Yesterday, I wrote a sad piece about the state of Jewish music, and especially one person in the center of it. One of the big themes I heard from all the people reacting to it was, “There are so many bad pieces of Jewish news these days! The Asifa, Deborah Feldman, Trader Joe’s chocolate chips, Mayim Bialik, and on and on. How much more can we handle?”
In the midst of all this sad energy and depressing news, it’s easy to forget about the absolutely amazing things happening in the Jewish community.
A few weeks ago, a Jewish rap album, Jenerous Skillz, was quietly released by Uneek Media, a Jewish-run and themed record label. It was made available to download for free (only in the Jewish community, seriously). I didn’t hear such a buzz about it, and I think the biggest reason for that was that it was released during the Omer, a time when many religious Jews don’t listen to music.
I finally listened to the album after the Omer and I was surprised with how great it was. I immediately realized that this was the best Jewish rap album released to date. And that’s saying a lot for an album released by a smallish record label. It’s not necessarily as polished and professional as something released by a huge record label, but what Nathan Malitz, aka Controverse, the producer, did with the album is awesome.
Unlike Matisyahu’s music, which is more meditative and deep, Jenerous Skillz is an album focused solely on the pure joy of being a Jew. Its creation reflects that joy: it was recorded in New York and Tel Aviv and it features sixteen secular and religious Israeli, American, and Russian Jewish rappers. The very fact that so many talented people got together to make this sort of project happen is awesome in and of itself, but the fact that they actually pulled it off, and so clearly displayed the simcha of what it means to be Jewish, whether we are secular, religious, or somewhere in between, is what actually makes this album deeper than even Matisyahu’s early music. Matisyahu’s music told us about what it means to be a Jew. This album shows it.
Jenerous Skillz starts off on fire in the second track, immediately declaring its mission statement with a shout of joy by Controverse: “Jewish rap, yo, it used to make me mad, it wasn’t that Jewish and the rhymes were just bad.” Truth. Take a listen to the rest of the track below:
Despite having some inappropriate lines, most notably an unfortunate on in the very first track (I would be sounding off much more on this if I didn’t like the album so much), and a few hiccups on various other tracks, this album is by far the most “Jewish” rap I’ve ever heard. The biggest problem with the vast majority of the rap (and all music) done by Jews these days is that they are simply throwing their beliefs on another form of music. What happens is a lot of extras tagged on from the traditions of rap that totally don’t fit the Jewish way of looking at the world. I’m talking about rappers calling out each other’s names at the beginning of each damn song, talking about how they’re going to take over the world, and even bragging about the amount of money they’re making/gonna make. And, man, if another Jewish rapper raps about “haters”, I might just freak out.
But I transgress. Jenerous Skillz has very few of these egotistical elements. Instead, it’s just about damn good music and damn good rapping and being damn proud of being a Jew. (Note: I should never be a rapper).
The best song on the album is “J-Funk”, a song that draws more on old school rap and funk than anything more modern and gangster. It features six rappers, including BenYomen, whom I featured in an earlier post, and it’s a true joy to listen to. Take a listen:
I should also note that one of the great surprises for me, personally, was coming in touch with Israeli rap. The Israeli rappers on Jenerous Skillz, which include Sagol 59, MC Ayatolla, and Adi Abraham, were a revelation. Their skill at rapping really displays the beauty of the Hebrew language, and just how lyrical it really is. When rapped with skill, even the Hebrew language can become elevated.
And Vulkan, the Russian rapper, was just awesome. Like seriously. What a Russian. Here’s a song he shines on (he comes in during the last minute):
Now I’m just gushing. But the point here is to realize just what potential Jews have when we use our powers for good (Spiderman), and to be aware that for all the sad things going on in the big headlines, down on the ground, down on the ground floor, there are things happening. Better things than Live at Stubbs, even. We’re talking about going from strength to strength. Sometimes we as Jews have to fall a bit before we rise up. But we’ll just keep falling unless we realize the strength within ourselves. Hopefully Matisyahu will do that soon. Until and after then, we here on the ground floor, we’ll be working our butts off to make the present and future even better than the idealized past.
Download Jenerous Skilz in its entirety for FREE here: http://www.uneek-media.com/music/jenerous-skillz