It was meant to be click-bait, a Hasidic Jewish man walking up to some kids on a New York street to ask whether they would like to hear him rap.
But to everyone’s surprise, Samuel Kalnitz, known as Sammy K, has bars.
“I intended the video to be promotion for the song, but it became a promotion for me,” Sammy K said about the viral video featuring his song “Kosher Kosher.”
The Yeshiva University student, who is majoring in business management, has his ambitions in music and becoming the first well-known Orthodox Jewish rapper.
“Those clothes — that’s actually how I dress when I’m going to shul, but we did it for the promo,” he said.
A Toco Hills-bred Atlanta native, Sammy K performs music influenced by the rappers and hip-hop artists he listened to growing up in what is now the rap capital of the United States. His beats have the familiar sound of trap music, a form of rap rooted in Atlanta.
“I grew up listening to Ludacris and T.I., and Outkast has had an impact on my music,” Sammy K said. “I listen to Logic, Little Dickey, Machine Gun Kelly, Migos, Travis Scott, Young Thug and Wale.”
His playlist is typical of a man his age, and he recently did a remix of “Mask Off,” a popular song by rapper Future, also a native Atlantan.
But when it comes to his own music, Sammy K keeps it clean, meaning no curse words, a promise he made to his parents before they agreed to let him pursue music.
“I had to promise to keep it clean and finish school,” Sammy K said. “Hip-hop is such a reflection of who you are and what you believe, so there are no vulgar rhymes, and I keep it clean. Plus, I have a little brother who listens to my music, and he’s my biggest fan.”
The other promise he made to his parents was to finish college.
“Right now, I’m in business management, but I’m switching to marketing,” Sammy K said. “Every class I take, I apply it to what I do.”
The three-man Sammy K team also includes manager Dennis Gindi and another Jewish rapper, Ursa, who is in charge of all social media and digital platforms.
When his video reached 20,000 views, Sammy K knew he and his team were onto something. Since then, he has booked shows and received kudos from producer Sonny Digital.
He opened for Travis Porter at the TKE Gamma Kappa Chapter house during the Little 500 at Indiana University. He also was part of the Jewish songwriter showcase Aug. 20 at Ahavath Achim Synagogue.
The Indiana show was his biggest by far, but the university is known for hosting everyone from The Roots to Lil Wayne at frat houses such as AEPi and SAM.
Joshua Jacobson, the social manager for TKE and an Atlanta native, wanted to book Sammy K after hearing about him through mutual friends.
“Most people didn’t know who he was, but after the show, people wanted to know if he had a SoundCloud and Instagram,” Jacobson said.
It’s his ability to rock the mic that makes an impression on listeners. Sammy K said audience feedback pushed him to fully pursue his dreams.
“I knew it was tangible a year ago,” Sammy K said. “Person after person kept saying, ‘I love it. I love it.’ ”
Gindi said the team wants him to be known for his talent, not for being a Jewish rapper, because his religion is just a part of Sammy K.
For his manager, the biggest challenge is getting Sammy K’s name out there, and when people find out he’s Jewish, they tend to have a preconceived notion of his sound, Gindi said. “You don’t know how many times when I tell people, they laugh and say, ‘Jewish rapper, that’s cute.’ But they come back days later and say, ‘Wow, that wasn’t what I expected.’ ”
While attending Yeshiva University, Sammy K is focused on school, but he tries to get back to Atlanta whenever he can because the rap industry here is easier to navigate.
“New York is great for a lot of things, but New York hip-hop is very different. I stand out a little bit,” Sammy K said. “I don’t make Jewish music per se, but I believe that no matter where you came from and no matter the ethnicity, you find the opportunities and go after them.”