The Shmooze

Shyne On: Rapper Shyne Talks About His Prison Stint and Becoming a Hasidic Jew

By Nathan Jeffay

  • Print
  • Share Share

Jewish-born hip hop star Shyne tells the Forward that he spent his nine-year prison stint “wrapping tefillin.” Could he soon be rapping about tefillin? Freed from U.S. detention 15 months ago for injuring three people when he opened fire in a Manhattan nightclub in 1999, the 34-year-old Belize native now resides in Jerusalem as Moses Michael Levi and spends 12 hours a day studying religion with Hasidim. While he made a name for himself rapping about scantily clad women in the song “Bad Boyz” and for his professional relationship to Sean Combs (Combs and then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez were at the club the night of the shooting), today his adherence to Jewish modesty laws means he doesn’t even shake women’s hands.

Shyne is planning a world tour to coincide with the release of two albums, “Messiah” and “Gangland,” on April 5. He spoke with the Forward about his views on Judaism, rap music and helping Israel.

You have been strictly observant for seven years, but your move toward Orthodox practice was triggered earlier - before you went to prison when you were worried that your first album, “Shyne,” might get shelved. Tell us about that.

I made a deal. I said, I’m going to do whatever I need to do to make sure this album comes out… So you know what, you know how much I love women, I’m going to be shomer bris [refrain from all sexual activity that transgresses Orthodox law] until this record comes out. The record didn’t come out until the year later but that was part of the deal.

How do you view Judaism today?

Where I’m holding today is pragmatic. Everything I’ve done on a basic level of Judaism got me so far - wouldn’t it make sense to do even more because I want more?

You’re wearing Hasidic garb now, and you indicated that you may appear on stage dressed like this. Do you feel that the music scene will still embrace you?

There’s a girl by the name of Lady Gaga and she’s the number one pop artist in the world and she wears outfits that are stitched together with meat… So if millions of people don’t have a problem with someone wearing meat as an outfit, how could you imagine they would have a problem with a guy like me who stands for everything that any true man stands for, who has walked through a fire, who is honorable and whose life is based on integrity?

You currently serve as a goodwill ambassador for Belize. How would you like to help Israel?

I’m not so conceited as to think that I have any kind of solution or I’m the lifesaver. I’m just a person who has a voice and has an audience, and however I can use that as a tool to bring to light the great things about this country, I will.

You have grown very close to the Belz Hasidic sect. How do your religious mentors relate to your music?

There’s no irreconcilable difference between rap music and the Belz. I’m a young Jew who wants to be close to Hashem, that’s all that matters… As long as I want to learn and there’s nothing blasphemous about my music, at this point that’s all they are concerned about.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Western Wall, Shyne, Shabbat, Sean Combs, Puff Daddy, Jail, Orthodox

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!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • 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.