The Jerusalem Post (from which this title was lifted) and the NY Times both published stories this week about the hip-hop artist “Shyne,” born Jamal Michael Barrow, and who now goes by the name Moshe Levy ben David when not performing. He has had quite a journey, from his birth in Belize to an Ethiopian Beta Israel mother, to the “hip hop scene” in NY, to several years in prison — and now to life in Jerusalem, where he is both studying in yeshivos and re-launching his music career.
My reaction to his music is, well… it’s rap. Or hip-hop. Or whatever they call it. I have always liked music that wasn’t the standard “yeshivishe” fare — perhaps due to a much more varied musical background — but I have trouble placing spoken words over a beat loop in the category of “music” (this, from the author of the “Yeshiva Rap”). Compare to Matisyahu, whose beats and music are, at least in my opinion, somewhat more sober (in other words, a lot less “rocked up”) than a lot of “Jewish” music today (which, of course, often lifts riffs and beats, if not entire music tracks, from secular rock). Matisyahu also puts obvious Jewish ideas into his music. They say similar things are coming from Shyne, but while it may be true that he has dropped the obscenities and misogynistic lyrics which reportedly characterized his earlier efforts, I wasn’t comfortable linking to his new release.
What is impressive, though, is Moshe Levy’s interview with the Jerusalem Post. He speaks with obvious sincerity about his process of growth and change, in a dialogue sprinkled inspirational references to people from Tanach (the Bible), and discusses both his checkered past and his transformation due to Torah observance. Because of who he is, the Jerusalem Post printed positive reflections on Judaism that we rarely get to see in the “mainstream” press, and his words can inspire secular teens who wouldn’t listen to most anyone else who spent much of his time in chassidic garb. I feel he was mekadesh Shem Shamayim (sanctified G-d’s Name), and if his lyrics help others to grow beyond the life of violence and “fast living,” he should be blessed for that as well.
Hat Tip: The indefatigable Jeff Seidel, who learns with Shyne/Moshe Levy and is quoted in both articles.