Jewish hip-hop: Matisyahu and Hip Hop Hoodios

Because I work at a newspaper, I spend a lot of time reading wire stories from papers across the country. I came across one from the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union about the emergence of Jewish hip-hop in the mainstream. Being that I’m half-Jewish (the other half Irish-Catholic) and a fan of hip-hop, I was naturally intrigued.

Matisyahu — the self-proclaimed “Hasidic Reggae Superstar” (as if there are a lot of those) — has earned some blog time for his Live at Stubb’s album. The guy’s back story is very interesting. Among the highlights: He won’t perform on Jewish holidays or the Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) and he regularly consults with his rabbi before touring so as not to violate Jewish customs.

Then there’s Hip Hop Hoodios, a group its members call a “Latino-Jewish urban music collective.” And I gotta say: Havana Nagila is great. Opening line: “I’m a Jew for thugs / a Jew for hugs.” You can buy their full-length Agua Pa La Gente here.

Just upon first listen, I think the best part is that neither of these acts comes off as a novelty; their religion is the foundation, but the music is strong in itself.

Matisyahu | King Without a Crown

Hip Hop Hoodios | Havana Nagila
Hip Hop Hoodios | Raza Hoodia

In other news, I gotta give a shout-out to Chad at Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands. My brother e-mailed me the other day to let me know how much he liked Everybody Cares. So I messaged Chad to joke (or was it?) that my brother likes his blog better than mine.But that’s OK, because Chad has got us covered with Elliott Smith (including an excellent post on his old band Heatmiser) and some pretty sweet covers on Saturdays (for those at the computer on weekends). And I know his blog is money because he talked about his wife’s worry of his blog obsession, which sounds awfully familiar around these parts. Blog widows, unite! Anyway, check his site and all the others to the right.

Flashback Friday: Lucy’s Fur Coat

It’s been a few weeks for a flashback post, and I’ve been meaning to pull out my Lucy’s Fur Coat for some time now.

In retrospect, I’m not really sure what drew me to this San Diego group. I suppose I was coming off an early 90s grunge high, trying to keep with those thick guitars and and strained vocals. But there was some melody hidden in there, I swear.

Anyway, the band’s debut, Jaundice, is one of those I owned on cassette and then — if only for nostalgia’s sake — had to track down on CD years later (OK, so it was like, um, last year). I even have a couple of the group’s indie releases on 45.

Regardless, I like Jaundice because, even if the music hasn’t stood up for the past 10 years, it always takes me back and puts me in a different place. It’s one of those albums that I’ll likely be able to recite some of the lyrics no matter how much time passes in between listens. I think we all have some albums like that.

Lucy’s Fur Coat | Treasure Hands
Lucy’s Fur Coat | Elementary

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club vinyl B-side

This is why I love Zia Records, a fantastic independent record-store chain in Arizona: I dropped by there last week, as I am wont to do (just ask my wife), and I ended up buying the new Black Rebel Motorcycle Club CD and an old Dios CD. As I’m leaving, the clerk asks if I have a record player. Uh, yes. Definitely. He then gives me a BRMC 7″ for Ain’t No Easy Way and a Death Cab 7″ for Soul Meets Body — both promo giveaways that Zia was probably just looking to rid themselves of.

The BRMC 7″ has a B-side Grind My Bones. As I’m fairly new to BRMC, I’m pretty sure this is an unreleased track, a mellow offering that’s heavy on the slide guitar.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club | Grind My Bones

Rob Dickinson on KCRW

Catherine Wheel was one of my favorite bands of the 90s (and early 2000s). The UK-based group was part of the “shoegazing” movement: big, sweeping songs that were moody and pensive yet strangely melodic.

It seemed Catherine Wheel never earned its due. In his interview with Nic Harcourt on KCRW, lead singer Rob Dickinson admits the band had, in essence, runs its course and done all it could do. That sort of admission was kind of sad to hear because Ferment, Chrome and Happy Days are some of the greatest CDs I own.

Alas, it’s good to see Dickinson going solo. Although I have yet to buy his solo debut, Fresh Wine for the Horses, his set on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic was inspiring enough to believe I could really get into it.

Both tracks are from his KCRW performance.

Rob Dickinson | My Name is Love
Rob Dickinson | Black Metallic (my all-time favorite CW song and in my all-time Top 10 for sure)

Samples: before and after

This is the first in what I plan on making a recurring feature on this blog. It sort of marries my interests in hip-hop and vinyl. Basically, I’ll link a hip-hop song and — if I own it or can find it on vinyl — I’ll digitize the sample used in said song. Why? Because I can. And (not to sound too righteous) because I think it’s important that the original song is given its due in its original form.

That’s why I chose Kanye West’s Gold Digger as my first selection. I gotta say, I was at first excited to hear he used a great Ray Charles song I Got a Woman as the main loop. That is, until I heard Jamie Foxx alter the lyrics in the opening (sigh):

Jamie Foxx/Kanye West: “She takes my money when I’m in need / yeah she’s a trifling friend indeed”
Ray Charles: “She gives me money when I’m in need / yeah she’s a kind of friend indeed”

If you ask me, Ray’s vision of the song is totally lost here. He was writing an ode to his woman. Kanye’s is a knock on women. This is what happens when Jamie Foxx gets involved.

You be the judge:

Kanye West | Gold Digger
Ray Charles | I Got a Woman

Sound test: need your input

Today I have a blind taste test for you. I’m trying to perfect (or at least improve) my vinyl-to-mp3 conversions. To do so, I have to use an external sound card because my Mac lacks a line-in port.

I have been using the Griffin iMic. But my boy Royce has turned me on to the M-Audio line, especially this bad boy. The price difference is extreme, but I think it probably parallels the sound difference, too.

This is where you, my loyal reader, comes in. I converted two tracks twice apiece — using the iMic for one and the M-Audio for the other. Would you be so kind as to sample both tracks and leave a reply as to which sounds better? You get something out of this. For starters, a pretty f-ing cool Jungle Bros. B-side from a 1989 45 for Beyond This World. And you’ll get high-quality vinyl tracks delivered to you in mp3 format in the future.

Just vote No. 1 or 2 for each test. Or perhaps you can’t tell the difference. Any comments would be appreciated.


1.) Flaming Lips | She Don’t Use Jelly (from 45 single)
2.) Flaming Lips | She Don’t Use Jelly

1.) Jungle Bros. | Promo No. 2 (Mind Review ’89)
2.) Jungle Bros. | Promo No. 2 (Mind Review ’89)

Tajai and SupremeEx: Nuntype

You know what I love about the Hieroglyphics crew? They’re always doing something new, even if it is hard to keep up with it all the time.

That brings me to Nuntype, the collaborative full-length project between Tajai (of Souls of Mischief) and Philadelphia producer SupremeEx that will drop on Oct. 25 (Rumble Pack Records). The pair released an EP, Projecto: 2501, in 1999.

Nuntype seems to have a futuristic concept (perhaps in the vein of Deltron) that also focuses on artwork and visual storytelling. If you ask me, Tajai has become one of the Hiero’s most stellar and versatile emcees, so I’m looking forward to this release.

Tajai and SupremeEx | Formless
Tajai | Do It (from his solo record Power Movement)

Chris Walla’s Hall of Justice

My wife and I just finished watching the Death Cab for Cutie DVD Drive Well, Sleep Carefully. It was good: lots of interviews and great live footage. We have yet to tackle the bonus material, which includes an acoustic set.

A small part of the doc showed Death Cab guitarist Chris Walla at his Hall of Justice recording studio in Seattle, where he recently recorded and produced Nada Surf’s The Weight is a Gift, among others.

Walla blogs on his Hall site and has a few mp3s stashed there as well, including two he just posted on Tuesday. One is The Rhone Occupation, a “superhereo theme song” in honor of Nada Surf. Pretty funny stuff.

He also keeps a MySpace page.

Chris Walla | The Rhone Occupation
Chris Walla | Note to Self

The Black Keys: vinyl only track

Patrick Carney kills it at ACL.
If Chris, Dodge or I didn’t get our point across from our ACL reviews, let me say it again: The Black Keys are g-damn ridiculously cool. I’ve spent a lot of time with Rubber Factory after we were lucky enough to see them twice in three days in Austin.

Even better, I found their album The Big Come Up on white vinyl a couple of months ago in Los Angeles. The record includes a “vinyl only” track, No Fun (which I believe later has popped up on a CD single for The Moan).

Since the glow of ACL hasn’t worn off yet, I converted this track into an mp3 for your listening enjoyment.

The Black Keys | No Fun
The Black Keys | Heavy Soul (alternate version)

Secret Life of Painters

Secret Life of Painters is a Phoenix-based band that has essentially been together for five years, and has stockpiled enough songs that the guys have their first two full-length albums already mapped out. Impressive.

The group — John Hofmann (vocals, guitar), Aaron Kiley (guitar), Dan Cortez (bass), Matt Castleberry (drums) — released The Sound of Your Chains EP in April, which drew a positive response from the weekly alt-newspaper New Times:

“I like these lo-fi revisits and impressionistic word jumbles, like Guy Bowcock’s Second Coat and Fast Black Rats, the closest thing here to a radio-friendly cut (well, “Redefine your acronym,climb into your bastard skin” is shower singing, anyway).”

A 7-inch single is due shortly, and the guys are wrapping up recording a full-length debut, Careers in Poverty. You can find demos from Careers and even some material from their older bands here. Quite generous they are with mp3s.

What about the name, you ask? Well, Hofmann and Kiley were, in fact, house painters,but they never let on to their co-workers they played in rock band. Hence, Secret Life of Painters. They’ve given up the trade, but the name remains the same.

Secret Life of Painters | Hold Your Flashlight
Secret Life of Painters | Magnets and Energy
Secret Life of Painters | Fast Black Rats (this comes with my highest recommendation)

Also on the Phoenix front, sourceVictoria has posted a couple mixes of new tracks — The Fast Escape and Heartless Boy — for a forthcoming LP at their MySpace page. Be sure to check them out.