“Thoughtless Sounds,” Max Jared’s debut Shemspeed release and the first on Shemspeed’s new folk imprint, Soul Snack Records, follows the blueprint for sentimental adult contemporary rock laid out by Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson: light accessible vocals, sensitive acoustic strumming and unobtrusive tunes. Like those other artists, Jared’s lyrical pallet assumes a sacred hippie slacker pace, empathetic about others but still so sleepy. “It’s cold outside but I’m warm in my bed / others are hopefully living okay,” he sings on “Roots,” a track emblematic of disengaged concern. Maybe look outside and find out? Later on the song he muses that “Our generation will soon be the world / So what kind of change comes with it?”
On “Unify,” Jared recalls smooth Maroon 5 Adam Levine jams. “You talk about everything, but you say nothing,” he declaims, “My words come with the greatest intent to open the world’s eyes… I try to unify the world’s broken pieces.” Though he references tikkun olam in his extra-lyrical material, Jared’s project could use more social subtlety or theological sophistication. He seems well meaning and passionate, but the songs often take on the fuzzy optics of contemporary feel-goodism. “Unify is what I said, let’s get it through your thick head / because if we don’t join together we’ll soon be dead.”
Hip-hop has always been Diaspora music, or at least since the Jamaican-born Kool Herc started looping James Brown records in the early 1970s. Later on, people like the late Japanese producer Nujabes made the culture truly global. Shi 360, an Israeli raised in Canada by Maghrebi Jewish parents, who plays Afro-American music with roots in West Africa, is true to the culture in that sense. His new album, “Shalom Haters,” from Shemspeed Records, is explicitly concerned with issues of Diaspora, Sephardic, Israeli and Jewish identity.
Diaspora politics are a big part of the track “United,” which samples Helen Thomas’s infamous “Go back to Poland and Germany” screed. The bouncy drums and poppy vocals in the beat fit his flow well, and his Zionist verses (“I know my people can be divided at times…you can hate us, it only makes us stronger and more united”) are unusually sincere. The identity politics here aren’t for everyone, but they’re heartfelt.
The song titles tell you a lot about this album: “Master Of The World”; “The Soul”; “Father in Heaven.” Even Moshe Hecht’s last name suggests Orthodoxy. But the sounds of his first album, “Heart Is Alive,” are surprisingly diverse. While the lyrics of Hecht’s compositions come from a devout mindset, the sonic colors are those of a vinyl-collecting record nerd. It’s an interesting contradiction.
Track six, for example, “The Soul,” takes a funky bass line and “ooohing” blaxploitation backup vocals and uses them as the background for Hecht’s mystic narrative of a birth (“a soul descending into a body”). Around the halfway point, the track changes to a major key, and the guitar drops out for a propulsive violin solo. Hecht’s emotional vocals are at the front of the sound, but the instrumentation is extremely thought out.
Listen to ‘The Soul’:
“So you’re the only non-Jewish artist on Shemspeed?”
“I would say so,” says TJ Di Hitmaker. TJ’s just finished his set at Littlefield and he’s losing his voice. Right now he sounds Tom Waits-level raspy.
“I met up with DeScribe, he was telling me he raps. I told him I’m a dancehall artist, he put me in touch with Erez [Safar], the CEO of Shemspeed. It’s different from what I was doing, but I got an in to the industry this way.”
I’m at the Shemspeed showcase on October 18, part of CMJ Music Marathon. I’ve never seen a crowd of Orthodox hipsters before, but apparently that’s a thing in Brooklyn. At 9:30 pm Moshe Hecht, the first headline act, is on stage, playing songs from his debut album “Heart is Alive.” He dedicates his set to Gilad Shalit, freed just a few hours ago. He’s jumping up and down, raising his arms ecstatically, like he’s caught up in a trance.
Courtesy of Yitz Jordan/Shemspeed Records. Photo by Jonathan Hunter.
Y-Love, also known as Yitz Jordan, is a black Jewish convert from Baltimore who feels just as comfortable at underground freestyles as he does at the Sabbath table. The son of a Puerto Rican mother and an Ethiopian-American father, Y-Love converted in 2000 at Brooklyn’s Conversion to Judaism Resource Center and has since become one of the most outspoken Orthodox artists alive. He makes hip-hop music in the tradition of N.W.A. and Public Enemy, raging political tirades chock full of deft wordplay and witty rhymes. He’s also, by self-description, “furious.”
Over the past few years Y-Love has undergone something of a musical transformation. His 2008 debut, “This Is Babylon,” borrowed heavily from backpacker socially conscious hip-hop artists like Taleb Kweli. His material traded heavily on his lingual prowess — often substituting Bakhtian polyphony and code swapping for more traditional hip-hop wordplay. You need a master’s degree in jargon to decode the in-jokes of most contemporary hip-hop artists. For Y-Love, you might be better equipped with a degree in comparative literature.
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