By Adina Rosenthal
There’s a new, up-and-coming Hasidic hip-hop artist on the block. Nosson Zand is a Boston-born musician who takes pride in the positive and hopeful lyrics that are inspired by his Hasidic beliefs. “I’m throwing a life preserver out into the cold, dark waters of hip-hop and pop music…I’m here to provide a window into a holier place,” he tells me.
Zand, who has toured with Matisyahu throughout the United States and Canada, is currently in the final stages of completing his new full-length album, which includes the single Believers, featuring Matisyahu. In a recent Shalom TV interview, Matisyahu singled out Zand and his musical promise: “Nosson would be the one artist I really believe in…he’s coming from a religious place. Nosson [is] infusing the music with depth and meaning from the Torah perspective, and he’s a really talented rapper, and writer, and singer. I really believe in him and think he can do good things.” Zand met Matisyahu by “chance” on a street corner, where he subsequently rapped for him and was told, “Hey…Nosson, you’re good!”
Zand explains how he was first exposed to rap by his friends in the projects. “There were a lot of rough characters involved…a big mix of people. I have the most diverse group of friends of all Jewish people I know in this world. I was very into other cultures. It’s very easy to blend in and I did for many years in cultures that were far from anything Jewish.”
Zand is a Baal Teshuva, someone who does not grow up religious and “returns” to it later in life. “I grew up going to Hebrew School…I was connected in some respect to Judaism, but wasn’t really taught in a way that made me feel that was relevant to my life. I was proud of being Jewish, but couldn’t articulate it. I was into rap way before I was into Judaism.”
Zand feels confident that as a result of his background, everyone—not just the religious Jewish crowd—can relate to his music. “I’ve been through so much that the average American has gone through…sneaking into movies, going to nightclubs, getting in cars and getting in trouble, but I can relate to my audience….my heart writes the lyrics…I put my heart on the page because I have been through it all. I want to save people from finding the realization through pain and instead through pleasure, education, and logic. That’s what Hasidim is all about.”
Zand’s Hasidic beliefs allow him to share a universal, positive message that transcends the focus on the sensationalism of promiscuous sex and violence. “[Inspirational music] doesn’t mean you can’t be cool and can’t have fun; it’s just a holier version that promotes good values…. It’s something that can be embraced. It’s Torah in the skies. The influence of Torah is nicely woven in a positive influence that hopefully everyone can absorb. This [upcoming] album is aggressively beautiful. It has attitude, swagger, and an opinion on things, but also is woven into what is melodic and hypnotic at the same time.”
While music is clearly his passion, Zand credits his deep love of Hasidism as the driving force behind his music and his life. Zand explains that his inspiration comes from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Chabad, and the general Hasidic approach to Judaism and the world. “It’s a very beautiful thing that inspires me a lot…Torah and trying to be the best Jew and person I can be—the best Hasid I can be—is the main course. Everything else is a side order. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said, ‘Music is the pen of the soul.’ We run a risky business listening to any old thing because it defines people. That was the same with me. I identified more with hip-hop growing up than Judaism…music was the main course and Judaism was a side order.”
And how does Zand’s Hasidic community feel about his music? “My rabbi is my biggest advocate. Baal Teshuvas are supposed to incorporate their talents and turn them into something positive. My approach to Judaism is working on yourself to be a light in a dark world, turn others into a light, and thereby illuminate the world. That’s what my music is all about. Acknowledging that there is a mission ahead of us and eventually bring heaven down to Earth.”
As the lyrics from the teacher for Zand’s single, “Believers,” says, “Yes, we’re all believers/Through the dark don’t leave us.” Zand clearly uses his Hasidic beliefs to spread a universal message of hope and inspiration with powerful lyrics and a great beat.