22-year-old Tzvi Levine of Kensington, Brooklyn was raised in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish family. He attended Mesivta, or Jewish-curriculum high school, until he was expelled in 12th grade for “poor performance”. Rather than following the path of most young Orthodox men his age through subsequent schooling and marriage, Tzvi decided to forgo his religion entirely. Instead, he decided to become a hip hop artist.
Tzvi has nine siblings, all of whom live in their Kensington home. In the outside world, Tzvi looks like any other New Yorker. He wears jeans, a t-shirt and Nike sneakers. When he is home with his family, Tzvi plays guitar, keeps his outside knowledge away from his religious siblings, and always wears a kippah.
Since letting go of Judaism, Tzvi often finds himself at-odds with the rest of his community. On the border of Kensington and Borough Park, Orthodox culture is prominent. Since he is now seen as an outsider in his neighborhood, Tzvi acknowledged the young Orthodox boys who stared at him as he walked by: they reminded him of his past self.
Tzvi is confident walking around these familiar streets. He often dances while looking at his reflection in the marbled walls of Orthodox-owned buildings.
Despite being rebellious in his own society, Tzvi still called his mother to let her know that he’d be back for dinner.
On another day, Tzvi signed up for an open mic. He regularly attends open mics to perform songs he has written.
To ease tensions for the next show, Tzvi smoked marijuana before his act began. Despite identifying as Ultra-Orthodox and largely conservative, Tzvi’s parents allow him to smoke in their garage, and anywhere away from their home.
At an event space in Bed-Stuy, an open mic Tzvi had never attended before, he watched nervously as another performer rapped.
As Tzvi was called to the stage, he sensed that the crowd was skeptical of him. They did not clap as loudly as they did for other artists, and they were less attentive to his presence.
During Tzvi’s performance, the audience began to respond to his music. Cell phones were pulled out to record, heads nodded, and some danced in their seats.