Last week on an adorable TMZ segment, former Degrassi child actor and current ubiquitous pop radio presence Drake called himself “one of the best Jews to ever do it,” where “it” presumably meant spitting lines. Conveniently timed to coincide with the release of his new album, “Live at Stubb’s Vol. II,” peyot-sporting rap-reggae-pop singer Matisyahu fought back: “He happens to be Jewish just like Bob Dylan happened to be Jewish, but what I’m doing is really tapping into my roots and culture, and trying to blend that with the mainstream… Drake’s being Jewish is just a by-product.” Jay-Z vs. Nas Pt. II this is not (it’s not even Eminem vs. Insane Clown Posse quality), but it does raise a question that anyone writing and reading about Jewish music has to confront eventually: What is Jewish music?
A snarkier critic might point out that Matisyahu dueting with Evangelical Christian nu-metal rockers P.O.D. in 2006 did very little for his Jewish bona fides (the “Testify” album cover contained a giant crucifix in place of the second ‘t’) but I’ll just wonder aloud if Matisyahu returning to Stubb’s on an album indicates his own uncertainty about his Jewishness.