“It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”
There is the temptation to say that his music has gotten Kosha Dillz out of a real pickle. But putting it that way runs the risk of diluting a fascinating story with silliness.
He was born Rami Even Esh to Israeli immigrant parents in New Jersey where he graduated from Rutgers University after studying wrestling and creative writing, two disciplines with a lot in common. Since then, to make a long story short enough to fit here, after college and some legal troubles he literally made a new name for himself as a free-styling trilingual Jewish rap and rhymer who’s based now in Los Angeles.
This morning he was at Meredith Middle School in Des Moines doing workshops with students before putting on a show for them this afternoon. Given the interactive workout that broke out it’s a good thing that assembly was held in the gym.
Dillz says his career, whether he’s performing in schools by day or clubs by night, is all about busting stereotypes. His message for today’s audience was summed up by the refrain, “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”
He found his way to Meredith after teacher Jill Dykstra saw him perform live. She thought he would be a rapping, rhyming example of self-expression that would meet the kids where they live away from school. David Johns, a School Improvement Leader at Meredith, said it made sense to bridge the gap kids often perceive between schoolwork and the outside world through workshops where Dillz demonstrated how he works at his craft.
“We want to show them that their interests and schoolwork aren’t mutually exclusive areas of their lives,” Johns explained.
In an exercise called “object freestyle” Dillz encouraged the kids to toss things from their desk and pockets on the floor. Then he’d improvise a rap about pencils and pennies while the students kept the backbeat.
“It’s important for kids to develop confidence,” Dillz explained. “It doesn’t matter if they get it from music or sports or grades. Sooner or later we’re going to need the kid sitting in the corner.”
To emphasize self-definition versus conforming to labels imposed upon them Dillz told the kids in the workshops to give themselves a rap name that reflected who they want to become. He credits rap with saving his life and is determined to reach nontraditional audiences.
DMPS isn’t really as far from Dillz’s world as he might have imagined before coming here. The district’s radio station has featured hip-hop on Friday afternoons since the early 1990’s, even during times when commercial stations with that format failed in this market.
“We know people in Des Moines are listening on Fridays, because phone traffic to the station goes up that day,” according to Kirk Johnson who teaches broadcasting at Central Campus. “Besides 88.1 FM listeners can now catch us online at www.live365.com – simply search for KDPS and click on the play button.”
The acoustics in the Meredith gym today weren’t the best but the enthusiasm cranked up as high as the volume and it was clear, as everyone repeatedly hollered right on cue, that “EVERYTHING IS KOSHA!”
Or, as the kids at Meredith maybe used to say, it’s all good.