Meet Nissim Baruch Black: a Jewish convert and American rapper who recently made Israel his home:
Nissim Baruch Black (born Damian Jamohl Black; December 9, 1986) is a Jewish American rapper and producer from Seattle, Washington. Originally a secular artist under the name D. Black, he released two albums, The Cause and Effect (2006) and Ali’yah (2009), and was featured on producer Jake One’s debut album White Van Music (2008). He retired in 2011 to focus on his conversion to Orthodox Judaism, but returned in 2012 under his Hebrew name, Nissim, and began writing from a more religious standpoint. He appeared on the Shtar song “Rabbit Hole” from their albumBoss EP, released in 2012. In 2013, he released a mixtape, Miracle Music, followed by a full-length album, Nissim.
Damian Black was born on December 9, 1986, in Seattle, Washington and grew up in the Seward Parkneighborhood. His parents, James “Captain Crunch” Croone and Mia Black, were both rappers and members of, respectively, the Emerald Street Boys and Emerald Street Girls in the late ’70s. His grandparents had also been musicians and played alongside Ray Charles and Quincy Jones. He was raised a Sunni Muslim but was non-practicing, and converted toChristianity at age 14 after attending an Evangelical summer camp. His parents separated when he was two; his mother took him with her and remarried shortly thereafter. Both his biological parents and stepfather used and sold drugs from home, prompting an FBI raid on the house in 1995 which resulted in his mother’s arrest. She later died from an overdose at 37.
First Sportn’ Life recordings (2002-2007)
Black began rhyming in his preteens, recording under the name Danger. When he was 13, producer Vitamin D moved his studio into Black’s stepfather’s basement and began mentoring the boy, producing some of his first official recordings. Black also recorded with producer Bean One of Dyme Def.
In 2002, Sportn’ Life Records published its first release, a split vinyl single between Black and Last Men Standing. The following year, he appeared on a Sportn’ Life compilation albumalongside several members of Oldominion. In 2004, the 18-year-old Black was selected by his stepfather to replace him as co-CEO of Sportn’ Life, together with his father’s partner, DeVon Manier. In addition to running the label, Black began releasing singles like “You Need a Thug” and “This Is Why” (the latter produced by Jake One, whom he had associated with early on). On May 24, 2005, Black released his first Sportn’ Life mixtape Behind the Dirt, which featured appearances from J Smooth and Darrius Willrich of Maktub.
In 2007, he released his debut album, The Cause and Effect. Jake One, Bean One, and Vitamin D contributed to the production, though the album did not get much attention outside of the Pacific Northwest scene. Despite this, the album sold over 4,500 copies regionally, and Black was invited to perform on the Vera Project stage at the 2007Capitol Hill Block Party alongside Blue Scholars.
Ali’yah and retirement (2008-2011)
After The Cause and Effect’s release, Black, now a husband and father, began questioning his Christian beliefs, turning to Messianic Judaism and convincing his wife to follow suit.He also started listening to artists like Common andLauryn Hill; both developments began to strongly influence his music. In 2008, he contributed to Jake One’s debut album, White Van Music, with the song “God Like”, which received play on MTV.
In 2009, Black released his second album, Ali’yah. The album spent five weeks at number 4 on CMJ’s hip hop charts, while the video for its lead single, “Yesterday”, also gained regular rotation on MTV. That same year, he performed atBumbershoot and returned to Capitol Hill Block Party. He was also one of the candidates to portray The Notorious B.I.G. in the 2009 biopic Notorious, though the role ultimately went to Jamal Woolard.
Six months after the album’s release, Black renounced his belief in Jesus and Christianity. No longer supporting the album’s message but unable to quit his contract, he agreed to promote it, but refused to accept money outside of touring expenses or perform on Shabbat. He officially retired in 2011 after releasing The Blackest BrownEP with friend and fellow rapper Bradley “B.” Brown. He subsequently moved to Seward Park’s Jewish community and began studying for conversion with Rabbi Simon Benzaquen at the Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation. During this time, he cut off all connections to his previous career, including abandoning his position at Sportn’ Life and even getting rid of his own music collection.
Return to rapping and Nissim (2012-present)
Near the end of his conversion process, Black’s son developed meningitis and had to be hospitalized, a blow to the financially strapped family. While praying over the situation in his study, Black discovered that a long-broken microphone had begun working again, and took this as a sign to return to music.
He officially announced his return to music in September 2012. The following December, he appeared on the Shtarsong “Rabbit Hole” from their album Boss EP.
On February 26, 2013, he released the mixtape Miracle Music, his first official recording under his new stage name, Nissim. The following May, he appeared at the 2013 Sasquatch! Music Festival. Following a recording session inLondon Bridge Studio, he released his first new album, the self-titled Nissim, on September 17. He closed out the year with “The Black Miracle”, a Hanukkah single produced by Aish.com.
Black lives in Seward Park’s Jewish community with his wife Adina (formerly Jamie) and two children. Originally married in 2008, the couple received an Orthodox marriage in 2013 at the Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregationfollowing their mutual conversion. The marriage was a double ceremony with Black’s childhood friend Yosef (formerly Bradley) Brown a fellow convert to Judaism.