During my days in the crammed quarters of my Yeshiva I would follow my Rabbis arguments. Some were interesting as I felt in tune with the message. One example is the idea of balancing yourself with the spiritual and the mundane. Both can work together and compliment the spiritual depth of an act of worship. Take for example the recently celebrated Holy Day of Purim. One of the customs is to get drunk in order to confuse the senses as to good and evil. However, there is a note of moderation from the Rabbis, and Sages of future’s past, to avoid total inebriation, which could lead to a black out. These ideas I completely understood, study, and still try to master to this very day. However, there were plenty of topics that I completely disagreed with the Rabbis. The main example is music, and more specifically Hip Hop music. An Orthodox Jew should not listen to any secular music, unless it’s an instrumental piece. So they can go nuts listening to classical music, but no Beatles and Public Enemy. That’s the hardline as most Orthodox Jews do listen to secular music. Hip Hop was attacked even more as they spewed the same stereotypes I hear to this day in the United States. To the Rabbis the music was nothing less than garbage boiling over an old sewer grate. They broke it down to its most base and raw nature while criticizing its unadulterated emphasis on the baser things in life. I disagreed. I attempted to explain that Hip Hop is a large swath of land where the artists rap about so many different things under the sun. The funny thing is that there are plenty of rappers who have used biblical or biblically tinted rap schemes within their lyrics.
Specific rap lyrics keep dangling in my head, and once I started learning more Jewish texts it began to click. After looking over these texts from the Mishna and Gemarrah, which make up the Talmud, I was amazed at how my mind began to connect these sage’s words with Hip Hop lyrics. I guess my mind and soul were awakened by the new sages invigorating the old sages. A lot come in passing in various ways such as a random law or written notes by various Rabbis. Growing up listening to the classic rap albums from the late 1980’s and rolling into the mid-1990’s a pastiche of lyrics is jumbled inside my head. If Will Shortz could only make a crossword for Hip Hop! One fine example comes from the amazing debut album by Nas titled Illmatic.
The album opens with Nas and the fellas chatting about guns, life, and fun. The is happening as a banging beat is blaring over them, which was the opening credits scene from the film Wild Style. He then launches into his laudatory ode to the life of paranoia in the ghettos of the big city, “NY State of Mind.”
One of the most poignant lines is when he rhymes that “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” Amazing, but it become more amazing when I figured it into the Jewish mystical concept of the 1/60th rule. This idea basically means that 1/60th of most things (note how I’m being very general) have a potential for the great heights or the sickest lows. One is sleep, and how sleep is 1/60th of death. When I first heard the line I though he said that he never sleeps because it’s the cause of the death. Confusion of divine providence can go hand in hand, but Nas makes an interesting comparison. Sleeping being the cousin of death is as relative to sleep being 1/60th of death. To further the mysticism of this is to note that 1/60th of dreams are prophetic visions. This adds further into this mystical chasm of ideas, and it points to the fact that certain rappers are deeper than they lead on. This can all be conveyed through lyrics and concepts on their albums. Of course I should also mention the use of the term “prophet” which has been used such as by Jeru Da Damaja.
Jeru assumes the role of the prophet, and he acts just like the great prophets from the Tanach (That’s the Torah, Prophets, and Written parts of the prophets). Like past prophets he jumps around Brooklyn catching the negative aspects which poison the black communities. But he also rebukes the people, which is another important point. Prophets were not only seers of visions and premonitions of G-d’s will. They also take the word of G-d and rebuke the people in order to bring them closer to G-d. Apt I might say thanks to Jeru.
There are plenty more concepts such as the Notorious B.I.G’s motto and song “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.”
If I were you I’d fast forward past Mase and Puff right to the talent – Biggie.
In the song, and in he last interviews, he laments the pressures of becoming more wealthy and visible. This increases the jealousy, hatred, and envy which could lead to a speedy end. Unfortunately Biggie did not live much longer as his second album was released at the time of his murder. Still, this idea of increased wealth could consume you if you kept it unhinged is an age-old Talmudic idea. The more wealth one accumulates the more the evil inclination could get a hold of them.
I should also note that Biggie’s classic track “The Ten Crack Commandments” is reminiscent of another series of commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
There are plenty more examples of MC’s who use biblical verses in order to bolster their argument or concept. KRS-ONE used many biblical allusions in his songs, both with Boogie Down Productions and solo. One example is his song “Why is That” from the BDP album titled Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop.
The song is a powerful polemic condemning the white system, and how young blacks are taught to be like their white counterparts. However, whites do not need to learn how to be black. He attacks the white power system by using its founding stone, the Bible. More specifically he uses the Torah (What some consider the Old Testament, but I only got one!) to show how these early figures were probably dark-skinned. By starting with the genesis, that is the book of Genesis, he recounts the chapters dealing with the sons of Noach/Noah. Noach’s sons each started their own nations that were somewhat color coded in the language of ancient Hebrew. He points out that Shem was the father of all the Semitic races, negating the idea that they were white. The verse clearly reads that they are dark or black, so it contradicts centuries of white supremacy.
I know I wrote this in days of blog past, but the Beastie Boys transformed themselves into three biblical characters from the book of Daniel.
These three young Jews refused non-Jewish food given to them by the Babylonian ruler, as chronicled in the beginning of the book of Daniel. Due to their unwavering faith the ruler grew angry and ordered them killed. As they were tossed into a fiery furnace they were miraculously saved by G-d. Thank G-d for the Beastie Boys.
Another great example is the great and late Tupac and his song “So Many Tears.”
He starts the song with the famous opening lines from King David’s book of Psalms. Psalm 23 opens with the line of walking through the shadow of death. Tupac can be described as a morbid MC, but he had such a depth that also had a sense of spiritual growth. Although he might have been portrayed, and this is the media’s machine of the “watch me now news,” as a venal and rough exterior. He was far more complicated, and being a black man-made him more of a target.
Another interesting biblical reference made by a woman is Lauren Hill’s lyrics in her great song “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
The song is from her great debut album titled The Miseducation of Lauren Hill, and it’s a powerful song. The song speaks of sexual politics and the double standard that plagues women in society when it comes to “proper” sex roles. In the song she rhymes
“Talking out your neck, sayin’ you’re a Christian,
A Muslim, sleeping with the gin,
Now that was the sin that Jezebel in,
Who you goin’ tell when the repercussions spin,
Showing off your ass cause you’re thinking it’s a trend.”
Lauren likens herself to Jezebel, and how she brought the worship of Baal (meaning she brought idol worship to the Jewish people). In the Jewish tradition she is considered an evil woman who would give up her husband and children for power. In the Christian world, and more so with popular culture representations of black women, uses the name as a lascivious woman with insatiable sexual appetites. In the American south, mostly after the Civil War, these depictions of black women were lumped into two categories. They were either Jezebels or they were asexual women who were called mammies. It’s a poignant example of using a biblical reference to point out irregularities and contradictions in American society.
Drake does use biblical references, but he usually sticks to Jewish kitsch. Another MC who blew up recently, but has been in the game for a minute, and used a biblical allusion is Pusha T. Pusha T along with his brother No Malice made up the group the Clipse, who dropped solid music. Pusha recently signed with Kanye West’s GOOD Music label. He then dropped a song vehemently ripping Drake apart lyrically. Although the song as little when it comes to actual biblical allusions it’s all in the title. The song titled “Exodus 23:1” is a straight lyrical beat down on one of the most popular MC’s nowadays.
It’s very interesting when a biblical verse goes viral, but that’s exactly what happened. Pusha T doesn’t hold back by chiding the MC questioning his hip hop authenticity to his inner core. What’s interesting is what the actual verse reads. In the book of Exodus, chapter 23, verse 1 it reads “Do not accept false report, do not extend your hand with the wicked to be a venal witness.” Now, this is from a Jewish source so the Christian and Muslim (if there is one) interpretations might be a little different. The great Jewish sage Rashi says that “It is forbidden to believe unverified gossip about another person. It not only speaks of an individual, but of a judge who must act as impartial as possible. Now, I have no idea how Pusha saw it because it seems that he is propagating the very item the verse abhors. I’m not sure if the things said about Drake are verifiable, but he is adding to this uncertainty of truth. The Torah is the antithesis of that, hence it is the Truth.
So, make sure to let your Rabbis know, and if they don’t know now they know…….Jews.
#Torahlyrics #Biblical lyrics #Nas #NotoriousBIG #JeruDaDamaja #BDP #KRS-ONE #Tupac #BeastieBoys #PushaT #LaurenHill