With the holiday season in full swing, we’re surrounded by the wonderful world of holiday music. Despite the deluge of Christmas tunes such as “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Hanukkah music is a lane that not many musicians have jumped into. But some of us surely do have a few star-lit videos, songs and concerts.
I usually come up with one menorah, or hanukkiah, worth of solid options to put in YouTube rotation, but with the rising antisemitism in recent months by an extremely famous rapper who surely won’t be invited to any Hanukkah parties for the next decade, I came up with two Hanukkahs worth of songs for you.
Time to fry up some latkes!
1. Gangstagrass & Kosha Dillz, “Happy Chinooka (A Hanukkah Song)”
This year we can celebrate the joy of Smokey Robinson’s famous pronunciation of Chanukah. I mean Hanukkah. “How you spell it, how you sound it, it don’t matter how you gonna pronounce it.” The spelling of Hanukkah in English isn’t as important as the educational story we learn. “It started back in 164 BC in Jerusalem with my clique the Maccabees, they got attacked by Greeks….” This odd collaboration, where bluegrass meets hip-hop meets an animal farm in a Brooklyn bar, is a surefire way to creatively bring eyeballs to the holiday, alongside the first ever group of animals against antisemitism. “Happy Chinooka” isn’t a “Puppy for Hanukkah,” but who needs a puppy from Daveed Diggs when you can have an alpaca from Kosha Dillz and Gangstagrass!
2. Nissim Black, “Victory”
If you haven’t heard of Nissim Black, he is probably the most unique man to see during Hanukkah. He plays everything from the Chosen Comedy Festival in Miami for thousands of people to a show at the Grove in Hollywood, and his new song details his personal journey with God and the fight knocking out an Assyrian Greek soldier. A big theme is darkness to light, and you can tell the video was thought out perfectly in this boxing ring.
3. Matisyahu and Brady Watt, “King Without a Crown”
When Matisyahu shot on the scene back in the 2000s, the world drastically changed by seeing an Orthodox guy move crowds of tens of thousands. I’d say you had to be there to see it, but I remember it like it was yesterday. After all these years he just released this collaboration with Brady and it hits perfectly for the time we are in. Matisyahu literally has the name of the main character of the Hanukkah story, and he does the biggest Hanukkah festivals in the world. He is doing his annual Festival of Light tour with two shows at NYC’s Brooklyn Bowl Dec. 21-22. If you ever wanted to see the largest mishmash of a community ever, mixed with a mosh pit, it is at a Matisyahu show and I suggest you go.
4. Yo La Tengo, “Eight Candles”
Probably the most epic group to really crush the Hanukkah scene is our good friends Yo La Tengo. (I am actually not friends with them IRL but I do feel so.) I feel like if there was a romantic evening with that special light in your life, you’d light them up for her or him. I feel the chill of a rainy holiday under an awning. If you dig this, go see them at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom any of the nights of Chanukah. Yes, even on Christmas, as that is also Chanukah.
5. Six13, “Elton Johnukah”
I got to say this is the cleverest spin-off since I did a TV show party with Lil Jon called Lil Jonukah. Now, “Elton Johnukah” might be the only thing to beat it. They flip his “I’m Still Standing” lyric to “we’re still standing,” which is true. Most of the stories of the Jewish people are “we won, we eat,” and I surely eat standing up at Chanukah parties so that is epic to me.
6. Sarah Aroeste, “Hanuka”
Jews come in a variety of colors and looks. Ladino is a beautiful language that goes overlooked but not to the wonderful Sarah Aroeste, who brings her Ladino flair to the fields of Israel. Best part of this is that you can now Google “Ladino lessons” and see the entire translation in the YouTube description. Reminds me a bit of A-WA meets salsa music meets Hanukkah. She’d be the perfect opening act for Yo La Tengo.
7. Zusha, “Chanukah Is Here”
Imagine a bunch of men in black and white hats who mix up the jam band vibes with dance music at a late-night Coachella set. These guys are sort of that deal. They literally say the same thing over and over again but it is kinda the vibe of Chanukah if you jump into Crown Heights.
8. Ari Dayan, “Love”
There should be more representation of Jewish women artists, and a big thing about Hanukkah party music for me is that the song doesn’t necessarily need to be about Hanukkah (but it is cool to know the act is Jewish). The holiday season is about showing love so what better way to do that than with a song called “Love” by Ari Dayan? She mixes a lot of comedy with music and has an old Jewish man dancing in this video you might recognize as Jaddy, aka Brett Gelman. We all need a Jaddy for Hanukkah (not a puppy).
8. Too $hort, “The Hanukkah Song”
“Judah Maccabeatch” is the best reference to a Jewish warrior. Not only is Too $hort one of the best rappers and an influence on my music, but many of us would say he is the only man with a Hanukkah song that has transcended time as long as Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song.” I first heard about it in 2012 when it came out, and the only thing that could make the Matzo Ball better would be this man performing this song. “It’s even better than Yom Kippur, I got seven gifts and I want one more.”
9. Adam Sandler, “The Hanukkah Song“
Why not have it in here? You are going to listen to it anyway whether you want to or not, and even Too $hort was inspired by this man. It has set the golden standard for Hanukkah songs and earned the praise of music’s biggest Jewish stars.
10. Barbra Streisand, “Avinu Malkeinu”
One of the most iconic voices ever. She needs no introduction, but she does need to be here and at every dinner table playlist.
11. Nissim Black x Kosha Dillz, “The Hanukkah Song 2.0”
I had to include it: This will go down in history as the only Hanukkah video filmed on Thanksgiving last year in Times Square. When a song gets played on Paul Rosenberg’s Hanukkah Radio (yes, Eminem’s manager), it is a requirement to share it with the world.
12. Eden Derso, “Tamid”
If you need to bump the hottest Israeli rapper in the streets it must be Eden Derso. Tamid, for those who don’t know, means “always.” We always need strong bars like this, even if you don’t know what she is saying.
13. Joel Waggoner and Julia Mattison, “A Cutesy Country Hanukkah”
I’m not sure how I discovered this gem but I was hoping for Luke Combs to do the same thing. If anyone can find these people, I’d hire them for my Hanukkah party alongside some cloggers.
14. Kurstin x Grohl: The Hanukkah Sessions 2021, “Blitzkrieg Bop”
If anyone can do Hanukkah no wrong it is Dave Grohl and Greg Kurstin with this Ramones cover. “Ay! Oy! Let’s Goy!” The level of lyrical flip there is so suitable for today. Dive into all their covers (this is their night two); they even got some Lisa Loeb with death metal vibes (or in this case, life metal vibes). It is amazing to see live, which I was fortunate enough to experience when performing at Bottlerock Napa, one of the dopest music festival experiences ever.
15. Run the Jewels, “A Christmas F–king Miracle”
There has to be one song that is talking about the crossover of our holidays for this playlist on Christmas Eve. If I can use this as my warm-up song for when I perform at TAO restaurant in NYC for open bar (seltzer for me) and sushi on Erev Christmas w/ Temple Emanu-El, I’ll be ecstatic.
16. Westside Gravy, “Diaspora”
Last but not least — a song about identity. I think we are at a time to chat identity and spotlight Black and Jewish folks like Westside Gravy, who tackles important topics that are hard to talk about. As we know there have been plenty of articles about Kanye, but no one is spotlighting the musicians caught in the middle. Great for a Hanukkah playlist anywhere in the world.
If 16 sufganiyot jams aren’t enough, I made a Spotify playlist with tons of songs that you can listen to. If you are in NYC, be sure to party with us live at TimeOut Market for “How Do You Actually Spell Chanukah?” and light the menorah with Holocaust survivor Sami Steigman, Shabbat Drop and more on Dec. 20. I will be giving out free sufganiyot.
Rami Even-Esh, aka Kosha Dillz, is a Billboard-charting rapper based in Brooklyn and also a cast member on Nick Cannon Presents: Wild ‘n Out, seasons 18-20. In his spare time, he raises money for Holocaust survivors in need, and recently went viral for dissing Kanye West with his song “Death Con 3.” Say shalom on Twitter.