Twenty Years Ago in Hip-Hop Classics

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There have been much, and plenty, of coverage of the twenty-year anniversary of the many triumphant works of art. These classic pieces of music remain timeless as they reach to the next generation, like certain types of music. The year 1994 saw the release of many hip-hop classics that solidified the year as the peak of the golden age of rap. Yes, that might sound naive, but in a way we, readers in their late 20’s spanning to the early 40 year olds, are the generation that saw some of the most multi-faceted releases from the various rappers and rap groups of the day.

For example, 1994 will be immortalized as the debut of the hardest hitting, and still legendary MC by the name of the Notorious BIG….

His name still resonates, but there were other debut albums by the hungry freshman of the class of 1994.

 

Nas, dropped his first and best album the same year, after two famous guest appearances, linking up with some of the most talented producers in order to feed us this…

The album was a sordid journey through the eyes of the many street dwellers expounding the street scenes.

The swath of talent looms large with many other rappers and crews heralding from many parts of the country like Atlanta’s extra-ordinary….

Outkast, who dropped their debut in 1994 titled Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik…..

Chi-Town’s Common, dropping the sense due to the threat of a copyright lawsuit, dropped his second classic album Resurrection

 with its Blue Note record label album cover inspiration the album is a tour-de-force thanks to its producer No.ID and its many great songs, including the hip-hop ode, “I Used to Love H.E.R.”

Many other albums were dropped into our hands, and consumed in large bites like a fine slice of New Haven pizza. But, there is one that fell through the cracks into relative obscurity. In 1994 the Gangsta rap fad was still looming large over the rap world, but there were other genres in hip-hop that provided an alternative. This alternative, which unfortunately has been eaten alive by the corporate hydra of formulaic rap music, provided us with an abundance of differences. One of the sub-rap genres that became popular was the jazz-rap phenomenon, embodied by the use of obscure jazz samples, along with the use of live instrumentation from the classic players themselves, along with a modern approach by using modern day slang. Certain groups like Gangstarr, Guru’s Jazzmatazz albums, A Tribe Called Quest, the Jungle Brothers, De Las Soul, The Roots, and of course the kitschy hit spawned by the group US3, all used these qualities in order to link the past (jazz) with the present and future (hip-hop). To me, and many music scholars, these artists’ albums embodied a timeless quality that was far more connected to the traditional black music than Gangsta or hardcore rap. All these artists have been amazing releasing classic and timeless rap albums, but there is one album that I personally cherish to this day.

However, one of the best albums to come out in 1994, and arguably a classic rap album in the history of the music, is Digable Planets’ sophomore album titled Blowout Comb.

The blissful sounding trio of Butterfly, Doodlebug, and Ladybug are the epitome of the cool Jazz throwback, with that street grime rap music from the early decade of the 1990’s. As many music critics, historians, and ethnomusicologists agree, this is a perfect example of melding Jazz and Hip-Hop music into a perfect product. The traditions lost on most rap music, except for the great sounds of Gangstarr, Guru’s solo albums, A Tribe Called Quest, The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and US3, can be found on this magnum opus. It provides the listener with the connection of the old and the new, using legendary jazz musicians while focusing on the contemporary issues of inner city life. This all starts with track 1!!!

The quiet is pierced with the horns, followed by the beats of a small drum, and then it hits you with the cool wave under your wings with the opening track titled “The May 4th Movement Starring Doodlebug.” Doodlebug lays down the vibe as we skid into the graces of Brooklyn.

I don’t want to make this a track-by-track analysis, but the next track penetrates the light-hearted mood with a poignant telling of a black man being pulled over by the police.

The song “Black Ego” starts with a mellow sounding vibe, and a complementary vibe thanks to the samples of the Meters “Here Comes the Meterman” and Grant Green’s “Luanna’s Theme.” The start of the song’s smoothness is punctured when Butterfly is pulled over and in a faint speaking sound the officer reads him his right. During the reading of his Miranda rights the officer asks if he understands his rights, then Butterfly stings back with “When did I ever have rights?” Lastly the officer asks if he’ll give up the right to remain silent, and then Butterfly retorts coolly with two words, “Hell Yes.” We then stream into the consciousness of the crew, and their commentary on the fucked up state of affairs with regards to the abuse wielded on black men by this fair land’s law enforcement agencies.

We then ease to the next two tracks that work so well hand in hand that they compliment like bread to butter, peanut butter to jelly, and Jews to Jerusalem!!!

The first track titled “Dog It” starts off with horns as the beat hits with the glow of a sample by Herbie Hancock’s group the Headhunters’ titled “God Make Me Funky.” Each one of the MC’s play off each other and play with the slow drum beat conjuring the connections to past black music as Ladybug conjures Marvin (Gaye), Sly (Stone), and Cube (Ice that is) folding time and black music into the track. Once it ends it drops right into…….”Jettin”

It continues the party vibe, as we transport into the fairy tale land of Brooklyn, and you can feel the movement as Ladybug’s vocals go from ear-to-ear in your headphones. We ease back and keep our eyes set on the sunset as the track fades into a freestyle…

This is that Brooklyn shit…Block party, Corner Store, Barber shops, this freestyle and the follow-up song are testaments to the aura and mystery of Brooklyn. Of course what made the track titled “Borough Check” even more authentic is the guest appearance of MC Guru (RIP – Z’L) from the legendary group Gangstarr. This is poignant as he is another great source of the Jazz and Hip-Hop merger, and being a Brooklyn-phile he always had a few tracks on his albums that tell his stories of Brooklyn living.

We next get a small vignette of sounds and smoothness in “Highing Fly,” which has a spread of mystical wording flying 30,000 miles above the earth……crazy commentary.

We then get an intro beat sounding like a murder mystery introduction along with the ominous beats and piano licks. This piano lick and slow and steady beat comes from the group Tavares; song titled “Bad Times” and complimented funkily with the use of a sample from Eddie Harris’s classic “Get On Up and Dance.”

The song, bizarrely, titled “Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies/NY 21 Theme” is as smooth as they come due to the low octave chorus that starts off the singing part of the track.

The next track flies us out to India with the great sitar licks accompanying the slow and steady Jazz beats.

The Sitar plays over a smooth sample of Bobbi Humphrey’s “Black & Blues,” which was also used on two great tracks from the pre-MF Doom group KMD titled “Plumskinzz. (Loose Hoe, God & Cupid)” where Doom (or Zev Love X as he was called then) took the mic, and then on the reprise of the track titled “Plumskinzz. (Oh No I Don’t Believe IT!)” where his brother Subroc (RIP – Z’L) took the mic. It should also be noted that on the Digable Planets version Guru returns with his call for meditations in a classic call-and response format.

We then get a small snippet of the later track titled “9th Wonder,” but with a more instrumental flair. The track, “K.B.’s Alley (Mood Dudes Groove),” incorporates some of these legendary jazz players along a steady back beat along with a sample of things to come.

We then troop back to the elements of Hip-Hop, this one being “Graffiti.”

Along with two of their Brooklyn peers, the amazing Jeru the Damaja and his disciple Afu Ra, the group troops over a faster beat backed by a sample of Roy Ayers’s “Slow Motion.”

We then reach the magnum opus titled “9th Wonder (Blackitolism),” which had a companion video made, and take note of the cool orange ten-shekels note where the great Golda Meir graces its front facade.

This song is packed with the messages espoused throughout the album ranging widely from the 7 and a Crescent, and allusion to the Five Percent Nation (an offshoot of the NOI), Nation of Islam preaching, Brooklyn street life, the block party vibe, and chuck full of hip-hop history thanks to the sign, seal, and delivery made at the end with DJ Jazzy Joyce. The historical use of early rap samples is evident in their use of samples by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, The JB’s, and James Brown. These samples span the history of hip-hop from one of the original rap groups to two of the major sources for sampling drum breaks (at least in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.)

We then end on the corner, “For Corners” that is…

This is the supreme comedown, as you look over the sun rising and the LSD tab you ingested twelve hours earlier is finally wearing off, as you awake in a third floor Brooklyn apartment and ready to walk the day out, as we take stock of this fine masterpiece, Blowout Comb.

Much Love to you, Brooklyn and to my brothers in Israel, Peace!!!

 

#DigablePlanets #BlowoutComb

 

 

 

From Paris with Love, and Hip-Hop

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Oh the beauty of the Paris landscape runs through the mind when thinking of romance. France, being the cultural capital of the world beginning centuries ago, has still retained its love and joy through its amazing culture and people. I know that as a Jew France has suffered in the hands of the extremists, with the killings of Jews, including children, by vile creatures rising from the muck of anger and hatred. Still, France has many unearthed treasures, and one of these treasures is the amazingly talented, and beautiful Sophie Bramly.

Born in Tunisia, a lavish North African country that has maintained its Jewish population, she was whisked away by her parents to the land of France by the age of one. At the time of her parent’s move France was far more hostile to visible Jews, so her parents hid their traditions. However, like the pull that keeps us grounded to our roots she currently lives in the heart of the Jewish section of Paris. She told me that it was these amazing sounds of black music that fascinated her from a very young age. She was influenced by her older brother’s record collection of funk, soul and r&b, as well as attending concerts in order to make her brother look a bit cooler to the girlies. However, the music gave her a wave of sensation that made her interested in hearing more. This led her to the land of New York City in 1981, with a camera in hand.

She was amazed by these poor kids who were having fun while creating new ways to enjoy the older music. The influence wasn’t lost as she rode the iron horse all through the banging boroughs of New York City, and sniffing out the many venues pumping this new style of music.

She took many photos of the era, which have been displayed in museums across the world, chronicling the culture in it’s every day walk….

Showing the people who were involved, yet are buried in the annals of hip-hop history with no clear rhyme or reason…

She befriended some of the pioneers from Flash to Bam, from Zephyr to Futura, from Grandmaster DST to Fab Five Freddy, and beyond. Fab Five Freddy was championing the culture through the art as the murals on trains ended up in galleries. He also wanted to help spread the culture visually to the masses through the new medium we all know very well to this day, MTV.

From its beginning MTV was very white, refusing to show any videos by black artists. If you did (meaning Michael Jackson or Prince) they would be buried in hours and hours of Wang Chung, Duran Duran, and other modern love fodder of the 1980’s. Rap videos have been made since the late 1970’s (think Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s video for “The Message”), yet they were all shown locally within their neighborhoods, and communities. One example was the Video Music Box where you would order your favorite videos. However, most of the teens in everyday suburb USA never saw these videos. This all led to the creation of Yo! MTV Raps, not in the US but in Europe. And, who would host such a show? Ms. Bramly.

Due to her many connections and relationships she was tapped to host a rap video show, based out of MTV Europe in their London studios. Her, and an American Jewish producer by the name of Joel Klein, hashed out the details of the show together. She told me that at that particular time Public Enemy’s first album Yo! Bum Rush the Show, was huge and they couldn’t stop listening to Mr. Chuck and company’s debut effort.

As a play on the title her and Klein would address each other every day by one shouting “Yo!” and the other replying “Bum Rush the Show.” Naturally the word stuck and before you knew it the first rap video show was called Yo! The MTV raps part was added by their American counterpart when they began a year later in the summer of 1988. Bramly was the first to coin the phrase for MTV, but she was also the first to host this type of show.

When she first began hosting the show her friends would call from the US in astonishment that MTV started this, and in Europe. Meanwhile MTV America was playing it safe, until Ted Demme pushed it on them by 1988. However, there were some glaring differences between the two shows. Sophie’s show was far more international bringing rappers and crews from the United States, as well as from other parts of the world. She interviewed French, English, and many other rappers from across the globe, who were never exposed to an American audience. The American version of Yo! MTV Raps was very American-centric eschewing most of the European artists.

Unfortunately the European show did not last as long, being cancelled by the early 1990’s, as MTV didn’t want any inner competition. By consolidating their shows they cut off the European link. Still, they survived and Bramly persevered. This was the untold story where Bramly deserves credit as the first real host of Yo! MTV Raps. This lovely Jewish lady was inclined to push the culture, and its amazing music. She also has amazing photos that are classic and timeless hip-hop masterpieces.

Enjoy the show and much respect for Sophie Bramly!!!

Peace

The Jewish Songster

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Carole King and Gerry Goffin

One of the legendary Jewish songwriters has faded out, his light has dimmed, yet his impact along with his other Jewish songwriting partners cannot be emphasized enough. Gerry Goffin was the wordsmith weaving these narratives of teenage love, highlighting the ubiquitous elements in every American teenager’s life. Along with his wife Carole King, another Jewish songwriter and artist, he crafted these stories of an American life. This was the American life that his parents wanted so bad for him, yet he still felt out-of-place. Many of these songwriters from the Brill Building, the building that housed the Aldon Music Publishing Company headed by another Jew Don Kirshner, were Jews from the city. They came of age in the post-war period, seeing many new avenues open to Jews, especially when it came to housing. However, these Jewish performers still felt alienated, out-of-place, and uncomfortable with the standard White Anglo-Saxon Protestant normality. Certain artists veered far away from the norm due to their inner inclinations of rebellion and alienation, such as the formidable Lou Reed. The Brill Building writers were fully aware of the fact that they were different, yet they wanted so much to identify, or at least their audience, with mainstream America.

The list of songs written by Goffin is long, yet in the decade of the 1960’s he mostly wrote along with his wife at the time, Carole King. One of their first compositions, and all around success reaching Billboard’s Top 100, was the song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by the black girl group The Shirelles.

The song tells, from the woman’s perspective, of that intimate moment during the splendor of the night breeze. However, it’s punctuated with the serious question of whether this is true love or just another fling. These questions, especially with the dawning of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, rang louder at that point. King and Goffin were touring the mind of an infatuated teenage girl. The theme is a bit more risqué, as the blanching of Rock n Roll was in full swing bringing tameness to the music. These lyrics incited thought that was a far cry from the popular tunes of the day by singers like Frankie Vally and Fabian.

Another example is the following single that charted sung by Bobby Vee titled “How Many Tears.”

It speaks of the broken-hearted, lonely, and love-lorn boys experiencing their first heartbreak. Unlike the previous hit, this is geared toward the boys in school who have suffered this hardship. Still, he leaves the silver lining for love in the future. However, bobby Vee used that frequent theme of lost loves as shown in the next single they wrote for him titled “Take Good Care of My Baby.”

It should also be pointed out that Bobby Vee was a white heart-throb, while the Shirelles were black. Gerry Goffin, along with all the other Jews of the period didn’t distinguish between the color of the artists. That’s why we have Bobby Vee’s singles along with a song like “Some Kind of Wonderful” as performed by the amazing all black male group The Drifters (Who made many great songs including the much covered “This Magic Moment,” which was written by the Jewish songwriter Doc Pomus).

It could be safely said that every Jewish songwriter had that same sensibility of the Brill Building writers to Leiber and Stoller, to the rest of the boutique record label owners.

Throughout the early part of the decade of the 1960’s almost all of his songs, written with his various partners, focused mostly on love, love found, love lost, and the lamenting on the love that was either lost, found, or never existed. However, they were still the regular standard party songs that also went up the charts. One example is Little Eva’s “The Locomotion.”

A kin to the plea for everyone to dance in the streets, these were trying times in the United States. This type of song can be read as a racially inclusive song for everyone, all American teens get down and do this dance. It’s even more poignant due to the fact that Little Eva is black, and most of the record purchasers were white.

Another interesting feat is this sense of escape, due to their Jewish skin being visible. Although, this is nothing compared to the oppression of dark-skinned populations in the US and across the world historically. African-Americans have never been able to have due process under the white law, due to the excess of white exceptionalism. However, Jews are also outliers in their own so they could try to empathize with African-Americans. Certain songs written by Goffin mirrored this attempt of feeling the pain of the black man’s plight. One example is the song “Up On the Roof” by the majestic group The Drifters.

The song tells about this man’s frustrations with the world, seeking any escape route, hence you reach up on top of the roof. He tells of the drudgery of life, the hustle and bustle, and the rat race personified by the cramped and chaotic New york City living. However, if you dig deeper it might also be a plea for a black man to escape the injustice, frustration, and stifling life of white America. Conveying through music the song tells of that fresh air up on the roof were the few hang, leaving it open for the few.

There are plenty of these examples of that love, or the love shared by two individuals until the monkey wrench is thrown. Here’s to the lost boyfriend, thanks to the Jewish vocal group The Tokens (famous for their rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) and their version of Goffin’s song “He’s in Town.”

Here’s to another great tune by Goffin and King about letting it all hang out “At the Club” by the Drifters.

It has that spice with the Spanish sounding influence, along with the same concept of inclusion.

There’s the great tune pleading for the singer’s lady to not bring him down……the song is aptly titled “Don’t Bring Me Down” as interpreted by the Animals.

These themes ran through the decades of his art, yet this feeling of the outsider was never lost, like most of his Jewish contemporaries. One of my favorite’s was a song done by the Byrds, and featured in the classic film Easy Rider, titled “I Wasn’t Born to Follow.”

This could be sung as the Jewish anthem through the centuries. We as a people were never born to follow any divergence from the true path. We have been mixed and matched, thrown around, tossed in the closets of lost empires, and have treaded on the dirt of toppled kingdoms. It could be said that Jews really only follow that one entity, and through song I hope that Gerry Goffin has found solace and peace.

Z’L, and Peace

 

The Bronx Keeps Creating It

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In the immortal words of the Hip-Hop prophet, KRS-ONE, chides the boroughs claiming that, “Manhattan keeps on making it, Brooklyn keeps on taking it, Bronx keeps creating it, and Queens keeps on faking it!!”

He belts this out in the end of his first verse as a shot back at MC Shan’s song “The Bridge.” Although KRS-ONE, performing under the name of his group BDP (Boogie Down Productions), is chiding Shan for proclaiming that Hip-Hop began in Queens, Shan was actually mentioning the Hip-Hop scene in Queens, which had been overlooked (as well as the other boroughs) due to the myth making breeding grounds of the Bronx. The Bronx is an interesting place, and to this day it still feels like a place stuck in suspended animation. The borough had been a haven for working class and middle class families, not to mention its rich history going back to the 16th century. Unfortunately, the great urban planner, and as Robert Caro labeled him the “Pawn Broker,” Robert Moses got his way and carved up the borough beginning in the 1950’s. By the end of the decade of the 1960’s the Cross Bronx Expressway cut right through residential neighborhoods, tearing asunder the cohesiveness of these homogenous communities. The many Jewish, Italian, and Irish families fled to the suburbs, yet some of the poorer families were forced to stay behind. The divestment process began at the same time in reaction to the riots in the 1960’s. Many businesses left the Bronx, creating a glut and blight that rendered the area lawless and un-salvageable. The squalor would lead the neighborhoods to band into gangs, usually with gangs like the Black Spades, which was all black, and the Young Lords, which was mostly Latino. Many positive things came out of this period of stagnation like the birth pangs of Hip-Hop culture. However, popular culture, as it does so proficiently to this day, jumped onto the myth making band wagon by churning out these outer worldly commentaries and pieces on the devastation of the Bronx. The media and Hollywood took a close look at the scene in the Bronx, and then produced these popular films to the backdrop of Hell, A/K/A The Bronx. Movies like Fort Apache: The Bronx,

Portray this area as a desolate island of crime ridden filth, where the cops (mostly depicted in the film as corrupt low lives) patrol through this lawless area where no answer is in sight. You can see in the trailer how all the major newspapers and popular press saw this as a compelling film that all eyes should gaze upon. However, activists and residents of the Bronx protested the making of the film from the very beginning, seeing it as overtly exploitative, racist, and stereotypical of the ghetto porn Hollywood was churning out at this point. Other films made at this time also portrayed the Bronx, as well as the entire New York City area as crime ridden, lawless, and a powder keg of anarchy waiting to explode. Another example is the infamous film The Warriors,
This is a glorification of gang life, as well as their potential to overthrow the city. Although the main characters, The Warriors, hail from Coney Island, Brooklyn, the main attraction is the opening scene where the meetings of the gangs takes place in ground zero, The Bronx. These films came out in the 1970s and 1980s. They kept churning these films out, and all had one common factor; They all portrayed the Bronx as the shit hole where people go to kill or be killed. Just reading the caption of this film you can sense the feeling that we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!!! An Italian perspective, By the 1990’s the films expanded into far-reaching historical territory, but they still felt tense as with the racial tension felt throughout the film. And of course we have the silly, and in actuality the entire film was not filmed in the Bronx, but in neighboring Queens. However, it seems far more sexy calling it Rumble in the Bronx! Who cares about a rumble in Brooklyn, and Rumble in Queens? Let us now take those blinder off and see what the Bronx is really made of. Parts of the Bronx are still in decline, but what we need is a combined campaign of reality. We need to see things for what they really are, grey and complicated. It’s unfair to call the Bronx dangerous, due to the many locations in the borough that create great products, ideas, and innovations. One fine example is a born and bred Bronxite, who’s also a very close friend of mine and just had a Birthday!!! Paul Ramirez. Paul, (pictured on the left) along with his brother Anthony have begun years ago to label the Bronx as a new innovative product for the world. They knew, as well as constantly cheer-led the idea of the many cultural facets and ideas coming from the richness that is the Bronx. Through their company Mainline Entertainment, they inspired others in the borough into creating new visuals and reformulation of the old formula, which is the Bronx. They also heralded a great project through the borough and the city by opening the magnificently tasting Bronx Beer Hall…

http://thebronxbeerhall.com/

In their very words that I want to quote they write that, “Nestled in the heart of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, The Bronx Beer Hall is the place to be. We offer the complete selection of Jonas Bronck’s Beer Co.’s original craft beers, as well as an original menu curated by Chef David Greco of Mike’s Deli notoriety. Whether shopping for groceries or perusing the bustling streets of the Bronx’s Little Italy, The Bronx Beer Hall is the perfect place to kick back, grab a bite and enjoy a cold one. Come on by, you are always welcome.” I couldn’t have done it better myself. This is one of the many ventures my man Paul has partook in so that he can revitalize the Bronx in a new fashion. We should all check it out, plan gatherings and give him props for the genius of looking beyond the stereotypes and rather amusing movies and seeing the Bronx for what it really is, a beautiful spot that I always felt comfortable in and glad to call it one of the best borough in New York City. Happy Be-Lated Birthday, and thanks for being my honorary Jewish brother, and for your amazing family who have shown me nothing but love, patience and compassion. Much love man, Peace

Dying of Thirst

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This is the season of self-reflection for us Jews all across the globe. In this period, the time after Shavuot and leading into the greatest mourning period – the 9th of Av, we try our best to correct our lacking character traits. The age-old gain of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding comes down from our father’s books. More specifically we follow a series of building blocks given to us by our so-called fathers. The series of ethics, titled Ethics of Our Fathers, Pirkei Avot in Hebrew, sets a standard guide line for an ethical existence. For me, this is very important as this was the first real learning I did once being involved with the Orthodox establishment. Pirkei Avot is fluid and timeless chronicling the lineage of our laws coming down straight from Mt. Sinai to the current study halls all around the world. The book consists of the many sayings of the many great sages thought out the Talmudic period, which spans from the destruction of the Second Temple to the codification of the Talmud by the year 600CE. One of the things that stuck me, and still does, is how these sayings are full of wisdom that is indeed timeless. You can read through the ideas of being a proper disciple of G-d, and by living a life of piety. But, we must be sure to note that it should be balanced where wealth will not blind the eye to greed, where complete immersion in Torah can lead to an anti-social existence, or where excessive joy can blind one to the seriousness of attaining the highest peaks of spirituality and connection to the divine.

What does this have to do with my usual topic of choice. Well, Hip-Hop is the all-defined, non-defined, and waiting to be defined music. Rap music has allowed its many artists to twist in these moral tales, while some insert the religious language that Pirkei Avot can relate to. One artist and song that have been reverberating, at least in my mind, is Kendrick Lamar and his song “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.”

The song is part of his nonlinear magnum opus, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City where he weaves this narrative of his struggles being the good kid in this insane city of lost souls. It’s very poignant as he pleads for us to sing about him, as he uses stories of people who go through the life while leaving their mark, or not, on the skin of the universe. Each character fades into their fate, as the first is shot down, while the woman in the story’s voice dims and slowly fades away. However, I’m far more concerned with the second part of the song, the part where Kendrick is dying of thirst.

As the end of the first segment hits, we realize that his character’s brother was just shot. We now await his response as he’s being goaded on by his friends to take matters into his own hands. We now know that he is tired of the bystander life. It’s time to meet out vengeance as he hits the wheel, “we dying of thirst, dying of thirst, dying of thirst.” When I see those words rummaging through my mind it opens many doors of possibility. This thirst, seeking out water for the body, but also for the soul makes this plea connect with certain words of the great Jewish sages. In the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, Mishna #4 reads, “Yose ben Yoezer, leader of Tz’redah, says: Let your house be a meeting place for Torah scholars; you shall become dusty in the dust of their feet; and you shall drink in their words thirstily.” The great French sage Rashi stated that, “One must approach words of Torah with thirst for them.” The thirst for knowledge could be another parallel for Kendrick as he thirsts for other options given to him by life as a black youth in America.

Moving on down the chapter we get to Mishna #11 which reads that, “Avtalyon says: Scholars, be cautious with your words, for you may incur the penalty of exile and be banished to a place of evil waters (heresy). The disciples who follow you there may drink and die, and consequently the Name of Heaven may be desecrated.” This verse portends the notion that we must be careful when learning, due to the damage caused by the murky waters of pseudo-teachers, scholars, and intellectuals. I would place artists here as well, hence we see many rappers who have delved in these waters, while deprecating their students’/fans’ minds. Kendrick pointed this out rapping, “Return of the student that never learned how to live righteous but how to shoot it.” The student could learn, like Torah scholars, by either choosing the “bitter toxin” of dirty water. or by choosing the “elixir of life,” ie. Torah or a righteous life.

In the end of the song we trail off to a skit hearing th soft voice of an elder lady. She sweetly asks why are these men so angry, and then extends her hand of faith. This hand of faith is extended as the libation for these thirsty souls. They then follow her through prayer, and even though they invoke Jesus there are many similarities to the Ethics of thirst, and Kendrick’s “Dying of Thirst.”

 

 

 

A Siyum for Tractate Rosh HaShanah: Reclaim the glory through the Sound

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Rosh HaShanah, the coming of the Jewish New Year brings this immense feeling of both joy and dread, as we are celebrating while awaiting our yearly judgement. One of the most defining symbols of the Holy Day is the Shofar, which Halachically (Jewish Law-wise) has to be a Ram’s horn.

The blasts emanating from the Shofar caused the hearts, minds, and very souls of the Jewish people to quiver, losing themselves in the ecstasy of the moment. I am speaking of this for two main reasons: 1. Today is the last Daf (page) of the cycle of this specific tractate. And, 2. It is my cousin Jeremiah Lockwood’s birthday!!!

This man is the muse of Brooklyn who, unlike anyone on this green earth, has tapped into the wealth of music by bridging the gap that I can only write about. He extends the ideas of connecting African-American and Jewish traditions into the most soulful music your ears will ever hear. One of the most amazing things about Jeremiah, who also performs with his group The Sway Machinery, is that he constantly evolves never letting the rigid confines of the critics to stifle his ever-expanding creativity. I have followed this progression for some time and have seen the many faces, and talents, of the great interpreter of Jewish dreams.

You can fall into the beauty of his strumming in his performance of the bluesy “Tell it All To Me.”

This is another great performance, as well as snippets of Jeremiah’s words about his grandfather, the venerable Chazzan (Cantor) Jacob Konigsberg, and how he defies the laws of definitions and categories. He extends on the Chazzanut, which is a prominent section of his inner being, while transmitting it in a transformed method.

Another great trait, and great inspiration for myself and the rest of the stable of cousins is his fearlessness in experimentation. He could have remained in a safe house of categories, but no Jew can do that. For his next venture he, and the band, ventured to Mali and released a magnificent opus titled The House of Friendly Ghosts, Vol. 1. In this beautiful mixture of Jewish Chulent, Blues style porridge, and African soul, with the help of the majestic Khaira Arby they produced a new mixture for the world, both below and on high, to digest slowly and soulful.

Although it might seem that Jeremiah flies high above the terrain of limited geography, history is never lost. He wrote a magnificent piece on reclaiming myths, for all people to be inspired to reclaim these lost ones from the powers that be-hold the eye. He wrote that, “In the early 20th century, the modern development of the Blues reclaimed and revived the voice of this mythic lone griot…The Great Blues artists, such as Son House and Robert Johnson, sought out historic forms of African-American culture like field hollers and rural call-and-response church hymns. From these elements they constructed a new and innovative musical language. The new music was both a vehicle for personal expression and a staging ground for the exposition of a historical identity.”

Thank you Jeremiah for being one of the mythic Blues players. However, I wouldn’t even dare categorize you, due to your driving spirit.

Enjoy, and Happy Birthday!!!

Sing it on for the masses, and culture.

 

#JeremiahLockwood #TheSwayMachinery #TractaeRoshHaShanah

 

Go Tell it on the Mountain!!!

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We are camped around Mount Sinai, we have separated from our spouses, and are preparing to receive the word…..of G-d. The Holy Day of Shavuot can be seen as a majestic means of obtaining Torah. Our custom of learning all night awaiting the word makes this Holy Day communal in this aspect. With the Holy Day of Passover we feast together in order to remember our exodus from Egypt. On Sukkot we reconvene, non-Jews are welcome as well, in Jerusalem to commemorate our temporary existence in the huts of travel. Sukkot comes to its great climax with the joyous, and in the Talmud varied in practice, order of the water libation. The communal aspect of Shavuot is through the act of learning, and teaching, throughout the world.

I want to honor the Holy Day (In my belated style) by focusing on the title song to this title blog post…”Go Tell it on the Mountain”

“Go Tell it on the Mountain” originally was an African-American spiritual, compiled by John Wesley Work Jr. dating back to at least 1865. Its original intentions, and lyrics, provided the backdrop for a spiritual invocation for the Christian holiday of Christmas. The song depicts the nativity scene with the lyrics ringing out…

“Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere,

go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”

Very nice, but not that Jewish. Although, not quite yet. Many famous artists have recorded this song through the early part of the 20th Century. However, by the late 1950’s early 1960’s the song was changed due to the changing face of the United States. In 1963 the folky trip of Peter, Paul, and Mary, along with their musical director, Milt Okun, adapted and rewrote the lyrics to the song and renaming it “Tell it on the Mountain.”

According to various historical sources the lyrics reflected the Civil Rights struggle. This point was further punctuated by the use of Biblical imagery, as found in the Torah in the book of Exodus, and the call to “Let my people go” as said by Moses to Pharoah. It is theorized, although not substantiated, that it was the African-American Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer who adopted the new style to the old song.

Hamer, who was a dynamo in her own right, apparently combined this song with the spiritual “Go Down Moses” taking the last line of the chorus, and substituting it for the chorus of “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” This is compelling as we see how the notion of Jewish suffering, via the Hebrew Torah, can be felt by the African-American activists and leaders during the Civil Rights struggle. The use of the Exodus story with the singing of old spirituals provided a new soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement, bit also the greater popular music machine in the United States.

This is a perfect example of the continuation of the mixture of Jews and African-Americans in the realm of music. By using the biblical imagery that was usually associated with Jews, the plight became fraternal between Jews and blacks. Although many Jewish composers, songwriters, and performers have been touting this since the beginning of the 20th Century, this is another example that can seem lost on the relationship between the two people. Not only was the Civil Rights era another highpoint of mutual cooperation between Jews and blacks, it was another venue for creating new musical styles and songs. This re-invention is in line with the evolution of synthesizing music by both blacks and Jews from each other’s historical experiences.

Most of the recordings of the song remain Christian based with the Christmas theme, and eschewing the Civil Rights combination. However, one the best recordings of the song, with the Hebrew component, was recorded by the great Jamaican group, the Wailers. The Wailers recorded this early on in their career, with the original core of the band. Peter Tosh’s voice bellows out the words connecting telling it on the mountain that Moses will tell the people to exodus out of Egypt land.

The Wailers, and sung by Peter Tosh.

Enjoy, and a happy belated Shavuot.