Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TVD's Daily Wax

Hasidic hip hop is a fascinating musical oddity, deriving from a peculiar conflation of location and circumstances. Several of these musicians have roots in Crown Heights, a crowded Brooklyn neighborhood which is a pressure-cooker of racial tension. Rebelling against the strict musical conventions of the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, these musicians began creating music which borrowed heavily from the predominately African-American population around them. They incorporated elements of hip hop, rap, reggae, electronica, and jam band rock into their religious liturgy. Thus was born the amusingly incongruous image of bearded Hasidic Jews in traditional garb, beatboxing and busting out mesmerizing rhymes in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Aramaic. These artists have completely subverted the prevailing mentality of hip hop culture. Instead of singing about babes and bling, their lyrics are all about mysticism and spirituality. If there’s any allusion to romance, it’s only in the context of a love song addressed to God. Matisyahu, the principal avatar of the genre, started out as a curiosity on college radio. Since then he has achieved considerable mainstream success, including airtime on MTV and a modeling contract with Kenneth Cole. Now there's a new generation of singers hot on the heels of his success, the best of which is freestyling phenomenon Y-Love. While their brazen disregard for convention may outrage musical purists, Hasidic hip hop artists deserve praise for finding an utterly original source of inspiration in the antiquated melodies of Hasidic tradition and making them relevant to a wider audience.

Matisyahu - Chop ‘Em Down (Mp3)
Y-Love - Check The Technique (Mp3)
JewDa Maccabi - Iron Like A Lion (Mp3)
Nosson Zand - Fresh (My People Stay) (Mp3)
Ta-Shma - Shine (Mp3)


Prof. Joni said...

thanks for posting these -- knew about Matisyahu, but the others are an eye-opener. Slight variation on the genre -- Hip Hop Hoodios -- Latin Jewish rap. However, in the vein of other rap, babes and bombast, plus inside Jewish jokes.

Urban Gypsy said...

Another variation on the genre... "Socalled": Yiddish hip hop, but not Hasidic... he's amazing, totally worth a look!

Rochelle said...

Cool post. It's interesting to note that while the Crown Heights Jewish community is surrounded by the cultures you speak of - hip hop, reggae, and others - many of the artists cropping up don't actually come from the Crown Heights community.
Matisyahu, for example, was raised in White Plains, NY - a far cry from the Crown Heights 'hood. He only lived there for about two years before he started becoming famous. His reggae roots comes from before he even thought of Crown Heights, when he went on tour with reggae stars, dropping out of school and following them around the country.
It's quite amazing to see the way Jewish people take the cultures they live in throughout history and infuse those cultures with holiness and spirituality.

Urban Gypsy said...

It is true that Matisyahu grew up in White Plains, but he lived in Crown Heights for more than five years. I believe that his time there coincided with the beginning of his singing career and served as an artistic catalyst.

He followed Phish on tour around the country. It's true that in the case of Matisyahu his reggae/rock roots came first, but he wouldn't have had the Hasidic musical influence if it wasn't for his time in the Crown Heights community.

Rochelle said...

Couldn't agree with you more. His career took off when he brought the Hasidic perspective into his music and he expressed himself that way. Of course the Hasidic stuff he learned in Crown Heights. But he didn't learn reggae from the Carribean-Americans in the 'hood.

Rochelle said...

Regardless, it's good stuff!