Arts & Culture

IMing Y-Love

Y-Love, aka Yitz Jordan, is an African American convert to Orthodox Judaism and one of the more original and unusual emcees to make a foray into the hip-hop racket, Jewish or otherwise. Unlike his predecessors and many of his contemporaries … Read More

By / June 16, 2008

Y-Love, aka Yitz Jordan, is an African American convert to Orthodox Judaism and one of the more original and unusual emcees to make a foray into the hip-hop racket, Jewish or otherwise.

Unlike his predecessors and many of his contemporaries in the Jewish hip-hop scene, the 29-year-old Baltimore native does not conduct himself in the vein of gimmicky Jewish rappers. He is the real deal — a bonafide emcee with something more to say than corny rhymes about bar mitzvahs and knishes. He is a holy warrior of a different order, using hip-hop music as a means to a decisive end: Achieving the final human redemption.

Jordan is hyperreligious: he dresses like a penguin — but keeps it real with combat boots — and has the requisite payot of a hasidic Jew. He also has penchant for invoking archaic languages, rhyming not only in English, but Yiddish, Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic. His anachronistic qualities did not however dissuade mainstream hip-hop publications like XXL, XLR8R and URB from showering his debut album This is Babylon with rave reviews, with several describing his music as "revolutionary."

Jordan has spent the last several months on the road, traveling the U.S., Israel and Europe, promoting the album and recently returned to the New York after a bit more gridskipping. I recently spoke with him by instant messenger as he returned to his Brooklyn home via car service. Daniel Sieradski: Is gigging paying you well enough now that you can afford to take taxis? Y-Love: Hehe… Taxis are like the one biggest unnecessary expense I have. I could easily spend $500-600 in a week on taxis and car services. DS: Too good for the subway? YL: Nah, just don’t want to sacrifice productivity. G-d forbid that I should buy into societal B.S. like that. DS: Just moments ago, Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. How does it feel as an African American to witness such an historic and monumental event? YL: Is this so monumental? Obama not only came out in front with the delegate count, but also demonstrated a grassroots level of support not enjoyed by any president in the past 15 years. Why should the expression of the actual, palpable will of the people be classified as an anomaly? Historic only because of color, and monumental only because of assumptions of incapability, this nomination was well-deserved by the only candidate to demonstrably show that his heart is with the people and not with the bankrolls. DS: Can’t we celebrate the fact that the racists are now the minority?
YL: I wish I could speak so vadai [in such a definite manner] about such a fact — but the misinformation people are believing about Obama ("oh, he’s Muslim"/"oh, he’s advocated by al-Qaeda") are so appalling they make "Borat" look like Mensa’s entrance exam. DS: As a Jew — and I guess, really, as a Black convert to Judaism — how does it feel to know that a great deal of such bigotry is emanating from the Jewish community? YL: Bigotry in the Jewish community is a cultural phenomenon borrowed from the "white people" Jews would encounter in the Diaspora. Bigotry is as much a contradiction to Jewish practice as the pig the Romans wanted to sacrifice on the altar of the Holy Temple, and as opposed to Jewish theology as atheism. I wish that more Jews — including ultra-Orthodox Jews — were in touch with the tenets of Judaism, but at the end of the day, what can I do but pray that G-d educates people? DS: A lot of the fears about Barack Obama’s candidacy seem to stem from the belief that he will somehow leave Israel hanging high and dry. Do you share that concern at all? YL: Considering that such a belief is rooted in absolutely no fact, the answer is no. The Jerusalem Post said Obama’s voting record on Israel was "impeccable," and multiple media outlets have shown (the Washington Post article "Obama’s Farrakhan Test" being notable) that Obama is held up to a double-standard vis-a-vis proving things like patriotism and pro-Israel status. There exists no objectionable thing (as far as the right-wing is concerned vis-a-vis Israel) which has emanated from the mouth of Obama which has not been said by someone else, yet for some reason Obama is singled out. DS: Is it so unusual that he would be viewed with such scrutiny in light of his family’s Muslim heritage and his relationships with decidedly pro-Palestinian elements? YL: His "Muslim heritage" is no more relevant than the white supremacists in Bush’s ancestry. This does not get brought up until race gets brought into the picture. Bringing race into the picture TO THE DETRIMENT OF ONE’S OWN COMMUNITY (possibly) and TO THE DETRIMENT OF ONE’S COUNTRY (almost assuredly) is not sensible, but illogical – and not what I would expect from the one Nation on the planet described as a "nation of philosophers" (i.e., thinkers). The same illogic and the same ridiculous stereotyping leads some non-Jews into anti-Semitic hysteria, and why Jews would advocate such a thought process is horribly counter-productive at best. DS: Shifting topics, your album dropped earlier this year to rave reviews from mainstream hip-hop publications. Are you moving units? YL: Won’t know until July 29, as numbers are reported quarterly. But please understand that it’s not a make-or-break thing by me. The new album I’m working on is already sounding hot, and G-d willing, as I also intend, hip-hop should not be a tachlis/end-all-be-all for me, but rather a means to an end — the end being changing people’s minds and opinions, the end being bringing the world a little closer to Moshiach [Messiah]/tikkun [repair].
DS: What does a redeemed world look like to you? YL: To embody 1 Kings 8:60 ("so that all nations of the world should know only the L-rd is G-d"). To do that implies the end of all -isms (how would it get to the point that all nations of the world agreed on any fact X)? No -isms, no prejudice, absolute universal health care ("no man may be able to say I am sick" – Isaiah). DS: Isn’t the definition of God kind of up to interpretation? YL: No. DS: What is it to know the Lord, God? Which Lord? The Lord of Joshua? The Lord of Deuteronomy? The Lord of the Baal Shem Tov? The Lord of Ovadia Yosef? YL: I have absolutely no qualms saying that the Well-whatever Hypothesis is perhaps more wholly of a lie than the pleasures derived from crack cocaine. The L-rd of 2 Chronicles is the same as the L-rd of Genesis. That being said, since G-d does not change (Malachi), G-d must be All-h must be the same of any exclusively monotheistic religion. DS: For a hasid you sure sound like a Litvak… Very "by the book." Your contemporary Matisyahu (whom I promise not to compare you to) made a turn last year from Chabad to Omshunov and then to Breslov hassidut. Are you still feeling connected to Bostoner hassidut? YL: I am no longer Chassidish [hasidic]. I converted Chassidish and I davened in Chassidish shuls until like 2005. But my rav is Sephardi. One of the things that turned me off was this perceived machlokes [dispute] that I felt as if I was living in: "Torah vs. the community." The "tradition" seems to trump the halacha [law]. When I see it by chassidim it’s even more acute. When you see things like "X = assur [prohibited]" and then you look it up and you see that only one opinion says "X = assur" you begin to lose faith in the people. Today we see people — quod vide the Lipa Shmeltzer incident — being manipulated into paskening [adjucating] real halachos [laws] which impact hundreds of lives. I love and respect the gedolim [Rabbinic leaders] but it hurts faith in rabbinical authority when people see halacha politicized, or piskei din [adjudcations] a la carte. Praise G-d I never lost faith in that which was WRITTEN but I started to become nonplussed with that which was DONE. DS: Do you see yourself as a Jew among Jews. Ie., the odd man out? YL: No I see myself as another in a long chain of Jews. DS: What do you see as the Jewish future?
YL: In my opinion, the Jewish future is the Jewish "frum [observant] fringe." These are the people that not only won’t intermarry but also won’t assimilate their beliefs. We have seen the Charedi establishment and the Christian right meld their ideologies on far too many issues so far. DS: You’ve attended quite a number of conferences for young Jews and Jewish professionals since your career took off. What’s the general impression you’ve gotten of the current generation of Jewish leadership, young and old? YL: I think that Jewish "leadership" is totally comprised of dedicated people who have given their lives over to k’lal yisra’el [the Jewish people]. However, I think that Jewish leadership is a little too organization-driven and not people-driven enough. That’s the value in having things like [the Schusterman Family Foundation’s young leadership initiative] ROI 120 — 120 people chosen because of their talents and not because of the organizations they represent — and Limmud, the "if-you’re-interested-come" model. We need the Jewish establishment to open up something like — giving support to smaller and smaller projects and individuals. There are a lot of good ideas out there, they aren’t always 501c3 or at JCCs or in UJAs. DS: Do you at all worry that the current priorities of the Jewish community — its fear-mongering, its myopic focus on self- preservation, and the unrepentant cock waving between institutions — will drive larger numbers of Jews away from Jewish identification? YL: No. I think that that which drives these things — namely the mistransmission of Judaism (why would people leave that which is the hottest thing in their lives?) and hatred-driven infighting/disunity (cock waving) will do in the Jews far before any outside influence.