When you think of hip-hop and chasid, you probably think of Matisyahu, the bearded, Biblical spitting pop star. But it’s time to meet Y-Love, the black rapper from Brooklyn who converted to Judaism in 2001.
Y-Love, whose real name is Yitz Jordan, actually knows Matisyahu quite well: both are chasidic Jews living in Brooklyn, they’ve recorded on the same indie label (Modular Moods), and occasionally perform together, too. But Jordan wants to avoid being stereotyped. "The only type-casting that goes on is in the minds of the people that perceive me," Jordan says.
And yet he knows he is fighting a multifaceted battle—as a black man who is Jewish, as a Jew who is black, and as a rapper who defies the rules of the genre’s own game. He does not curse, won’t perform on the Sabbath, raps in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish, and finds no glamour in guns or drugs. "I’m using hip-hop to elevate," Jordan says, "that’s what I’m about."
Jordan grew up in a Christian home in Baltimore, but became interested in Judaism when he was 8, after his grandmother would tell stories of the ancient Hebrews. He began studying Judaism with a local rabbi at 14, and considered himself a Jew all through high school, but officially converted when he was 18. Not long after, he traveled to the prominent yeshiva Ohr Sameach in Israel, which is exclusively for converts and Jews with little background knowledge. Upon returning to the States, he moved to Boro Park, Brooklyn, and starting rapping.
His debut album, "This Is Babylon," came out last year, and he has been releasing a song-a-month online since January. The EP is a collaboration with DeScribe, another chasidic rapper, and is dedicated to Barack Obama’s campaign call for "Change." Like that slogan, Jordan said, he wants people to get beyond the particularities of the messenger and focus on the more universal message. Still, for him, the source of his peace-riddled rhymes is clear. "To me," he says, "it’s all Jewish values."
Musical tastes? They span from Saudi Arabia to Harlem. "I’ve been getting back into Jewish metal and punk like Pesach Chaim and Yidcore," he says. If he weren’t a musician, he would be ... a political analyst or an advertising copywriter. "Either way, I’d be somehow involved in using words to change people’s minds," he says.