Tag Archives: Matisyahu

Kosher Hip-Hop

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.

Singing a New Song

By Steven Philp

It goes without saying that these are trying times. Yet it is in the face of crisis that humankind produces its best music, art, and literature; while grappling with adversity, men and women exercise their creative abilities to express anger, sadness, and—above all—hope that is both genuine and deeply felt. Perhaps it is the celebration of this latter sentiment that prompted MTV to add a new category to its annual Video Music Awards: “Best Video With A Message.” According to Reuters this award was created to “honor artists and music videos that featured a positive message or raised awareness of key social issues facing today’s youth.” Despite chart-topping performances by Pink, Katy Perry, Eminem, Rise Against, and Taylor Swift—whose songs addressed issues ranging from social isolation to domestic violence—it was Lady Gaga’s pro-diversity opus “Born This Way” that clinched the honor. And regardless of what one thinks about the quality of her music, that at the height of her career she would craft a song celebrating the spectrum of human expression—including an explicit nod to the embattled gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community—deserves recognition.

Unfortunately the spirit of tolerance embodied by the new award category was belied by MTV’s nomination of up-and-comer Tyler the Creator, who was recognized as this year’s “Best New Artist.” As a press release from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation makes note, his lauded sophomore album Goblin is a celebration of homophobia and misogyny—including 213 occurrences of the word “faggot” and its variations. Instead of sending a message of hope, his lyrics promote violence and normalize discrimination against some of the most marginalized people in our society. In the end, the VMAs is testimony to the state of American music: while there are enough songs to cobble together a new award category that features “positive messages,” our “Best New Artist”—which is selected by popular vote—is actively contributing to the adversity felt by minority communities.

So where can we look for songs of hope, when the pop charts so often lend themselves to the dissemination of bigotry? Just this month, Jewish hip-hop sensation Matisyahu uploaded a new single that serves as a reminder that the most profound inspiration can manifest in the most unexpected places. Rabbi Yonah posted a story on the Jewish-interest blog Jewlicious, detailing the history behind the song. It started with an unlikely friendship, between Matisyahu and a young boy named Elijah. Although the boy was battling cancer, his indefatigable spirit inspired the hip-hop artist prompting several years of after-concert visits and phone exchanges. When Matisyahu was on tour this year, Elijah came to his concert in Florida and asked if they could record a song together. The next morning the boy was admitted to intensive care. With his acoustic accompanist and recording equipment in tow, Matisyahu showed up at the hospital that evening. The result was “Elijah’s Song.” According to Matisyahu, most of the words and many of the lyrical decisions were made by the young boy.

Unfortunately Elijah passed away that night. Inspired by the boy’s courage, Matisyahu has made the song available online. The song can also be downloaded for a minimum donation of $1, with proceeds going to the Elijah Memorial Fund. Rabbi Yonah makes note that one would expect a song composed by a dying child would be “sad and full of regret,” but the lyrics point to the opposite: that in the face of adversity, hope can be found. Just as artists like Tyler the Creator showcase the damaging power of words, Elijah reminds us that in every creative act is the potential for redemption. In his own words:

Never know what tomorrow brings,
Don’t have the answers to tell you.
Take it one step at a time,
See where G-d will lead you.

Matisyahu’s RV

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

Matisyahu’s blog had a funny look inside the man’s RV yesterday. Check it out:

Bookmark and Share

This Week’s Links

  • Lindsay Lohan is looking to convert to Judaism in order to get closer to her girlfriend. Says her father, “She’s explored the Church of Scientology, she tried Kabbalah, and now this. I think it’s just another phase. But either way, she’s involving God in her life, and I’m happy about that.” [E]
  • Dr. Efraim Zuroff writes about Australia extraditing World War II war criminal Karoly (Charles) Zentai to Hungary as an “unprecedented, historic victory for Holocaust justice in Australia.” [JPost]
  • Israel finally medaled at the Olympics—a bronze in sailing. [Xinhua]
  • Photos of some of the “campus style” housing for Agriprocessors workers are unsettling. [Failed Messiah]
  • Have you swam in the Mediterranean recently? How ’bout those jellyfish?! The “cockroaches of the open water” are getting more intrusive. [Just Engage]
  • Was Kafka a pervert? [TheFilter]
  • Choosing a religious school program for your child is a true commitment, spiritually as well as financially.” A useful primer on picking a Hebrew school. [MyJewishLearning]
  • Around 40 swastikas were found on bales of hay in Washington state this week. [JTA]
  • Mazel Tov! Students and fellow Hillel-goers from Duke University are married. [Hillel]
  • Hebrew University is the 65th best college in the world. [Ynet]
  • Matisyahu expresses himself in music and poetry and…Kenneth Cole commercials? [The Telegraph]
Photo by dlisbona.

Benjamin Schuman-Stoler
Bookmark and Share