Dear Matisyahu, Tonight you performed at the Windstar World Casino in Oklahoma, seventy miles from my Dallas home. The distance may seem far, but in Texas proportion it is right around the corner.
It was early on during his difficult, isolated years in prison that the former gangsta rapper known as Shyne decided to formally take on the laws of Judaism as his own. Shyne, who legally changed his name in prison from Jamaal Barrows to Moses Levi -- Moses is one of his favorite biblical heroes, and Levi is for the Levites who were musicians during Temple times -- remembers the initial skepticism he encountered from prison rabbis at New York’s Rikers Island, where he was first incarcerated, and the other prison rabbis that would follow. "In prison culture, everyone is trying to make a scam, everyone is a con artist, so who is this dark-skinned guy they wondered? Does he just want the Jewish food?" asks Levi, now cloaked in the black garb of a Chasidic Jew and living in Jerusalem.
When you think of hip-hop or rap, you don't generally think of jowl-necked septuagenarians or skinny, psyched-out white guys rapping about the tsuris their mother gives them, but then again, you don't generally think of Jews either.
Meet Eric Schwartz, the 29-year-old actor, rapper and musician known to his fans as Smooth E. Think a combination of the satire of Weird Al Yankovich with hip rap persona, sort of Eminem with a Woody Allen smirk. He does both straight-ahead rap and parodies of well-known rap tunes, often with a Jewish twist, though he's also willing to get R-rated as the mood strikes him.