Beat the Rap

by Allegra Panetto
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The video for “Imperia” shows Sivan at his drum set, wearing a surgical mask and a chain-link necklace. A mob of youths in baggy pants and backward baseball caps parade through the sandy streets of Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish district of Tel Aviv. Eventually, for no apparent reason, they carjack an old Cadillac sedan, smash the windows, and fl ip it over. “We were,” says Sivan, “one of the first groups to curse in Hebrew.”

This attitude, along with the name, cemented Shabak’s raucous reputation with Israeli audiences (in Hebrew, “Shabak” is a deliberate misspelling of the acronym for the Israel Security Agency, which is analogous to the FBI). While most Israeli rap addresses political issues, Shabak’s early songs talked about parties, fun, and, of course, ladies. One lyric from “Imperia” loosely translates to, “Shabak Samech is an empire / See how all the females get hysterical.” Not exactly Yehuda Amichai, but the kids loved it.

Then, as in many bands, competing personalities led to conflict. “You know, we made a revolution,” says Sivan. “It’s like Robespierre. You do your damage, and then you end up under the guillotine.” After seven years and four albums, Shabak broke up in 2000.

Sivan is now in his mid-30s. “When you’re in your 20s,” he says, “you think that in order to play music, you have to be a musician. Now, I still play drums, but I play because I enjoy it.” Post-Shabak, Sivan pursued his fi rst love, engineering, at Ben– Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. After a few years developing applications for mobile platforms, he applied to business school to become better suited for management.

Although Sivan cut his once rock star– length hair (he’s now a consultant for Booz & Company), every so often, during long hours in Uris Hall, he would look to his hip-hop days for guidance. “Shabak made me realize the value of creating a safe environment for ideas. Spending five minutes brainstorming and not dismissing everyone else’s ideas is hard to do in a band and in business school. A group can’t always identify from the start the value of what it’s doing.”

He pauses, and taps a couple of coins together in his pocket. “But if you let go and listen, what you think is nothing can turn into something.”

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