Tale of Tragedy and Triumph for a Struggling Hasidic Rap Star

He dodged bullets on a streetcorner. He watched his mother die from a cocaine addiction. But Flatbush’s Yitzchak (Y-Love) Jordan is more Hasidic than ‘hood. New York’s only known black ultra-Orthodox Jewish rapper left his native Baltimore at 21 for Brooklyn, converting to a religion that drew him into a far different world. Jordan, now 29, travels the globe rhyming his views – as a black man and a Jew. “The entire way I look at the world is a fusion between Baltimore and Brooklyn,” said Jordan last week, finishing a performance at the Knitting Factory in Tribeca. “Being black affects everything,” he said. “I had kids stare at me like I was a gremlin in Borough Park.”

In the song, “From Brooklyn to Ramle,” Jordan raps about straddling two worlds:
The same racist systems create the same victims
Half-hour in the pizzeria, they ain’t even ask me,
man … hattan I could spend 1/2 hour hailing taxis
That’s how I live on the daily
Black man Haredi [ultra-Orthodox]
Can’t let these haters faze me ‘cuz if I did, I’d go insane!

If Jordan’s real-life story weren’t rare enough, he raps in a mix of English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Arabic, Latin and Aramaic – a homage to his love of the Torah and other old-school godly texts. Judaism intrigued him at the age of 7 as he watched his first Passover commercial. But as a black kid in East Baltimore, he couldn’t escape the city’s violence. “I was shot at in high school,” he said, explaining that neighborhood thugs fired two bullets at him as punishment for “acting too white.”

Rapping became Jordan’s outlet when he enrolled in a Jerusalem yeshiva at 21, two years after dropping out of Maryland’s Towson University in 1996. He ended up on Avenue H in Flatbush, staying close to his newfound brethren, working in Manhattan as a computer programmer. Hasids now make up Jordan’s sense of family. An only child, Jordan lost his father to cancer, then his mother to drugs. “I wanted to be Jewish my entire life,” Jordan said. “Judaism is native to parts of Africa.”

Even though he wears a yarmulke, Jordan has street cred with the hip-hop elite. Hip-hop magazine XXL pronounced his music “kosher,” and URB magazine called Jordan a “proud individual.” While the bling intelligentsia praise his style, his Hasidic elders are far from fans. In Israel, ultra-Orthodox rabbis forbid rap music, calling it unholy. And in Flatbush, Rabbi Meir Fund, who converted Jordan, said hip-hop is harmful. “I am proud of Yitz Jordan’s efforts,” Fund said. But “music of this type will not benefit the listener spiritually.”

Jordan said he has no plans to give up his music. “Dissing styles of music is counterproductive to the Jewish community,” Jordan said. “I have faith that in the future it will change, and all Jewish music will be seen as equally Jewish no matter what style it happens to be in.”

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