BY BRAM BESSOFF / AJT CONTRIBUTOR //
When you think rap, usually the last thing that comes to mind is orthodox Judaism, but there is a short list of Chassidic rappers lining the country, and even fewer of them are black.
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While many of you were lighting your eighth candle, Chabad of Gwinett was ending Thanksgivvukah with a bang at Thrasher Park in historic Norcross featuring the only black Orthodox hip-hop artist I know of residing in Savannah Georgia.
Hailing from such company as Matisyahu, Shyne (AKA Moshe Levi) and Nissim Black, Prodezra Beats LeSHEM SHAMAYIM (his full performing name) was born Reuben Formey who started making beats as a hobby in early high school with just an old Casio board and computer.
After high school, he attended college in Atlanta and soon fell in with a bad crowd. Through what he describes as “little miracles” he found his way back to his Jewish roots and took an orthodox path to rediscover his Judaism by attending Yeshiva in both New Jersey and Jerusalem.
Prodezra and I first met at Limmud South when we both sat on a panel about the status of Jewish music in the industry. Pulling from his Chabad-Lubavitch teachings, he won’t take the credit for the music himself. To him, he is blessed from G-d to be a vessel of deliverance for his powerful yet positive sounds and lyircs – taking his full moniker “L’Shem Shamayim” very seriously – which means “for the sake of Heaven.”
He wants listeners to feel his music within their soul, and labels it a sub-genre of hip-hop he notes as conscious and spiritual rap. One of the only orthodox rappers with a foundation in Southern Bump, Prodezra as a producer reaches into many genres to find and create his own beats.
He noted onstage last Wednesday that one of his closing tracks was more of a pop track than hip-hop and he has been known to produce tunes with a gracious touch of country, jazz and rock.
Now, if you thought the orthodox community in Atlanta is not hip, check yourself.
All of this was brought to the general public from the Chabad of Gwinnett free of charge when you RSVP’d online or a mere $4 donation when you arrived on site. Included with your Chassidic beats was a full taste of Chanukah affair including latkes with apple sauce, homemade donuts, hot chocolate and one more Chanukah present for all in attendance, a copy of Prodezra’s full length album “Connection Revealed.”
Led by Rabbi Yossi and Esther Lerman, they did it right by ending the night with a full candle lighting and group song.
I have attended Chabad services before. Chabad as an organization has amazing outreach programs for anyone to come and experience Orthodox Judaism, and are very welcoming. Before we ever affiliated with a synagogue we commonly vacated Chabad houses, especially during the high holidays when it was no longer easy to drive all the way downtown for the mixed denomination service held on Emory campus.
As a board member of The Altanta Jewish Music Festival and columnist for this paper, I felt it was my responsibility to attend this event and report to the greater Atlanta Jewish Community that you can mix your music and religion to great effect.
The crowd was an excellent mix of young and old, black and white, international and all American, Jewish and non, all bound together by the true universal language of music.
And although Prodezra’s beats are killer, his lyrics are very meaningful and his swagger is truly as urban as you can get while wearing tzi-tzi and a yamakah, the most impactful moment of the night was when Rabbi Yossi was lighting the eight foot menorah atop a ladder.
Even in a precarious and uncomfortable position he took his time to recite the prayer. It could have been rushed, sang hastily and done while lighting the candles – but instead, he showed the prayer and G-d ultimate respect by singing a slow and caring hymn.
He took time to not only pronounce the words but added trills, melody and vocalizations to extend the length of each word in the prayer to bring its fullest meaning to light.
I usually rush through my prayers, but that night I saw the significance of giving Adonai our love and admiration by taking our time to recite the prayer. This used to drive me nuts as a kid, wondering why in my conservative synagogue things had to be repeated three and four times in slow tempos, but now I get it.
You can recite a prayer or you can be the prayer, Yossi and Prodezra are truly the latter.
Bram Bessoff is a drummer and musician. When not onstage, Bram is a performance coach and music industry entrepreneur helping artists get the most out of their live shows and chart on Billboard. He sits on the board of directors as VP for The Atlanta Jewish Music Festival. Follow Bram’s experiences on, off and backstage @bram_rocks. Interact with him at #InItForTheMoment to share thoughts, comments and ideas about this column.