Rapper Tom Schneid knew from an early age that he loves audiences, and audiences love him. “In elementary school, I would always do impressions during recess, I would speak at ceremonies, I would always read the Yizkor [memorial] prayer,” he recalls. During these years, he learned how to play the piano and make beats on his computer, clearly inspired by the wave of female pop that swept the world at the time, including artists like Lady Gaga, Kesha, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry.
“I used humor for cool songs in English, but I knew that I had to create an avatar who would be distant from me,” he says. “This music clashed with my doubts about my sexuality, which started to emerge in high school, so I named myself ‘Dyvoky.’ I decided that I was a Czech singer.”
With a Czech name that means “crazy” or “wild,” and a lot of Google Translate, Schneid opened a Czech-language Instagram page for his alter ego and posted pop songs in English that he recorded in his room there and on YouTube.
He no longer hides behind an avatar. Instead, he declares several times during our conversation: “I’m Tom Schneid, the first queer rapper in Hebrew.” In his songs, Schneid deals with topics that affect his day-to-day life, like relationships, masculinity, queerness. In one of the first songs he released, “Gever” (“Man”), Schneid responds to society’s belief that he can’t be both manly and gay.
“I dressed in drag in the clip in order to demonstrate that I can be feminine and still be a man,” he says. “People ask me, ‘Why do you write only about that?’ I don’t think that there’s a song anywhere in the world that doesn’t contain an element of love. If I date men and love men, I’ll write about men.”
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The transition to Hebrew and the abandonment of the alter egos were the completion of a process of self-acceptance for Schneid. “In high school, I was a joker, a shallow and censored figure who craved attention,” he says. “When they would talk about relationships in the army, I would immediately start doing impressions, working to hide that. If I always appear as a character and get love that way, then nobody cares whether I have a partner. In the army, I told people a little, but in high school I fell in love with a straight friend. My heart was broken and I hid that.
“My close friends always knew,” Schneid says. “There was no point in time when I actually came out of the closet, but it was a slow and gradual process. Music enabled me to retroactively voice that authenticity, to talk about past experiences. I speak partly in the voice of Tom the high schooler among other things. I’m in a kind of second adolescence, filling in gaps. That’s why I’m on Instagram and TikTok and the like.”
Energies and anger
Schneid, 27, has lived a double life for several years. During the day, he is a cyber consultant at the buttoned-up Deloitte firm. At night, he performs at parties, films music videos and writes songs. “I’m somewhat extreme,” he says, “but I flourish in extreme situations. I can have an overdraft at the bank, a week without sleep, a filthy house, but tomorrow a video will come out.”
Schneid’s music lies on the borderline between hip-hop and pop. Lively electronic beats are juxtaposed with protest lyrics and rhyming. It’s not very clear even to him where he stands in terms of genre: “I took the genre that I always enjoyed hearing and tried to fill it with pain and messages. Kesha and Nicki Minaj did something similar in the past, there’s a fusion point between pop and hip-hop.
“I like the description ‘the queer rapper’ because it’s something of an oxymoron [in Israel],” he says. “I personally struggled for years and fought against myself. These are energies and anger that I have. That’s why I insist on the rapper title. People tell me, ‘That’s a cool beat,’ and then I tell them, ‘Yes, but did you understand the message?’ It’s a confusing combination and it’s not clear to me, either. Am I making pop? Am I making hip-hop? Am I making dance music that’s fun for the club? I’m on a journey to discover this. I want to be brazen.”
He released his most brazen song, “Reshima” (“A List”), in late October. Although the words of the song are about a man to whom Schneid says, “You don’t want to be on my list / A blacklist like my soul,” in the music video he runs for the Knesset, kisses the picture of Religious Zionism Chairman Bezalel Smotrich, who is proudly homophobic, and waves a parody the infamous “LGBTistan” cover of Channel 14’s magazine.
The video is a little soft, isn’t it? A lot of the protest is implied.
“I wouldn’t say it’s soft. Maybe readers of Haaretz or protesters will ask, ‘Why don’t you point to specific people?’ but I think that it’s clear to all of us who supports LGBTQ people and who doesn’t. I’m trying to wake people up with a perception that exists in the community, those who say, ‘but I’m not a leftist.’
“Great, but you should know that your rights depend on how much of a leftist you are. People are afraid of this image. It’s like the old taunt, ‘you homo’ – today, it’s ‘you leftist.’ Now what defines itself as right-wing is not a genuine right wing. Tax cuts or being right-wing on the economy don’t mean misogyny and homophobia. It’s a violent collection of parties that intend to attack entire segments of the population. They’re in favor of oppression, discrimination, racism. In this situation, I’d rather be branded a ‘damned leftist’ in order to open people’s eyes.”
Schneid’s image can be hard to grasp for a straight audience that is unfamiliar with the slang he uses in his songs such as “Twink,” or that finds it difficult to comprehend his preoccupation with Grindr, the gay dating app. “The moment I open my mouth and say ‘you’ (in the masculine form), I lose a large percentage of people who would listen if I were to sing to a woman,” he says.
“There are lots of LGBTQ musicians who sing to a woman. Some of them, we all know that they’re LGBTQ and they’re still in the closet, and some are out of the closet but are evasive not to use the second person. Even the famous line by Ivri Lider, ‘There are lips that want me near,’ is incredible and lovely, but without gender. My father asks me why the headline is ‘the gay singer.’ And I answer, in order to challenge, in order to make people angry, in order to create this electric shock in people’s minds.”
In the LGBTQ community, there are some who view Schneid with suspicion over the internal criticism he voices, for example in the song “Sababa Vehakol” (“Cool and All”), which describes a toxic relationship with a man who “loves me / the gym, more.”
“There are lot of wild things in the gay community that I talk about,” he says. "I hear from the community that I’m a detached Tel Avivian, they say to me, ‘What does she want?’ People aren’t used to someone talking about sexual harassment in the community. The way there was criticism of Omri Feinstein’s Our Turn project [to spread awareness sexual harassment in the LGBTQ community]. People want something fun for the club.
You criticize the obsession with appearance, but all dancers in your music videos are muscular and toned.
“Many of these things serve the hyper-gay image that I’m trying to convey outside the community. Within it, I listen, I learn. I feel that I can bring hot dancers and still say ‘gay guys are obsessed with the gym,’ and that’s not a contradiction.”
Lower your profile
His rebellious attitude, combined with his magnetic personality, almost caused him to end up in a military prison. “They asked us to prepare a funny video for an evening for my unit in Mamram [the Center for Computing and Information Systems], so I took the song ‘Wiggle’ by Jason Derulo and called it ‘Cyber Cyber Cyber.’ We filmed a video for the evening on the base, so the commander of Mamram and other soldiers participated. They loved it when we screened it. I loved the feeling, so I posted the video on Facebook. Suddenly it exploded, 40,000 views, and I was celebrating! I went to every site where I make music and I added a link to ‘Dyvuky's’ songs.”
The Israel Defense Forces Information Security Department didn’t like this enthusiasm. “They contacted me and asked me to keep a low profile, we’re a classified unit,” he says. “I said ‘no problem’ but I continued to send the video everywhere, and always wrote ‘Hi, I’m Tom Schneid, the creator of the video.’ In the end it reached ‘Tweeting Statuses’ [a large Facebook page for viral content] and then got to the general of the Teleprocessing Corps, and then I had to stand trial. After I cried, the prison sentence was changed to confinement to the base.”
This experience demonstrated to Schneid the power of the internet and his power within it. It was a dam that burst on the way to creating his transparent and direct image as a rapper. He is working on an EP, filming a video and performing, while keeping his office day job.
“I had a chance to invite friends from the office to my shows,” he says. “I really want to perform in front of Deloitte employees. I hope I’ll go onstage with a crop top bearing their logo.” Another one of Schneid’s goals is to go beyond the borders of Tel Aviv and reach a wider audience.
“It’s true that I’m a Tel Aviv gay person, but I think that everyone can connect to the subject of ‘Twink’ – who is young, desirable, maybe a snob, a kind of ideal of young beauty. That’s there in many communities. The feelings I experience, heartbreak, a crush, those are universal things.”