Do Not Interrupt Lil’ Dicky’s Jewish Flow

zpa7pc384a8b5ms0irqThank you, Jewlicious, for giving me something to smirk about on this ever-so-gloomy Monday: Lil Dicky‘s epic rap battle with Hitler.

(For you sensitive types, please be warned that “Jewish Flow” contains egregious use of Nazi symbolism, prolific drug use via a gas mask bong and many instances of the word “vagina” to make a feminist cringe.)

What do y’all think: Is his mother proud or sitting shivah for this shanda? On one hand, I am fist-pumped-up for a Jewish rapper to take down the ultimate muthaf*cka with his hilarity, no matter how obscene.

Then again, it gives me the creeps to hear it from a kid who looks way too much like my son’s camp counselor.

Still, the boy is funny. From his blog:

In an era where rap is dominated by racial, social, and economic minorities, LD decided to put the upper-middle class on his frail, Jewish shoulders.

See? Underneath the rapper’s bluster, his liberally-educated, revolutionary-minded, suburban tush shines through — a right nice Jewish boy in a world with ever-worsening morals and tastes. If Lil’ Dicky is the future of Jewish hip-hop, I’m ok with that.

He’s got a free mixtape, downloadable here.

Take A Big Breath

I wish I could say I’m decorating the house and hanging blue lights and choreographing the dance program I’m supposed to teach the Shalom Schoolers.

But I’m beat, so here’s nice Yenta post from a couple of years back, ’cause tonight the only pre-Chanukah groovin’ I can muster is to lay on the sofa listening to the chill beats of The Asthmatix‘s “Latke:”

Dreamy, nu? This Australian quartet just released a new EP of crazy sexy nerd klezmer Ozzie hiphop and is “comprised of two diagnosed ventolin-puffers and two members who have used asthma as an excuse on more than one occasion to get out of sports class.”

I’m going to hit “Play” again and wish our religion believed in holiday elves who do all the dirty work.

Git On Yer New Year’s Dancin’ Shooz

Rosh Hashanah is still weeks away, but it’s just never too early to start shakin’ some booty for the season!

Thanks to Facebook friend Mindy N. for the heads up that those beautiful, shiny, happy Fountainheads have a brand new video, which is not only catchy and spiritual and fun but an astounding display of all the gorgeously diverse genes of Israel:

The Fountainheads want you to know that “no apples, pomegranates, babies, or smartphones were harmed in the filming of this video.” Also, feeding honey to babies under a year old is a no-no. Lyrics here.

Any Rosh Hashanah round-up must include G-dcast’s “Shofar Callin’,” featuring some wicked ram’s horn jams and Savannah’s own Prodezra Beats (yo, Reuben, we miss you and your lovely mishpoche!):

And while we’re getting dirty with the beats, let’s throw in “Hebrew Crunk” with its slutty apple slices from back in 5777, created for Taglit Birthright Israel:

OK, everybody awake now?

The End of An Aural Era

It was shock last week to read about the demise of JDub Records. I mean, this is the label responsible for launching Matisyahu into the limelight! And, of course, a major player in the resurgence of the “it’s-cool-to-be-a-quirky-Jew” movement that arose out of NYC around in the early Y2Ks. Sheesh, there were a heady few years there when Jewish pop culture went practically mainstream with Demi and Ashton rocking Kabbalah bracelets and little goyishe stoner kids in Kansas growing sidelocks.

The JDub boys were the machers (along with Jewcy.com and now out-of-print HEEB magazine) in the Jewisphere when I was a wee blogger back in 2004, feasting on the wackalicious sounds of Balkan Beat Box and of course, that Chasidic reggae rapper before he started selling out stadiums.

This was never anyone’s yiddishe mama’s Jewish music: JDub got behind punk rock klezmer with Golem, the Sephardic Judeo-Spanish fly stylings of DeLeon and seriously jamming Afro-Jewish fusion with Sway Machinery and made it COOL. They collected artists who cooked up traditional Jewish music with tablas and wicked beats and rap—which could have all been completely unlistenable or worse, embarrassing parodies. Instead, JDub gave hipsters permission to dance to the accordion.

Jacob Berkman’s Forward article provides a timeline of the fall of the label, which was seeded with money from Jewish philanthropy organizations. What’s really frustrating is that Nice Jewish Boys Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harris did everything a start-up non-profit should do, including switching up business models and diversifying funding sources, but they couldn’t make it work. And judging from Daniel Septimus’ op-ed earlier this week, Jewish philanthropy may be experiencing a shift from cultural projects like JDub and HEEB to those that provide a way to bring religious and ritual components back to the young people.

Maybe that’s a good idea. But it doesn’t sound very danceable.

So does JDub’s death mean the era of the Cool Jew over? Berkman quotes Brandeis University professor and professional American Jewish life ponderer Jonathan Sarna:

“We have moved from a moment when we thought there was a great deal of revival, and people seemed to be moving toward an interest in religion and religiosity. And that moment has passed, and now there is a shift back to the secular…Today, I think a lot of young people [in the JDub demographic] are those who have thrown off religion and not those who have taken it on. And that wasn’t true when JDub began. It suggests a new moment, and a moment I worry about.”

I posed the question to El Yenta Man. He rolled his eyes at me. “Being Jewish has never been cool.”

Right. I forgot. Well, now we can return to the fringe with our weird 12th century Kabbalah punk rock and obtuse senses of humor. And maybe, as Sarna admonishes, get our tushies back to synagogue.

You can still listen to the nachas-worthy artists of JDub at JDubrecords.org.

Breaking Out of the ‘Chood

Summer has begun, which means there are little yentas all UP in the big one’s bidness, keeping me from sitting at the computer with incessant whining earnest pleas to go blackberry picking and dress up the dog in American Girl clothes.

While I figure out how to stay awake past their bedtime, please enjoy the spankin’ new video for “Proud to Be” from Savannah’s own kosher hiphop maestro, Reuben “Prodezra Beats” Formey (check the official Yo, Yenta! interview here.)

Was that the B.B. Jacob sanctuary, brother?! Also caught a cameo of the newest (? maybe middle) Formey daughter—a sweet little angel in pink.

Rumor ’round the eruv is that Prodezra Beats may be moving along to a bigger music scene—I’m sorry to see Savannah lose its hip-hoppest Jew, but if that’s what it takes to realize the dream, so be it. Proud to BE a fan, yo!

The Jewish Community’s Next Controversy?

As one of the world’s few African-American Jewish rappers, haredi hip-hop maestro Y-Love is used to jumping the boundaries of stereotypes around Jewish ethnicity. It’s the subject of his cranking new video “This Is Unity”—check it:

Love the reminder that Jews come in all colors and observance levels. But when did it become acceptable for the young yids to rock a kaffiyeh?

What, No Michael Bloomberg Cameo?

Oy gevalt. It really was only a matter of time before the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys hit “Empire State of Mind” spawned a “Jew York” satire. But with so many kinds of Jewish New Yorkers, how do you pick just one?

First, we have JewYork.com mocking J.A.P-style and kinda nailing it while rocking some nice Yiddish, many velour tracksuits and some serious cleavage:

Then there’s Empire Shtick with great Big City B-roll, a fake Chasid beard and Yiddish subtitles:

This one actually keeps it pretty kosher, rhyming up potato knish, gefilte fish, dreidel and matzah ball soup ladle:

Between all three, you’ve got pretty much every Jewish cultural stereotype from bacon-eating to tzitzit to Katz’ Deli to Bernie Madoff. I’m not even mad, because watching all of these multiple times has finally ousted the original version from my addled brain.

May Your Eighth Night Be Bright—And Don’t Light The Curtains On Fire

‘Aight, it’s time for the chanukiahs of the world to shine to full capacity.

In spite of being confusingly early this year (next time the 25th of Kislev falls so close to Thanksgiving, El Yenta Man promises to stick candles in a turkey neck), it’s been a Chanukah full of greasy treats and good, good music — props to Prodezra Beats, NCSY & Six13 and the Maccabeats for giving the little Jewish children something to sing besides Adam Sandler’s tired ol’ tune. (OK, fine. Call it a classic, if you will.)

Here’s one more groovin’ gift for y’all from the kosher dubmaster himself, Matisyahu:

May everyone’s holiday season continue joyfully, peacefully and with lots more dancing.

Don’t forget to enter the Yenta’s Gone Nuts Contest—tell me about your worst holiday gift and you could win $25 in chocolate treats. Winner announced Friday!

Prodezra Beats: The Interview

There’s been much ado in the press recently about Shyne, the hiphop artist who served an eight year prison sentence after his involvement in 1999′s infamous New York Sean Combs/J.Lo nightclub shooting. The former gangster managed to keep his career alive while in lockdown, but the real news has been about his religious conversion while on the inside—to Orthodox Judaism. Black coat, black hat, tefillin, the works.

Black Orthodox Jewish rappers—something of a rare breed, nu? Aside from Shyne (born Jamal Michael Barrow, now known to his rabbi as Moses Michael Levi) there’s the wonderful Y-Love, who rhymes in English, Yiddish, Hebrew and Aramaic out of Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood. And then there’s Reuben Formey, who raps and produces instrumental tracks under the name Prodezra Beats.

The odds of one of the three known Jewish African-American hiphop artists living in your neighborhood are pretty slim. Less than being born with extra thumbs, even. Yet once again, Savannah, GA proves itself to be a strange and magical place. Blessed even, some might say.

I first met Reuben along with his lovely wife, Liora, and their two adorable daughters at last year’s JEA Purim festival, and he generously shared some tracks with Yo, Yenta! readers. In advance of what’s bound to be a soulful performance at the JEA Community Chanukah Party Thursday, Dec. 2, I found myself chilling with Prodezra yesterday afternoon at the new kosher frozen yogurt place on Eisenhower to discuss music, mitzvot and how this town could really use a vegetarian pizza joint.

First, the background. I didn’t want to seem insensitive, but I was dying to know how a Savannah-raised, dark-skinned young man becomes an Orthodox Jew. Fortunately, Reuben set me at ease by filling me in right away on his family’s gravitation to Judaism in the late 80′s and 90′s. Though his grandfather was a well-known Baptist preacher, his father encountered a group of friendly rabbis at a Chabad house while at college in Minnesota and began to study Torah in that no-pressure, do-what-comes-naturally setting. Reuben’s mother began to study as well, bringing him and his sister along. Over time they realized this was their path, and in 1993 they converted as a family.

After moving to Savannah, Reuben’s formative years resemble every other Jewish kid’s: Chai Day School (the predecessor to Rambam), a bar mitzvah at B’nai B’rith Jacob, tooling around on a Casio keyboard trying to recreate Cypress Hill songs (more on that later), graduation from Beach High School and a nice business management degree from Georgia Tech. After college, perhaps more eager at that point to pursue life’s deeper questions than join the family’s successful safety supply business, he jumped straight to Jerusalem and the Mayanot yeshiva.

The baal teshuva returned (that could be considered a bad pun, sorry) to Savannah a few years ago with a family of his own, ready to take a place in his father’s company—and to make music.

Ah, yes: The music. Created late at night, in half-hour snatches while the baby sleeps and whenever else the life of a working father allows, Prodezra Beats manifests as grooving loops of electronic reverb and percussion overlaid with positive, spiritually-influenced lyrics about faith, redemption and plenty of Torah references.

Here, listen to “Faith” while you read the rest of this post:

Dig it. Anyway, back at Beach High, young Reuben listened from everything from jazz to Public Enemy to Phil Collins and admits to having gone through a hardcore Metallica phase. Influenced by Bone Thugs N’ Harmony and Atlanta’s Outkast, he liked to play around with samples on his cousin’s Casio, and came up with beats for other artists to rap over. Eventually, he wanted more control of what message was going out with the music and began to write his own rhymes, replacing the the sexism and violence of traditional rap music with the inspiration he finds by doing mitzvot and studying Torah.

“I’ve always loved the beat of hiphop and producing, but the message isn’t anything I want to hear anymore,” he explained over a bowl of mango sorbet. “I want to keep producing a distinctive, Southern hiphop sound that has a universal positive message. People, whether they realize it or not, are sick of negativity.”

I think so, too. It’s a real gift to be able to play genuine hiphop around the Yenta house that’s kid-appropriate—not since 2004′s “Hip Hop Shabbat” has there been Jewish rap on such constant rotation. And in the car, on the iPod and on the ‘puter as I write this. (It’s actually kind of hilarious to hear Yenta Boy spitting out the chorus of “Proud to Be” looking like a little Mormon in his school uniform on our daily bike ride.)

I don’t think it’ll be too long before this star shines far beyond Savannah—he’s already well-known in music circles in spite of hanging around on the sleepy Georgia coast. Prodezra provided the beats for Y-Love and Describe’s superdubtastic “Change”, and his new album, “Connection Revealed,” (due out March 2011, or before if his daughters sleep extra well) features Kindgroove flutist Chana Laila.

But can the Jewish community accept hiphop as its new sound? He shrugged. “In every generation music changes. Jewish music used to mean shtetl music—accordion, violin—and now we’re coming to a different stage. What’s important is that young people are using their passion and talent to create something holy.”

As we finished our froyo, it occurred to me that a black Jewish rapper may be a rare find, but encountering a person comfortable in his own skin, untroubled by the dichotomies of being black and Jewish, of loving hiphop and Torah, even of the palpable tensions of Savannah’s Jewish community, must be at least as exceptional.

“We’ve created all these divisions, but we’re all one soul, together. That’s where I’m coming from. ”

Prodezra Beats’ current EP, “Until When”, is available at CDBaby.com, so go there and download it, ’cause you need some nice Jewish music for the holidays.

Speaking of which, as a Chanukah gift to Yo, Yenta! readers, Reuben is giving free downloads to the singles “Where Are You (24/7)?” and “Tree of Life” featuring Nosson Zand. Just click on the links—but hurry, they expire soon.

Come out tomorrow night for the show and celebration—don’t forget to bring your own menorah!

Boogie In The Tree of Life

I remain fascinated with the bridge between hip hop music and Orthodox Judaism. As disparate as they should be, Torah and tefillin on one hand and malt liquor and boobie shaking on the other, the two still manage to meet and hold strong–and it’s not all about Matisyahu, m’kay?

Six years later, Yo-Natan’s Hip Hop Shabbat CD is still on permanent rotation in the Yenta house. EtanG and Y-Love also spin Hebrew-inflected rhymes on my iPod, with the recent additions of tsitsit-swinging Nosson Zand of course, my local homeboy Reuben Formey and his soul-strumming Prodezra Beats to the playlist.

Here’s “Tree of Life,” a new collaboration of Prodezra Beats and Nosson Zand that’s been winding its way around. It’s all very kosher, but IHMO it could definitely inspire mixed dancing: