Raphi Fulcher is a man on a mission, a soldier, or a “soulja,” if you will, in the army of Hashem. So intent is he on spreading his message of acceptance and brotherhood through rap and hip hop music, that he performs under the name Soulja, a Fulcher-ism that declares his intent to use his artistic abilities to better the world as he serves in the ranks of God’s military.
The youngest of six children born to African-American parents who converted to Judaism 43 years ago under the guidance of Rabbi J.J. Hecht, the then-assistant to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Fulcher hails from a family of gifted vocalists. The singer, songwriter, rapper and producer lived in Crown Heights until he was four and spent his formative years in North Carolina, St. Louis and Israel. It was during his time as a student at Queens College that Fulcher, whose full name is Raphael Ohr Chayim, discovered his gift for singing publicly.
“I was on the board at Chabad of Queens College and we staged musical events. I found that I had a deep passion for live performance,” Fulcher told The Jewish Link.
After spending a Lag B’omer at the Chevra Ahavas Yisroel synagogue, Fulcher found himself falling in love with Crown Heights and he spent the next five years there, enjoying the unique warmth of the community and honing his musical voice. Deeply enamored with rap, hip hop, reggae and R&B music, Fulcher decided that the time had come to bring those genres to Jewish audiences, albeit with all new lyrics.
“Just the music and the rhythm are very powerful and could resonate with a lot of people if we had positive, uplifting content,” said Fulcher, who previously performed under the name Hebro. “I kept imagining how powerful it would be if I added a real element that would allow listeners to vibe out to the rhythm, with lyrics that have meaning and purpose. I don’t think you can deny that it is Jewish music.”
Having stretched his musical wings on stage with Matisyahu, Nissim Black, Moshav Band, Lipa Schmeltzer, Zusha and others, Fulcher decided three years ago that it was time to share his God given gifts with the world in a debut EP titled Genesis.
“It is an album that is inspired by Tehillim, by King David’s work,” said Fulcher. “When I imagine David Hamelech performing during his life, I imagine that his music had rhythm and spirit and with all due respect, I don’t think it sounded like Avraham Fried.”
Genesis, featuring seven original compositions, will be released on March 17th, Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Fulcher is looking forward to sharing his music at a release party taking place at The Loft and Rooftop at 83 Essex Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side of Manhattan which will also feature up and coming talents Izzy Gilden, DJ Kamilly, Simple Man and others. His soon to be released Souljas music video, featuring one of the tracks on the EP, tells the story of Cain and Hevel, which Fulcher sees as the start of baseless hatred in the world.
“I want to shed light on being fearful of what we don’t control or understand,” said Fulcher. “There is a message there in Cain’s conversation with Hashem, when he says he doesn’t know where his brother is. If we focused on the other person, if we were conscious of one another, and were tolerant of each other, we would be able to bring about the ultimate redemption.”
Still, Fulcher, a resident of the Wesley Hills section of Monsey, is subtle with his messaging.
“I consider myself a chasid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his teachings and his mission,” said Fulcher. “That is what I wanted to do with this album of songs about redemption and while I may not mention that concept by name, it is there in broader terms and in a way that will allow more people to enjoy the music.”
At 30 years old with an edgy style that is simultaneously youthful and appealing, Fulcher is a crossover artist who can appeal to the masses, but also has his priorities straight. Passionate about his music, he is even more dedicated to his religious observance. As someone with close ties to Chabad, Fulcher feels strongly about his own obligation to improve the lives of others.
“My ultimate mission with my music is to do my part to bring redemption,” explained Fulcher. “I consider this to be my shlichut and I believe each of us has to bring the world to a higher state of perfection by doing chesed, by reaching out and not just harboring light, but shining light out onto the world.”
Having been the only African-American student in the yeshivos he attended since first grade wasn’t always easy, admitted Fulcher, but it was an experience that prepared him for his future.
“It was challenging for myself and for my peers,” said Fulcher. “It was a reality that none of them had ever dealt with before and it was new for them. Still, growing up as an African-American Jew in a white Orthodox Jewish world gave me the experience to understand the potential of breaking down the barriers of fear and difference while creating an opportunity for growth. B’nei Yisrael come in all shapes and colors and sizes and the sooner we can all handle that the sooner we will all be b’simcha.”
Genesis will be available on iTunes, Spotify and at www.souljamusic.com. For bookings contact [email protected]
By Sandy Eller
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected]