Yiddish rapper ‘Y-Love’ stirs musical melting pot

Straight outta the yeshiva.

The linguistic mystic.

Spittin’ the latest rhymes.

Talkin’ about the times.

Gettin’ oral with the Torah.

In Yiddish, Aramaic, English, Hebrew.

And you thought you had heard it all?

Yitzchak Moshe Jordan, also known as Y-Love, but born Sean Jordan to an Ethiopian father and a Catholic Puerto Rican mother in Baltimore, wants to open your ears to more.

Jordan brought his street-level education and early love of rap music along on his unusual journey into Hasidic Judaism.

Jordan will appear in Atlanta Thursday to perform at a Purim party. Purim is a celebration of the story of Esther, who saved the Jewish people from extermination in ancient Persia.

It is a story that fits his style.

“Purim is really, really festive. We always get booked on Purim,” Jordan said.

He may be the most orthodox Jew at the party.

Hasidim are a mystical and strict sect of Jews devoted to prayer and service to God. Newscasts usually show them wearing long, black frock coats, black hats, full beards and long curlicues of hair hanging in front of their ears as they bob back and forth reading their prayer books.

They are not exactly hip hop material, though they are down with the bobbing that hip hop musicians usually display while performing.

On the other hand, Jordan was not exactly Hasidim material.

Judaism first drew him in at age 7, when he saw a Passover commercial on TV.

Jordan’s grandmother, who grew up playing with Jewish kids and working for Jews on the Sabbath, doing things for them that their religion forbade, bought him a yarmulke (traditional cap) and menorah. By the time he was a teen-ager, he was visiting Hasidic Jewish worship services, Jordan said.

He converted in 2001 and traveled to a Jerusalem yeshiva, a school where sacred texts are studied and memorized. He was paired with another young American, and they discovered that rapping Talmudic verses helped them memorize them ? lyrical liturgy.

On returning to the U.S., he and his former partner would go to open mic nights to rap in New York.

“We need stage names,” Jordan told his partner.

His buddy immediately came up with Y-Love for Jordan.

“I said, ‘Why Y-Love? Why not Y-Money or Y-Murder?’ ” but Y-Love stuck.

The response from the gentile crowd was positive.

“We were straight out of the yeshiva, and crowds were rocking out to it,” Jordan said.

They were early pioneers in a Jewish subculture of popular music that has sprung up. Yiddish collides with thumping drums, heavy bass lines with tunes that would sound at home in a synagogue.

Jordan has appeared on TV in Israel, performed with one of the country’s most popular bands Hadag Nachash and picked up notice in U.S. cities.

In the discordant marriage of sacred and secular, Jordan finds a new way to understand and propagate his adopted heritage, which has a long tradition of melding the paradoxical. He tucks his curlicues under his hat, mixes scripture with raps about current events, throws in his understanding of biblical prophets with today’s world.

Jeremiah? He talks about oppression of the poor and justice and not forgetting God, Jordan says.

“I try to connect scripture with what I see today,” he said.

“But you can’t use the scriptures too much.”

Quoting a rabbi, he said scripture is not something you use for gross work, like a shovel.

But it can build a bridge to a better world.


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