Yesterday, hip-hop artist So Called released The So Called Seder, his solo debut on JDub Records. Just as with his previous outing with Klezmer fiddle player Solomon, Hiphopkhasene followed the format of a Jewish wedding, The So Called Seder follows the order of the Haggadah, and many of the familiar elements are present—The Four Questions, Ehad Mi Yodea, Eliyahu ha-Navi, to name a few. While tradition serves as the primary inspiration for this album, So Called’s seder is anything but traditional.
Here, So Called dishes out his homebrewed charoset Ashkenazi style. The familiar Pesach niggunim and prayers provide texture, setting a sweet and familiar tone. Rich, old-school Klezmer melodies provide the soul, whining and kvetching throughout the album.
These traditional elements stand in contrast to the nutty samplings of old Pesach recordings that sound like they came from my Bubbie’s attic and the crisp and tart rhymes offered up by guest stars, including Wu Tang Clan’s Killa Priest and Mattisyahu, the Hasidic reggae superstar.
So Called serves this mixture up on a seder plate of carefully selected beats, providing the setting for these flavors to come together.
In many ways, So Called’s work is an offering to the emerging Jewish culture emanating from New York. This youthful culture, marked by a soundtrack that includes such diverse talents as So Called, the Sephardic-flavored Hip Hop Hoodios, Mattisyahu, Golem, and the perversely humorous Heeb magazine, has gone beyond the question of whether one can be hip and Jewish. Rather, they have defined Jewish as hip.
At the same time, The So Called Seder looks back at the essence of Pesach and its theme of freedom. In particular, the album subtly explores the relationship between African-Americans and Jews that is rooted in our shared experiences of combating deeply seeded racism and bigotry. It was these very themes found in the Exodus narrative and the prophetic books of the Tanakh that provided the strength and inspiration for the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel to join together and march side-by-side, demanding freedom and social justice.
Since the Civil Rights movement, relations between African-Americans and Jews have become strained, and the religious right has hijacked the Judeo-Christian faith and used it as a justification for oppression rather than a means of promoting freedom and social justice. It is thus all the more refreshing to see So Called paying homage to this once-great relationship, reminding us of the traditions we share, and invoking the true spirit of Pesach. This is nowhere more apparent than when So Called adds the words “to the front of the bus” sample of Charlton Heston declaring, “Let my people go.”
If you don’t like hip-hop and rap, this probably isn’t the album for you. But if the youngest kids at your seder are teenagers or college kids, this would be the perfect gift for the finder of the afikomen. It’ll cost you a mere $10 plus shipping and handling from www.jdubrecords.org.