Behind some of the most well-known music in history is usually an artist whose story is unique and powerful in its own way, and for American-born, Israel-based rapper Johnny Blaze, that seems to ring true.
Johnny Blaze, born Johnny Elbaz, got his start in America, growing up in Florida before eventually finding himself fighting for the country of Israel on the front lines before he was in his 20s.
Blaze is the son of a rabbi and grew up surrounded by the religious and cultural traditions that are a central part of Jewish life. Eventually, as a teenager, he discovered that his love of music ran deeper than just listening.
“I was always into music, ever since I was a kid,” he explains. “But I started doing it around 13 or 14. My dad’s a rabbi, and back in the day, before we had all this technology, he had a tape recorder, and I started practicing hearing myself and hearing how I sounded to see if I was good enough. From there, I started getting into writing songs.”
Through his teenage years, Blaze continued to write more songs and hone his craft, and as he matured, his musical tastes matured, too.
“I started getting into a lot of South hip hop, like Young Jeezy,” says Blaze, who described that style of music as “an outlet.”
Once he was finished with high school, however, he left his Central Florida home to go to college, and it was there that his music really started to develop.
“I would go out and do these open mics and they’d all ask, ‘Who’s that little Jewish kid?’” Blaze confesses. “That’s when I really started to get good. By 18 or 19, I was getting into the base of hip hop. That influence really started to improve my skills. “
As is the case with many people, the aspiring rapper’s college experience didn’t go the way he thought it would, and eventually, he found himself at a crossroads. Blaze ultimately decided that he needed a “new beginning,” which wound up leading him to move to Israel to join the Israel Defense Forces, and his experiences as a soldier would eventually help shape his music in ways he likely never imagined.
“I saw Israel as an opportunity,” says Blaze. “I thought, ‘I’ll become a soldier and get my life straightened out.’ So I came at the end of 2009, a month before my 21st birthday.”
Blaze’s stint in the IDF left an impression on him, as he fought on the front line for the country he had just begun to call home, but his everyday life outside of the IDF had just as significant of an impact on him as he faced struggles that so many others in his position face.
“When you’re in the army, they supposedly have a program for you, you know, they’re gonna give you a certain amount of money every month and a place to stay,” explains Blaze. “I was a little rebellious. I didn’t want to stay in the place they wanted to put me in, so I rented my own apartment with a couple of my friends. All the money that I got from the army would go straight to rent. So there were about two years where I wasn’t eating. But, time progressed, and it got better.”
Eventually, Blaze’s time spent in Israel as a soldier and a civilian opened his eyes to the music scene in the Jewish state, and as his musical horizons expanded, so did the opportunities available to him. He wound up meeting some producers in various parts of Israel who recognized his natural talent, with one even taking him in so that he had a place to live while he struggled to make money, and in the few years since, he’s used his experiences to help craft deeply personal songs inspired by life as a lone soldier.
“I used to write about bitches and smoking weed,” explains Blaze. “Now I’m talking about deeper things, like the spiritual stuff…mixed in with, ‘Yeah, I saw a guy die.’ I put that in my lyrics. I’m telling the truth.”
Blaze’s career has already begun to take off in Israel, as his devoted fan base has grown significantly in the years since making the journey to the Holy Land. He has released a full length LP with producer Ben LeBron that’s making waves within the Israeli music scene, and the up and coming rapper even has plans to take his music, his unique story, and his passion back to America to make an even bigger mark than he already has. If anyone can make that happen, it’s the lone soldier Johnny Blaze.