off my face — in a good way. Along with fellow Israeli A7, the track “Big Ben” featured compellingly listenable, gravelly voiced Hebrew (along with the memorable English phrase “no spin on Shabbos”).

The album puts together a little winning streak with a track from American duo Blood of Abraham, who flaunt one of the best resumes on the album. MC Mazika and Israeli-born MC Benyad were protégés of the late N.W.A.-star Eazy-E, and have a significant non-Jewish fan base that couldn’t tell a Kiddush cup from Lil’ John’s chalice.

And then things get odd, as the album veers into the realm of electric, Yiddish, Canadian, cartoon disco music. For just one track, thank God.

DJs Solomon and Socalled are definitely Yiddish hoofers at heart, and their klezmer and Moog-infused number, “Hiphopkele” is entertaining, but, at 3½ minutes, perhaps a bit too long. Novelty numbers don’t wear well with age, which may be why no one has heard from that guy who sang “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” in a while.

The Yiddish bit isn’t the last spoof song on the album, as Etan G. later weighs in with “South Side of the Synagogue,” with high-pinched synths that mimic Dr. Dre and a guttural shout of “rollin’, rollin’, rollin'” that apes Fred Durst (even if Etan’s real voice sounds more like Weird Al Yankovic).

And, moving from spoofs to shlock, the album’s pair of English rappers sorely disappoint, as Emunah tosses out a dance beat stinker that sounds a bit like something you might stumble across on Live 105 at 4 a.m., and Antithesis pushes forward a cockney-accented history of Israel that could get you booted out of a karaoke bar.

Two more strong tracks remain on the album, though. Remedy, one of the roughly 76 members of the Wu-Tang Clan, teams with fellow Wu-Tang member RZA for “Muslim and a Jew,” a hard-hitting plea for Mideast peace. And, in a huge surprise, Russian group iSQUAD raps Cyrillic in front of the best backbeat on the compilation, a funky groove reminiscent of Herbie Hancock in his Fat Albert era.

Thinking locally, Oakland’s own MC Hy contributes a number entitled “Get Your Head Out.” It’s nothing special, but compared to Etan G.’s preceding tune and Antithesis’ lame rap on the next track, it’s spectacular.

“Celebrate Hip Hop” has its moments, but playing the majority of these songs with your car windows down might result in pedestrians forcibly disabling your audio system.

A number of these Jewish rappers are top-notch, but, let’s put it this way: This album isn’t going to dent the Beastie Boys’ sales numbers.

“Celebrate Hip Hop: Jewish Artists From Around the Globe” (Craig ‘n Co. Records, $15). Information:

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.