Hasidic Hip-Hop in Harmony
The first few bars of DeScribe’s new video, “Harmony,” are an Auto-Tuned proclamation of love, respect and unity. Standing behind a microphone, surrounded by Jewish and African American teenagers, the bearded 28-year-old rapper advocates love and understanding between the two communities and the world at large.
On August 2 DeScribe, also known as Shneur Hasofer, launched the video with a press conference at the Brooklyn Borough President’s office. “The press conference was very emotional, I had a tear in my eye. I’m happy that all the leaders were around and they didn’t give up hope. A lot of people have been burnt out by trying to push racial harmony, and they put a lot of energy into this. It was exactly what I had hoped for,” he said.
It’s tempting to compare Hasofer with another prominent Hasidic artist, Matisyahu, and Hasofer takes the comparison as a compliment. “[Matisyahu] was a very big inspiration to me personally. He charged as a Hasidic Jew into the mainstream music scene and has an incredible talent and gift. I knew that everyone was going to compare me to him,” he said. But Hasofer also points out that the two singers have very different styles. “He has a strong reggae sound while mine is hip-hop,” he said, adding that there is always room for two Jewish artists in the mainstream.
One of Hasofer’s more prominent fans is Rohan Marley, son of the late Bob Marley, who asked Hasofer to promote his company, Marley Coffee. DeScribe sees this as a chance for a Jewish musician to reach out to a wider audience. “The black community is starting to be intrigued by the Jewish community. There is not so much animosity anymore. Now it’s curiosity,” he said.
With all the success, however, there is also disapproval. DeScribe’s contemporary hip-hop sound seems to clash with his roots in the Chabad-Lubavitch community, and there are those who claim that his songs are a “gateway sound” to other, less positive, music.
For his part, Hasofer is unperturbed. “Those kids are already listening to other things… I’m just happy I can take that time slot from impure music. A small candle in a dark place displaces a lot of the dark,” he said. “All I want to do is encourage peace and understanding. As is I’m not making music for the Hasidic community. I don’t see any need for the Hasidic community to listen to this kind of music…I’m trying to reach the entire world.”