When Nissim Baruch Black was 25, he found himself in a potentially fatal situation. The Seattle-born rapper, who performed under the moniker D. Black at the time, got into an altercation with another artist. When that artist was later the victim of attempted murder by a friend of Black’s, it was assumed that Black had sent him in retaliation.
Black knew his life was in immediate danger. So, he turned to God.
“I started to pray,” Black said. “And three days later I got a call from the guy, asking if I was trying to kill him. And we cleared it all up.”
This, Black said in a phone interview, is not the way of the streets.
“You shoot first and ask questions later,” he said.
Today, Black credits the phone call as the miracle that led him to Orthodox Judaism. The incident prompted Black to embark on what he called “a serious mission to find God.” He began to search for a real relationship with God –- one he felt was missing from his life.
That’s not to say Black was a stranger to religion. He was born into a Muslim family and converted to Christianity as a youth through the efforts of a missionary. But there was something about Judaism that felt like home.
“It came to me on my own,” Black said. “I picked up the Old Testament and I told God, we’re starting over, you and me. I wanna see who you are and I wanna know who you are.”
Today, Black lives in Jerusalem with his family, writing and performing under his new name. His latest album, “Lemala,” was released April 27, and the video for his new single “Fly Away” has racked up over 600,000 views on YouTube since it was dropped last month. He’s seeing the kind of success he saw as D.Black -– but a lot has changed in his second go-round as a rapper.
The cover art for “Fly Away”
There are the obvious changes – Black’s physical aesthetic, for example, and a move away from what he calls “gangster-style” records –- but Orthodox Judaism also changed his relationship to music in general.
“My music is a reflection of who I am spiritually,” Black said. “And I use it as a tool to reach people spiritually rather than for my own gain. I don’t get caught up in the game anymore.”
It took a while for Black to reconcile his faith with his career. In fact, his conversion to Judaism was initially paired with total retirement from the business. He may never have returned to making music if a second miracle hadn’t convinced him.
“I was afraid to return to music,” Black said. “I had an itch inside but I didn’t think I’d be able to return to music and maintain my spirituality. Then I started getting calls from friends telling me they’d had dreams of me making music again. So I told God the only way I’ll return to music is if there’s an open miracle.”
Black found the miracle he was seeking when he plugged in a microphone that long been broken to find out that it was once again working. He went straight to his rabbi, obtained his blessing, and got to work. This time, he was determined to make his faith an active part of his new creative process.
“Before I start writing, I meditate,” Black said. “And I pray constantly while I’m writing. I’m engrossed from a spiritual standpoint.”
But while Black’s audience, appearance and writing process may have changed, the message he’s sending in his music is strikingly similar to the one you might hear from rappers like Nas, whom Black credits as one of his inspirations as a youth.
Take, for example, “Fly Away.” The song is about a young Jewish teen who is living a difficult life in the slums of Johannesburg and finds light and happiness between the pages of the Torah. The lyrics send a message of struggle and reprieve, darkness and hope — the very themes in which rap as a musical genre found its roots.
You can watch Black’s music video for “Fly Away” here and purchase “Lemala” on iTunes or listen on Spotify.
Becky Scott is the editor of The Schmooze. Follow her on Twitter, @arr_scott