A lot of my favorite music could be described as religious hip-hop. It probably has to do with my obsession with the Dirty South, even though all of that music is Christian. Take “True Hero Under God” by Z-Ro, which includes lines like “But I am just a man, trying to Satan free / Through hell, is where they’re taking me.” At least he only refers to Jesus once, so I can pretend I’m not being preached at. But in most of this music the theology is about sin and Satan and salvation through prayer. I can relate to the person singing the song, but I don’t want to relate to the message.
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.
This was the first time I went to the Sephardic Music Festival. Now in its seventh year, the festival held shows in New York from December 20 to 27, everywhere from 700-person capacity clubs to synagogue basements. I went to five concerts — mostly in the Village — and took notes.
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.
“So you’re the only non-Jewish artist on Shemspeed?”