• Josh ZapinJosh Zapin
  • Date:  December 26, 2006
  • Life

Hasidic Hip Hop: Ta-Shma’s Come Listen: A Review

I'm not sure what's in the water in Williamsburg,
Brooklyn these days, but something is making
those Hasids produce doped out, modern pop music.  I'm not talking about some klezmer-infused,
folkie music with Yiddish lyrics that nobody but my Grandma would understand
(with due respect to the awesome Klezmatics). 
We're talking about music that could easily appear on MTV's Total
Request Live (one of the last places on MTV where music videos are actually

Matisyahu was the first (at least to me): the Hasidic Reggae
Superstar.  While you wouldn't
necessarily think of Reggae as MTV friendly, Matisyahu had several popular
videos appear and his latest record, Youth, was #1 on iTunes for a period of
time. Clearly not my (grand)parents Hasidic music star.  

Ta-Shma is the next: Hasidic Hip Hop.  Yeah, you heard it right: Ta-Shma, composed
of the duo Chuna Silverman and Menachem Shapiro, are two black-hatted Hasids from
Brooklyn who look like the Amish but sound like Public Enemy (also from
Brooklyn, Yo). 

I have to admit that I still have a hard time with this
Hasid music crossover stuff.  See, I am a
secular Jew born and raised in Brooklyn
(Canarsie, Yo!) and Hasids seemed like they were from another planet.   I used to pass them on drives to The City
(on Shabbos no less, oy!) and stare. 
Raised as a Conservative Jew (which in Jewdom means that I'm pretty
liberal – go figure), I knew that the black hats, coats, beards and peyoat (the
long sideburns) were a means of self-expression transforming themselves back to
the hey-day of religious Jews many centuries ago.  It's a transformation that I didn't get: why
would anyone want to go back in the past when the future had so much cool stuff
(did they even know of Atari)?  In my
Jewish world, black hats and robes were just weird and had nothing to do with
being Jewish.

So, now that there Hasidic Rappers, I can't help but ask: Wassup?  Sure, there have been some clear signs of
modernity such as the Chabad-Lubavitch Telethon, and Hasids in movies such as Guy
Ritchie's Snatch (about diamond
thiefs).  But how did this seemingly
insulated sub-group of Judaism even know that was a thing called Hip Hop?

The answer lies in the waves of
secular Jews who have been "converting" to Hasidism in
recent years. 
Seeking clarity and
stability that the modern world lacks, devout study of Judaism can give people a
grounding that is intoxicating and, even, enlightening.  It's very attractive in an uncertain world
and hordes of young "secular" Jews have been moving over the religious
side in recent years. 

And with this movement,
"secular" traditions are moving with it. 
Matisyahu (aka Matthew Miller) is one example.  He was a NSJB (Nice Secular Jewish Boy) that
was a Phish/Deadhead for much of his life when he finally took the Hasid
acid.  So, even though he adorned the
black hat, he still loved the Jam band. 
And with that, the Hasidic Reggae Supertstar was born.

So, it was only a matter of time before the Rap/Hip Hop genre
was explored.  And why not?  Rap/Hip Hop is a medium whose purpose is to
convey messages with passion and spirit in a way few other genres do?  With its deep bass lines, high hats and other
tribal rhythms, Rap deftly guides listeners through its message through a hypnotic
trance that can't help but intoxicate its audience.  So, if LL Cool J can rap about the plight of
African Americans, why shouldn't Hasids be able to rap about the Mosiach (the
savior), Torah (the bible) and Ha-Shem?

So, now the big question how's the album?  It's just okay, but it has a lot promise.

Come Listen, is a great attempt to define a Hasid infused
bass line (is there such a ting).  It
isn't your West Coast, East Coast Hip-Hop thing.  It's a klezmer-infused rant about all things
Torah. Not Weird-Al with like, but Mos Def with a yarmulke.  This is serious Rap, with a big dollop of

Some tracks of Come Listen are fantastic.  Good
and Grey
, for example, has a simple klezmer violin lick morphed and
scratched over a funky bass drum that is extremely danceable (the author did
the head nod thang).  The message of the
track, too, is unique: Life is full of confusing choices making nothing really
black or white.  You know what? That's
okay – it's what life is about.

Journeys (featuring
Y-Love, another orthodox hip-hopper) is also a treat.  With a deep funky bass line, Journeys is a
deeply personal song that discusses each rappers experience with Judaism and
how they came to where they are now.  Where
have you heard pop music explore these dimensions?

Woman of Valor
(featuring Andy Statman) is also good with a kick ass great reggae/dub beat to

That being said, other tracks are just a mess.  Revloution,
Ups and Downs, Return Home, Jacob's Ladder
just seem to miss the mark.  They sound
like they were cut in a garage with some cheap mixer.  I just couldn't get past the poor sound
quality to give them their fair shot.   Even Rachamana,
featuring my fave Matisyahu, also lacks some punch and direction.

Still, Come Listen is a great first effort.  It shows the deep rooted passion of its core
members: Chuna Silverman and Menachem Shapiro and that this Hasidic Hip Hop
thang actually has more legs and isn't a gimmick.

Maybe it will make a Hasid out me?

Purchase Ta-Shma from Amazon.com 

P.S.: Even better
than the album, check them out live. 
Their myspace site has some cool videos of a live show they played
earlier this year
.  The audience was
really into it: Like being in an orthodox Shul on the High-Holy days.  Go…you might even find your self davening like
a Hasid.

This secular Jew did..

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