The Torah Portion in a Hip-Hop Universe: The Genesis

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This past Shabbat we rewound the clocks back to the year zero, and like the title of a great blaxploitation flick, Started it all over again. This past Shabbat’s Torah portion takes it right back to the source, the creation of the world. Now we should take this into context with the Jewish Holy Day of Simchat Torah (The Happiness of Torah!!!), which was celebrated before this past Shabbat. One of the traditions of this Holy Day is to read the last portion from the fifth book of the Bible, Deuteronomy in Greek and Devramin in Hebrew. The portion tells us of the death of one of the greatest prophets, and Jewish heavy hitters, Moses or Moshe our rabbi. It is no coincidence that he dies, and then we go right back to the start of the first book. We are dealing with life in concentric circles, and in a way Moshe’s death needed to happen so that we can restart the universe, or even existence as we know it. In Kabbalah there is the idea that the visible attributes of Hashem (the name, or a name for G-d), equal the to the number 7. The same goes for the idea of the cycle of planting in the land of Israel, which also goes in 7 year intervals. These intervals continue in a 7 year cycle in intervals of 7. This ends with 49, and in a grand way the 50th year is the Jubilee. With the attributes of Hashem, us humans can reach the highest reaches of spirituality, but we must rid our mortal coils in order to reach the 50th degree. Moshe achieved this, and in my theory, it had to happen in order to unwrap reality and re-wrap it for a new beginning.

The Torah portion of Genesis has a lot of information as well as stories, which only last a few sentences. Each story is introduced and then reaches its climax in a matter of words. However, this is all a new and fresh start. To connect it with rap music, the first person that came to my mind was Busta Rhymes. Busta was part of the group Leaders of the New School, and has a very unique and brash way of getting his rhymes across. During the 1990’s he made many guest appearances, and frequently out shined the rest of his cohort, just listen to “Flavor in Your Ear (Remix)” or the soundtrack anthems from Rumble in the Jungle and Space Jam. However, by the year 2000 with the release of his fourth album Anarchy it seemed like he was replaying the same old formula. Then, without warning came one of his finest works, his fifth album titled Genesis. This was the album that brought him back to form in the true sense of the word. Sporting a treasure trove of coveted producers giving him the finest sounds, he crushed all the freshmen with his fifth day out. It had some great tracks, but the one that concerns the topic is the title track, “Genesis.” Ironically as we talk about new beginnings it dawns on us that not everyone can experience rebirth like the producer of the track, J Dilla who passed away a decade ago.

The beat has an ominous sound as the vocals of the chorus is swirling in a bath of ocean water. J Dilla provides us with a beautiful layout of music over the sample from the track “Cosmic Mind Affair” by Acqua Fragile. He lifts the entire hook from the track and you hear the voice in each chorus majestically saying, “As we welcome you all to the future, Oh! We come to give you that, Operating like we be official, Yeah! We come to multiply.” He spits hard about his trials and tribulations while he hits us on the head with what’s sacred for ya’ll. Busta also keeps us in full gear that all things must move ahead in order for our starts to be meaningful.

The story of Adam and Eve is pivotal to the narrative, and we have many renditions by many musicians about their story. The rendition by Bob Marley and the Wailers, which can be found on the compilation album Trenchtown Rock: The Anthology 1969-78, is a raw cut sounding like a wannabe Rasta Doo-Wop rendition.

Bob Marley and the Wailers give us the bare bones of the story, yet they ask why did they sin? While they also abide by the fact that we all live in sin, and the fact that “Anywhere you go, woman is the root of all evil.” He is commenting on the sexist side of the story that for some reason still looms large over women like the sword of Damocles. After Adam and Eve tasted of the forbidden fruit they became aware, but another important note is that sin was made aware, and death came into existence. One great song that rings this alarm bell is an older track by Kendrick Lamar titled “I Hate You,” where he pens a letter to Death. In the third verse he switches characters and raps in the guise of death.

In the third verse death spits that, ” I was born to be a killjoy, I’m an old brat, Conceived by Adam and Eve, so who you mad at?” Kendrick evokes the idea that death is like us, yet it was a bastard creation coming from our faults instead of beauty.

The narrative continues after the fall of man and woman with the birth of the first siblings. We are all very aware of the term “sibling rivalry,” because it’s origin stems from this event. G-d favored the work and labor of Abel’s hands, while Cain’s offerings were putrid and rather lacking. Because of this favoritism Cain rose up and smote his brother Abel dead. He then uttered those famous words, also uttered by the character Nino Brown in the film masterpiece New Jack City, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Let’s listen to Louis Armstrong for the moral of this story,

The masterstroke is the moral where he sings that, “You can’t run from the shadow of retribution, If you’re bad then you gotta pay for your wrongs, Let yourself take a lesson from Cain and Abel: Don’t lament, be content, Don’t resent what the Lord has sent, And you’ll find that you’re bound to get along.”

The rest of the portion lists the many descendants of Cain, and lists the genealogy of Mankind by tracing the line straight from Adam to Noah, next week’s star. This is further solidified at the end when it gives the reader and/or worshipper a prelude to the flood. So before we get ahead of ourselves let’s note the fact that these are lists of names. Names, names, and more names are common in parts of the Torah. This is done so that we can reference back to our past. It also has deeper value as each name is full of spiritual meaning. In rap music the song “Where Are They Now” by the great Queensbridge MC Nas gives us the list of names of past greats and rap legends of yester-minute.

Naturally the track’s beat is an ode in itself using a James Brown sample, which was widely used in the 1980’s. Nas in his naturally smooth delivery drops all these of past masters who had a hit, but faded into obscurity only to be remembered by the older guard, myself included. He is bemoaning how the younger generation doesn’t acknowledge these people because respect for the past gives you a stronger sense of the present. This might be why the Torah lists these names? Maybe the names were greats who should be remembered, but were far more salient in the past than the present, or future.

Enjoy the rest of the good week and Shavua Tov, and keep it live until next time.

Peace

 

#TorahPortionInHipHopUniverse #SimchatTorah #BustaRhymes #Genesis #CainandAbel #AdamandEve #Nas #LouisArmstrong

 

 

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