The biggest story in Israeli hip hop in 2018 was a vulgar, skinny, goofball rapper who made one viral video after another, racking up millions of views and drawing the ire of polite Israeli society. Dudu Faruk — famous for his hits “King David (Arak, Arak, Arak)” and “Black Belt (in smoking hookah)” — has, in less than 12 months, become something close to a household name, was voted the sexiest man in Israel by Pnai Plus magazine readers, and scored a sponsorship deal with a German condom company.
On Wednesday at Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv, he had his first major headlining gig, backed up by an 11-person band, with tickets going for NIS 184 shekels ($50) a pop.
Before the show, he used the concert to hype his campaign for prime minister and make it clear to anybody listening that his 15 minutes of viral fame are far from over.
Not bad for a person who technically does not exist.
After months of fans clamoring to unmask the young man behind the character, a Channel 10 piece last September reported that Faruk is actually 21-year-old Ori Comay, a former soldier in the Artillery Corps who grew up in the upscale environs of north Tel Aviv, and whose father Dror Comay is a high-tech executive who co-founded a cybersecurity company that in 2016 was valued at more than $1 billion. (Dror was at the show in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, but refused an interview request, as did Dudu and his managers, who had previously ignored requests to speak to The Times of Israel sent by text, email, and registered mail.)
Crafting his persona
Comay attended the prestigious “Lady Davis” high school in north Tel Aviv, and in a page of his high school yearbook shown by Channel 10, “Oriki” is described as “a sensitive boy” who “in his studies is like [Stephen] Hawking.”
Comay was already crafting the persona as a student at Lady Davis. In December 2013 he began posting on an Instagram account as Dudu Faruk, chronicling the make-believe life of the persona that would eventually make him famous.
Faruk’s videos have racked up millions of views on YouTube, and his style could be described as a mix of Mizrahi music (literally “Eastern,” the genre has a Middle Eastern sound and was made popular by Israelis whose roots lie in North Africa and the Arab world) and Trap — the southern hip hop genre defined by heavy beats and odes to drug-dealing, made famous by rappers like Gucci Mane and T.I.
His look — and his music — are defined by a sort of extreme, concentrated version of the Israeli ars, a racially tinged slang term used to describe Israeli men from certain neighborhoods who act a certain way — or just anyone who the speaker thinks is below them on the Israeli social totem pole.
In his videos, Faruk wears the stereotypical “ars uniform” of tracksuits, ugly sneakers, and Nike and Diadora baseball caps, and speaks with exaggerated street Hebrew that suggests somebody who grew up poor in a rough neighborhood in the “periphery” of Israel, somebody who didn’t finish school and whom the army chose not to draft.
A physique that suggests a diet of arak
Faruk started to gain widespread fame (i.e., get noticed by people in their 30s in Tel Aviv) late last spring, and since then his videos have generated millions of views, no small feat in pint-sized Israel.
One of his biggest hits, “Black Belt (in smoking hookah)” has more than 2.7 million views; “Sexual Relations” has 2.5 million views and counting; and “King David (Arak, Arak, Arak)” received well over 6.3 million views on YouTube in only nine months. That might be small change compared to the 60 million or so views that Israeli pop stars Static and Ben-El Tavori have with “Todo Bom” — but they don’t play Dudu Faruk’s clips at daycare and kids’ birthday parties every day across the country.
The songs are lowbrow and vulgar, but Faruk never claimed to be a political or conscious rapper. And while it’s true that the lyrics to Faruk’s “Armani” mainly consist of him saying “Armani” 90-plus times in barely two minutes, Atlanta rap trio Migos’ debut single “Versace” was a hit in 2013, and in it the trio says “Versace” more than 160 times in about four minutes.
Besides, “Everybody’s on my D**k” and “Armani” are legitimate bangers, and in his songs, Faruk shows real skill as a rapper and a powerful screen presence, even with his gaunt cheeks and a physique that suggests someone whose diet consists of little more than arak.
That’s not to say Faruk has been without his critics in his rise to viral fame.
Not cool at all?
In September, Gila Oshrat, the chairperson of the Israel branch of the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) sent a letter to Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev calling for the cancellation of Faruk’s appearance at a music festival in Hadera due to the chauvinistic nature of his lyrics.
“It is unthinkable that the city will sponsor — with taxpayer money — a concert that features a singer who demeans women and spreads violent, harmful, and chauvinistic sexual messages,” Oshrat wrote.
Oshrat also quoted some of Faruk’s lyrics in the letter, including “I sit on a missile and fly into her ass, I don’t know how much it cost me to do her, it was worth it,” and “large breasts, blue eyes.”
The Hadera show went on and Faruk performed, but by then he’d also drawn the ire of activists and fans in the Israeli hip hop community, who saw him as ridiculing the art form and using an exaggerated, comical Mizrahi youth persona to get famous.
In an article from July headlined “Dudu Faruk, the biggest viral star of the year, ridicules all of the weakest people in society. And that’s not cool at all,” DJ and publicist Khen Elmaleh described Faruk as having exploited the ars stereotype to become famous, instead of just succeeding on his own merits.
“If Faruk really is such a talented and interesting rapper who can justify all his [YouTube] views, the reactions, the media interest, the hype and the embrace of all the industry bigwigs in Tel Aviv, why can’t he just be himself? To stand as a talented rapper (here I confess: talented and exciting) instead of piggybacking on those who are actually fighting against these images and pay a heavy price for everything that he adopts as a joke? The answer is because it probably wouldn’t work.”
Comay is actually only half Ashkenazi, which may help defuse some of the criticism. But it doesn’t change the fact that in the eyes of his critics, he’s a kid from north Tel Aviv who’s doing parody and satire by punching down, with the weakest sectors in Israeli society — be they Mizrahis, Ethiopians, or Russians — set up as the butt of the joke.
That may be so, but he’s also a gifted physical comedian and his videos include true moments of humor, like in the clip for “Lion King (I’ll lift you up like Simba),” which was filmed in the Ramat Gan safari. In one shot, he stands in the meerkat enclosure and bobs his head as the hook plays. Dudu actually points to one of the meerkats as “give it to her, give it to her” plays in the background.
He also has lines like in “King David” where he says “I’m King David and you’re (Hosni? Gamal?) Mubarak,” and “you’re an Ashkenazi who says salam aleikum.” In the same clip he stuffs money into a bread roll, making a cash sandwich, perhaps in homage to the money phone meme. In “Sexual Relations” he stabs a milk carton and then eats a bowl of cocoa puffs while two girls fight over him, and says that having at least two girls “is written in the Gemara.”
Evolving with his character
Diehard hip hop fan Tomer Gershenman, the host of “Groove 88” on KAN 88FM and “Jigga Juice” on IDC radio, had Faruk in the IDC studio during an episode recorded for Purim last year, during which he said Faruk never broke character, at least not while they were on-air.
Gershenman said Faruk “brings together a lot of elements” combining a sort of parody of Mizrahi music with “the genre that is the most popular today which is hip hop, specifically trap and he brings these two things together in a very, very skilled way, he definitely has rap skills.”
He added that Faruk has worked with lesser known rappers and helped them gain exposure and is good for the scene even if more socially conscious rappers disapprove of his chauvinistic content.
Gershenman said Faruk has evolved with his character, trying and exploring new styles such as with his latest song “Eliran Sabag” (in English, “21 Sabag”), a dark, brooding track which seems to be an homage to rapper 21 Savage’s “No Heart.”
He also said that we shouldn’t expect him to disappear anytime soon.
“I still think he has a lot of things up his sleeve.”
An R-rated concert
That was put to the test at the Faruk show on Wednesday night at Hangar 11 at the Tel Aviv Port. Billed as “Dudu Faruk – the Full Show,” the concert was sponsored by German condom company R3 — which signed an endorsement deal with Faruk in December — and selfie-ready cardboard cutouts of Faruk were placed around the venue, as were Faruk bumper stickers and coasters, and a digital slot machine where concert-goers could win free R3 condoms.
The rapper was backed by a full band of 11 musicians and accompanists, including two violinists, a cellist, and backup singers. Promoters limited entry to people over 18 citing “the vulgar content” of Faruk’s songs, and the reason for this ban would become apparent before the first song.
When the lights cut out to start the show, Faruk descended from the rafters wearing a giant prosthetic phallus, floating to the stage above a rapturous crowd. He played “Armani” and backed by a full band it was suddenly more a metal song than a trap song, but somehow better, even if Faruk’s vocals were drowned out at times.
He played nearly every song from his YouTube repertoire, all of them with a force that wouldn’t come across if he was up there with just a DJ. The entire gig was barely an hour and five minutes, which isn’t much if you paid $50 but pretty good for a YouTube star whose songs are only about 2-3 minutes tops.
Toward the end he ran offstage and came back wearing a karate gi and brought the house down with “Black Belt (in smoking hookah)”. He then played what looked like a bouzouki, smashed the instrument, and the show was over.
Hangar 11 wasn’t sold out but there were at least several hundred people there and a whole lot of them seemed to know all the words. The concert was in a sense a test of whether or not Faruk can make it as more than a viral star and if he has potential as a headlining act.
One thing was clear as the arak settled on Wednesday night: With his own impersonation on Israeli satire show Eretz Nehederet, a (joke?) campaign for prime minister, and a headlining show under his belt, Dudu Faruk — and Ori Comay — ain’t done yet.