Happy Hanukkah! The Jewish "Festival of Lights" comes early this year. (Blame the ancient Hebrew calendar for the annual confusion—it doesn't line up with our modern one.) Hanukkah is the time when Jews worldwide celebrate a miracle that supposedly happened at a temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C. Back then, a group of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees defeated the Greeks who had taken over the city. When they cleaned up the temple and rededicated the place to Judaism, they needed oil to burn in the lamps overnight. (For religious reasons, you were supposed to keep a lamp lit in a temple overnight.) They only had enough oil to burn for one night, but (here's the miracle) that little bit of oil burned for eight nights—long enough for them to get more oil, and keep things going. So that's why the holiday lasts for eight days. (Well, eight nights, technically, and seven days.) And why we light an eight-pronged candelabra called "the menorah," adding a new candle each night. And that's why, also, it seems like a good time to give thanks to some of the most notable Jews in hip-hop history. So sit back and light one (a candle) as we spin some records and the dreidel and celebrate the 8 Jews of Rap.
Written by Jeff Rosenthal & Eric Rosenthal (@ItsTheReal)
Perhaps the most observant Jew on this list is the Flatbush-raised gun-slinging rapper of Belizean dissent, Shyne (born Jamaal Barrow; today known as Moses Michael Levi). A typical morning today finds Shyne up at the crack of dawn to pray, wearing a kippah, an untrimmed beard, payot, and affixing tefillin boxes around his arms, just as the most devout Orthodox Jews do. This is a far cry from where he was in December 1999: in New York City’s Club New York, firing gunshots to defend his mentor, Diddy’s honor.
Amazingly, at age 21, that was the height of his short career. He’d lived the shiny suit life, with fancy cars, bands of money, and his harsh odes to street life on constant rotation on New York’s Hot 97. He was the rightful heir to the Bad Boy throne, and in an instant, it was all over.
Sentenced to ten years for assault, gun possession and endangerment, Shyne used his time in lockup finding—or as he’s claimed, rediscovering—his spirituality. And since his release in 2009, he’s faithfully studied with rabbis, spent much time in Israel, and taken life as a Jewish man extremely seriously. But the last three years haven't been easy ones for him, having been deported from the United States, having had his record deal dissolved, having his first forays back into music mocked and dismissed.
After initially coming across as peaceful and fully into a new phase in his life, Shyne has more recently used his Jewish faith as a cover in order to call out those who are not representing the highest levels of morals and values and principles. Perhaps that’s why he’s thrown a number of figurative shots at a number of rappers, including Rick Ross, Game, Drake and Kendrick Lamar, but let it be known: Shyne does not speak for all Jews.
Check back tomorrow for our next great Jew of rap.