The Arty Semite

Monday Music: Prime Time for Eprhyme

By Jay Michaelson

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy Eprhyme

At the New York release party for Eprhyme’s first CD a few years ago, the audience was an unusual blend of angel-headed Jewish hipsters bopping along to neo-Hasidic hip-hop, along with a smaller African-American crowd which was there to check out the new record drop. Eprhyme straddled two communities — the New-Jew one, and the urban hip-hop one — and while we shared space that night, I noticed there was little interaction between the two sub-groups.

Now, the follow-up to that first record is here, an 11-song mélange of styles and themes called “Dopestylevsky.” (Eprhyme, pronounced E-prime, is a master of the unpronounceable — perhaps a gesture at the ineffable God he invokes often in his music.) And so is that same productive tension. “Dope” is a more polished and more professional record — no doubt in part because of Eprhyme’s affiliation with the famous indie label K Records from Olympia, Washington. It is also more continuous with current styles of hip-hop, featuring more current musical stylings, half a dozen collaborations with mostly underground artists, and is less overtly Jewish in terms of content. The result? Less novelty, less preaching, but perhaps more potential to reach a wider audience with a Jewish flavor of hip-hop and rap.

Make no mistake: “Dope” is still full of inspirational messages, beginning with its opening track, “Grind Thoroughly,” which tells listeners that “Beneath the surface, there’s a purpose/ service of the heart/ elevate the sparks/ with the aid of language arts.” The Lurianic Kabbalistic reference is clear — and yet there’s nothing as direct on this LP as “It’s all G-d” or “Tikkun Adam” from the last record, “Waywordwonderwill.” I think that’s a good thing. Eprhyme’s other musical project, the musical midrash duo Darshan, is primarily for Jewish consumption. So it makes sense that this release is aimed at a wider audience, with less Hebrew and more generally comprehensible messages. After all, even if you miss the kabbalistic allusion, that line from “Grind Thoroughly” still makes sense.

The album’s many collaborations suggest a fruitful form of cultural interchange. Rappers from a variety of backgrounds join on track after track, delivering their own rhymes over Jewish-tinged melodies and samples. This indicates a welcome erosion of the so-called ghetto walls, and another introduction of explicitly Jewish themes within the general hip-hop milieu. It’s the opposite of novelty: Rather than Eprhyme bringing rap to the Jews, he’s bringing Jewishness to rap.

This, I think, is very good for the Jews. If 21st-century Jewishness is purely of interest to the 50% of the .5% of the world’s population that is born and interested in being identified as “Jewish,” our demographic Cassandras probably have cause to complain. But if, as Eprhyme and countless other cultural artists from Woody Allen to Matisyahu indicate, Jewishness and Jewish culture have something to contribute to the multicultural, global conversation, then there may yet be cause for celebration.

On a musical level, “Dope” is also cleaner, crisper, and more danceable, than “Wayword.” It’s just about impossible not to tap one’s foot, or hopefully shake one’s booty, to “Life Sentence,” with Eprhyme’s articulate and inspired rapping, syncopated with East-West samples (tabla, chants of om, Cypress-Hill-style hip-hop slides, choral elements, etc.). “Blow up the Block” pretty much rocked my world, and is the track I most want to hear live. Somehow it mixed dubstep, dancehall, Mizrachi rhythms and music, and I couldn’t spot the seams. The future-lovers-techno of “Lose Your Cool” feels totally new. And down-tempo tracks like “Elements of Style” and “Notes from the Underground”; instrumentals like “Smoke Break”; and the many guest appearances, provide a musical variation that we didn’t see on “Waywordwonderwill.”

Listen to ‘Blow up the Block’:

The album also evinces a maturation, and perhaps a limitation, in Eprhyme’s lyrical delivery. The rhythmic musicality of Eprhyme’s rapping sounds more in sync with what one might hear on the radio (Internet radio, anyway); he’s evolved as a performer. Yet the new disc also has a few unfortunate slips into “urban” pronunciation, which suggests, at best, pastiche. The best white rappers (Eminem, The Beastie Boys) are careful never to “sound black”; the worst (Vanilla Ice) are not so cautious. That Eprhyme occasionally lapses into imitative pronunciation does not diminish the overall effect of “Dope,” but it does raise a flag. Then again, Mick Jagger tried to “sound black” too.

At the end of the day, “Dopestylevsky” competes on a wider stage than Eprhyme’s earlier music. If it mostly leaves behind the rabbi-with-a-mic shtick of “Wayword,” this is a welcome evolution for the artist, even if it plays less readily at synagogues. Ultimately, though, this is less a leaving behind than a coming out — not in the newer sense of sexual awakening but in the older one of presenting oneself and one’s work to the wider community. Don’t worry, Eprhyme hasn’t forgotten his roots. But it’s nice to see him branch out as well, since more and more people can find shelter under the tree.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Waywordwonderwill, Vanilla Ice, The Beastie Boys, Music, Shemspeed Records, Mick Jagger, K Records, Jay Michaelson, Dopestylevsky, Hip-Hop, Eprhyme, Eminem

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.