Persian-Jewish Recording Artist Shekel Is Ready For International Stardom

The world’s extended Iranian community includes specific cities like Holon, a city tucked into the southern tip of Tel Aviv in Israel, and home to one of the largest Persian Jewish populations in the world. Eyal Davidi—better known as Shekel—calls the city his home, though his creative approach to music and more recent emergence beyond the booth as a stage performer may soon secure more significant international attention for the hometown hero.

Shekel first made a name for himself as a producer, making beats for Israeli hip hop group Produx, whose record Resurrection of the Dead has been cited as “one of the best hip-hop albums to come out of Israel.” His sampling approach mixed samples from sources like Fiddler On The Roof with reverb-heavy hip hop drum loops, crafting a unique soundbed for group members Chicho, Aristo, and Nechi Nech to deliver their Hebrew verses. Produx ended up as a kickoff project for rappers like Nechi Nech, whose present star continues to rise (including on his Facebook page, which has approximately 40,000 likes as of this writing), although Shekel languished in obscurity in the immediate years following these initial releases with the group.

In the interim, his style evolved into something even more diverse and dazzling. After some experimentation which yielded dancehall and dubstep productions (on the Dogs EP), his full-length Radio Junam came out at the tail-end of 2016, bringing Shekel a little further into the spotlight. When asked about the title earlier this year, the artist broke it down as “Junam is ‘my soul’ in Farsi, a common Persian nickname that gave the album a title in my actual language.” As for his name (a “shekel” is the basic unit of Israeli currency), he cheekily explains “I did not find a good name until I combined the fact that I was Persian with the fact that rappers abroad love money.”

Capitalistic genuflecting aside record is more ambitious and unusual than any of his previous offerings, as well as more indicative of his Iranian roots. Shekel blends genres like trip-hop, hip hop, R&B, nu-soul, and more, merging them seamlessly with Farsi-language samples; the first track kicks off with a clip from Persian singer Sattar, settles into Hebrew lyrics from former Produx confederate Aristotle, then segues into a groove built around an extended Hayedeh sample. The song helps define the rest of the record: a ponderous cruise through different styles in a downbeat mood. Shekel feels more present here, and while he is joined by a large group of charismatic collaborators lending their voices to most tracks, he also fully emerges from behind the curtain on songs like the drugged-out head-nodder “Milan.”

This sensibility appears to be informing his most recent single, the sunlit and woozy “I Dress Nicely.” Behind a minimalist sample loop, Shekel muses on a mix of self-deprecating introversion and sexually explicit daydreaming, with a drawled delivery and lyrical approach that draws easy comparison to Canadian superstar Drake. While his crossover success has yet to approach these heights, his continued presence on the mic may prove to be the key to building him into a household name.

Shekel’s most recent song was just released on his YouTube page on September 10th, although there is no current announcement of a release date for his next record.

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