AJMF9: This Is How We Did It

AJMF9: This Is How We Did It

Inspired by certain lines in Jay-Z's "Story of OJ," festival Director Russell Gottschalk has his own tale to tell.

Credit. You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? That’s how they did it.

Jay-Z rapped those lines in a song called the “Story of OJ” last summer as part of his most recent album release, “4:44.” It’s a song and music video that contain numerous exaggerations and stretches of the imagination.

When the song and album made their debut, the ADL responded to this shout-out of our people by saying, “The idea that Jews ‘own all the property’ in this country and have used credit to financially get ahead are odious and false.”

The ADL fell short of accusing Jay-Z of promoting anti-Semitism, but the response was swift and concerned.

The counterpoint came shortly after from prominent Israeli music manager Guy Oseary (Madonna and U2), who believes that Jay-Z is exaggerating the Jewish experience as an example to his black community about “what is possible and achievable.”

It’s worth noting the “credit” line mentioned at the top is preceded in Jay-Z’s verse with “You wanna know what’s more important than throwing away money at the strip club?”

Like any good piece of art, this song has received a range of reactions from its audience. And I personally have felt both sides.

When I first heard the track, I had to skip back to make sure I heard what I thought I did. After a few listens (along with the album in its entirety), I’ve come to appreciate and embrace that type of lyrical creativity.

Because a lot of truth is said in jest. Jews do work together to achieve things bigger than the individual, and as minority groups go, American Jewish communities are some of the most competent and productive collectives around. We achieve things greater than we maybe should (given our numbers), and that success is in large part the result of many generations sharing the responsibility of and the opportunities from the community.

I’m walking proof as the founding director of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, which has become a bigger and more joyous festival than I ever could have dreamed.

So I felt compelled to respond to this artistic statement from Jay-Z, both as a leader of AJMF and as a lover of hip-hop. Last fall I worked with members of the AJMF team to create a “Story of AJMF” song that ends with a twist on the same refrain: “That’s how we did it!”

I connected with local rapper Sammy K to add some talent and depth to the track. We teamed up with Sammy Rosenbaum for much-needed live music support and met at Michael Levine’s home studio to record.

It’s a project by Jewish Atlanta musicians celebrating what this community and its supporters have built together. This video took weeks to produce for a festival that takes months to plan and execute. I’m so excited to share the “Story of AJMF.”

This marketing piece for AJMF9 (March 8 to 25) also provides an opportunity to participate in a greater conversation about identity, culture and representation. Will this video get a response from the ADL and/or a famous music celebrity? Probably not.

But this project has opened conversations among the AJMF family as we’ve developed the idea. It has us thinking about our role in the community, in the many ways that word is defined.

In the coming weeks we’ll have the opportunity to continue the conversation. We’ll take in thought-provoking music and self-expression. And like any good Jewish crowd, we’ll likely take that opportunity to disagree about what the performance means.

That’s just fine. We’ll see ya at AJMF9!

Russell Gottschalk is the founder and director of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival.

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