A few years ago, I was asked (by another publication) to track down this Hasidic rapper who seemed to come out of nowhere, and whose video was getting airplay all over the InterWebz. This was back in the time before there were enough Hasidic rappers to pack a synagogue — and nobody was sure where he came from. There was a pro-Israel political message, American street dialogue, and an accent that nobody could place.
Nobody except an Australian-in-law like me, of course. DeScribe, a.k.a. Shneur Hasofer, was born in Melbourne, raised in Israel, and currently splits his time between the motherland and Brooklyn (which, yes, is a kind of other motherland). Earlier this year, on Inauguration Day, he (along with black Orthodox rapper Y-Love) released a single and video, both called “Change.” Now, they’ve got a new song, “Make It,” and a new video, which premiered here last week.
Recently, we got to talk to DeScribe about his career, his country changes, and how you can make a hit single promoting a political candidate that you don’t agree with.
What exactly is the deal with “Change”? Everything about the song and the video, from Y-Love’s thrusting Obama newspapers at the camera to the album artwork, all directly reference the Obama campaign. Are you endorsing him, or climbing on the bandwagon, or plugging into this greater abstract social message that the world sucks, and we need to do something about it?
The first song we did together was titled “Change.” My producer, Prodezra, named the beat way before Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and asked me to write about the idea of the world changing and become ready to receive the ultimate change of the final redemption.
We see this in the amazing breakthroughs of international media capabilities, resources to cure hunger in a few years from now. By the time I met up with Diwon, I already had the body of the song sketched out. Then, while we were waiting for Y-Love to fill in the gaps, the Obama campaign was in full swing. We realized that it was a project planned by G-d himself and decided to parallel our campaign with Obama’s, making the title of the album “Change.”
Y-Love, being a big supporter of the Left, was all for the idea of a “Change” E.P. I was ready to stand up and practice what I preach, which is allowing others to live peacefully with whatever opinion they want, and accepting them for who they are.
Personally, I am a right-winger, but I was ready to see the good in the idea of “Change,” even though it was driven as a left wing campaign. Change is something we all want; we just portray our changes in different manors and ways. Y-Love wants political change. I want internal change.
It’s also portrayed on the cover, where Y-Love is looking at an Obama “Change” rally and I am looking at the Hasidic Jews in 770, the Lubavitch world headquarters, who constantly work on changing their worldly behaviors for G-dly behaviors.
What’s collaborating like for you? Do you start off kicking around an idea with someone else, or does one of you start working on something and bring in the other person later on in the process?
Because of the way we [Y-Love and I] work, since my function is more in the singing than the rapping, I write the hook or chorus first, and that usually sets the tone for the verses. In our case, I start writing, come up with a concept and a tune, and we take it from there. Each of us write out own verses, then we even it out with a mixed verse with both me and him together.
I gotta say, Y-Love is an amazing person, a genius, a Torah scholar and an amazing lyricist. So it’s really an honor to write with him.
In the “Change” video, you’re alternately portrayed as teaching a child in a study, at a Shabbat table, and as a gangster. What do each of these images say about you? Who came up with them — you or the director?
As you know, I am a Hasidic Jew, and my music is a form of bringing a message. Most people would know that my message isn’t one of my own imagination, but it’s based on the studies of the sacred teachings. In the video, I was teaching a young student — a message which is applicable to children and adults alike. We, the artists involved, all came up with the scenes shot and content so yeah that was my idea.
The other image is not so much a gangster but more a hip-hop artist — the musical side of me, the performer. I am trying to relate to all people of all walks of life so those that don’t relate so much to the Hasidic idea would probably relate to the hip-hop side of me.
You’re often a one-man show — writing music, producing, and dropping your own lyrics. Lately, you’ve been doing shows with Y-Love and Diwon in support of “Change,” your collaborative E.P. What’s it like to work with someone else on the front?
Actually, it’s a real breeze. I’ve been working with producers a lot lately, making a lot of high-quality music. The whole “Change” E.P. has been a proof to my theory that working with another artist would really balance out my style.
Thank G-d, Y-Love and I have amazing chemistry and diversity that allows us to reach out to all walks of life with all beliefs — political, religious, and otherwise.
What’s your songwriting process like? Do you come up with the beat first, or the lyrics, or does it — sorry for the pun — change, depending on the song?
Usually what i do is take a wild or interesting “bumpin hip hop beat on tilt” — also known as an instrumental — and when I’m feeling the beat, and I am feeling inspired, I write lyrics to it. I sometimes write them over and over again in order to get the right message with the right flow out.
What’s the difference between performing for Orthodox crowds and doing concerts for secular audiences? Is there one that you prefer more than the other?
I like everyone, but I’ve noticed lately that Orthodox Jews are really psyched about the music. Especially Crown Heights people — they go nuts at the shows, and they really create a great vibe of dancing and chanting and singing.