TA SHMA – Come Listen
Ta Shma is a supergroup of sorts—Hasidic MC and beatboxer Chunah Silverman, previously best known for freestyling on every corner of the C.H. [is that a commonly recognized abbreviation?] of Crown Heights it’s not, but I’m trying to be cool….you can say “crown heights” if it sounds better with anyone, at any time, combines his talents with Menachem Shapiro, another Chabad Hasid and Crown Heights scenester, and the production team of Twelve Tribes, a hip-hop beatmaking outfit best known for their work on Matisyahu’s first album. The result of their collaboration is Come, Listen, a primer in Hasidic hip-hop and a mash-up of programmed beats and traditional Jewish songs like “Woman of Valor” and the Alter Rebbe’s niggun.
The album’s opener, “Revolution,” starts with Silverman and Shapiro singing an original niggun a capella— a melding of two musical terms (respectively, “a slow, meditative Hasidic dirge” and “singing unaccompanied without instrumental accompaniment”) which, for the most part, are not commonly found in contemporary hip-hop. A deep, concentrated beat drops in, and before you know it, Shapiro and Silverman are going crazy over the music, spitting verses and trading rhymes while imploring listeners to “promise to be loyal and faithful” and “it’s not advice, it’s your life/tomorrow is permanent.”
The album features the expected cameos by fellow Hasidic scene staples Matisyahu, who does his not-exactly-singing, not-exactly-rapping thing [I don’t like “thing.” The best word that comes to mind is “shtick”], ((I actually really don’t like “shtick”—it sounds belittling…)) and up-and-coming Boro Park M.C. Y-Love, who rips it up with a song-stealing appearance on “Journeys.” Less expected are clarinetist Andy Statman’s appearances on two songs. which, Along with a bunch of sampled Chabad nigguns and Ta Shma’s uplifting, crowd-friendly lyrics, his contributions transform Come Listen from just another appropriation of culture-specific music into a bona fide approbation on an existing form of cultural music.
If there’s one major fault to the album, it’s that some of the tracks suffer from fuzzy production, and some of the songs—“Shine,” “Return Home,” “Jacob’s Ladder”—overdo the resonant themes of spiritual awakening, clinging to G-d, and the need for love. But, hell, it’s about time somebody said it.
Ta Shma is a group that could only come out of a place like Crown Heights—and, if Shapiro and Silverman keep doing their thing on the stage and in the streets, they may hopefully offer the neighborhood its best chance toward a much-needed multiracial dialogue and understanding.
(Originally published in PresenTense)