Being a Jewish person, I'm used to people asking me questions like “Oh, do you speak Jewish?” or “Are you from New Jersey?” or “Can you hook me up with a record deal, cause I know you own the industry…”(Just for the record none of these questions are made up. I have, at one point, been asked all of them.) But as of late, I have been getting a new question: “Do you know that Jewish guy who does reggae? You know…the one with the Jew costume?”
The artist in question is named Matisyahu and yes he does wear a certain kind of “Jew costume.” But you're most likely to get your ass beat if you call it that.
Matisyahu is Hasidic, part of a sect of Jews who practice Judaism that was practiced in 18th and 19th century Poland. They are known for wearing black pants and jackets, white shirts, and black wide brimmed hats. But not all of them do. What all of them do wear however is talit (traditional prayer shawl) and two forlocks which are called payos. Because of this distinct style of dress, the image of Hasidim has turned into one of the stereotypes of Jewish people. Matisyahu is different, however.
He breaks these stereotypes through his music, in which he brings together the Jewish faith and the reggae culture. To someone who is hearing his music for the first time, his lyrics may sound like lyrics of a Rastafarian. His beatboxing is pretty amazing too. But if you listen closely, you realize that he is speaking in Hebrew. For example, in his song “Aish Tamid”, he talks about the destruction of the Temple and the rebuilding of the Third Temple. To a non-Jewish ear, the reference may be lost. But to a religious Jewish person (or even a secular one) there is a realization that there is a place for Judaic references in popular music. His two albums Shake Off the Dust…Arise and Matisyahu: Live At Stubb's have been flying off the shelves. Below is a track of Live At Stubb's:
But by no means is Matisyahu the first Jewish person to go over to hip hop or reggae. And he certainly is not the last. There are a variety of Jewish artists who turn to their Jewish roots as influence for their music:
Beastie Boys: Before they became Buddhist, these three guys from the Brooklyn were (and still are technically) MOTs- Members of the Tribe. With names like Horovitz, Diamond and Yauch…it's hard not to be. Even harder when you rap a line like “I'm a funky ass Jew and I'm on my way” as they did on their album To The Five Boroughs (They also have a sample of some Israeli radio on the end of their Root Down EP…just an FYI)
Miri Ben Ari: Hailing from the Holy Land herself, Miri Ben Ari is possibly one of the most notable stars in hip hop right now. She's worked with EVERYBODY. At the moment, she's probably on almost every track Kanye West has produced, including his own songs. She got a shout out on Wyclef Jean's album Masquerade and she rocked out in Twista's “Overnight Celebrity” video. Not bad for a violinist who originally studied under the late great Isaac Stern.
Hip Hop Hoodios: Hailing from both LA and NY, this group mixes Latino and Jewish sounds to create a new style of hip hop. Mixing klezmer, cumbia, hard-core and hip-hop, the Hoodios (a play on “Judio” the Spanish word for Jew), add a different flavor to the music genre. Their new album Agua Pa' La Gente has guests like Santana, The Klezmatics, and Juagares (just to name a few).
Blood of Abraham: Dubbed by some as the pioneers of “Hebrew-Hop”, this duo from LA recently made their return after ten or so year hiatus. Their first album Future Profits came out in 1994. Their long awaited sophomore album, Eyedollartree came out in August. Their debut album had songs like “Stabbed by the Steeple” or “Niggaz and Jewz (Some Say Kikes) (which happend to feature Will I. Am). I can only imagine what their new album sounds like. Oh yeah and they toured with Public Enemy.
Remedy: Getting his start in Staten Island, Remedy was well acquainted with some of the Island's finest. He went to high school with Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and Method Man. He later went on to be part of the Wu Tang's posse, having his single “Never Again” ( a track dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust) on The RZA's The Swarm. In 2001, Remedy released The Genuine Article and in 2003 Code Red. Also going under the name Rueven Ben Menachem, Remedy has become very popular among young wannabe thugs in Israel. My now 16 year old cousin being one of them.
Y-Love: Straight from Brooklyn, Y-Love is one of a kind…his style can be dubbed as “Orthodox-Hop”. Y-Love is a talented lyricist who spits in English, Hebrew and Aramaic. (For those of y'all that don't know, Aramaic was the language that Jesus spoke. And the language that the script for Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ was in.) Keep your ears open, cause this guy is definitely going places.
And that's it for the Rosh Hashanah Edition of the Couch Sessions. For all the gentiles reading this (Goyim as we like to call y'all), Rosh Hashanah is our New Year. One of the best holidays ever.
To all my Jewish brothers and sisters out there, Shana Tovah! IT'S A CELEBRATION BITCHES! I'm gonna go get me some Manischewitz.