PATTI CAKE$ *Director/Writer/Star Interviews and Movie Review*


Danielle Macdonald nearly turned down the lead role in Patti Cake$: she’d never rapped before.  She accepted the challenge, and watching her performance it’s hard to believe she’s not a veteran of the genre.  Macdonald practiced rapping in her closet (acoustics were better) and after hearing her Jersey accent on screen, learning she’s Australian only further emphasizes her skill.

Patti Cake$ is an underdog story about Patricia (Macdonald), a rapper who doesn’t look the part but perseveres anyway.  While there’s a unifying theme of loss among the leads, the overarching message is one of finding strength within.

Writer/director Geremy Jasper spent years on this ode to rap.  He utilizes a combination of shooting styles that complement each other well, further emphasizing the more magical elements of the story.

Patti Cake$ also stars Cathy Moriarty, Bridget EverettSiddharth Dhananjay and Mamoudou Athie.

For more about the movie, including exclusive interviews with writer/director Geremy Jasper and stars Danielle Macdonald and Cathy Moriarty, take a look below:

 

—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All photos and video are courtesy of Fox / Fox Searchlight.

Matisyahu: You disappointed me


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.  I did not attend your concert.  I could not. Frankly, I do not plan to see you again.  You have disappointed me greatly.  I will play your CD’s from time to time and hum your songs when the mood sets in.  But you have let me down.  All my life I’ve been waiting for and praying for a Charedi Jew to offer a message which resonates with America, a blessed country built on Judeo-Christian values but now listing towards secularism, and helps right it.  How appropriate it would be for a member of one of the proudest, most observant Jewish groups to water the spiritual roots of American culture and give nourishment to its base.  When your song One Day was chosen to be the theme melody of the NBC 2010 Winter Olympics my heart fluttered with pride.

Charedi, to me, means a Jew to whom Judaism – Torah values, Torah practice and Torah study – is numero uno and everything else is numero dos.  It means someone to whom Judaism is not an identity but a life, not an ethnicity but a purpose.  It would have to someone who could capture the God-centeredness of the Charedi lifestyle and express it in lyrics that America could sing.  With your flowing beard, passionate vigor and   refreshing creativity, I thought you were the one.

When your beard came off and your large black yarmulke remained I took pause, but your reassuring Tweets kept my hopes high. The pictures you recently Tweeted of you and Wiz Khalifa – you with dyed blond hair sans yarmulke and Wiz smoking a joint – made me realized that you are no longer singing z’miros in Reggae. You are singing a different song.

I drive by the Windstar World Casino often.  It is just across the Texas state line, in Oklahoma, built on an Indian reservation where the Judeo-Christian values of the Heartland don’t have jurisdiction, but close enough to tempt the millions in the Dallas Metroplex to turn gelt into glitter, savings into flashing lights.  The dreamy theme of the building is a concrete version of the joint Wiz was smoking.  It is not the place to offer even the most watered down Jewish values. 

Your transition followed a path that has been traveled before.  A creative Orthodox message becomes a broader universal message, and a broader universal message becomes a self-centered message.  What was “Look at God” becomes “Look at me.”

“Me” is the currency of our pagan-light pop-culture.

I grew up in New York where God is glorified in the religious community but chided and derided in the surrounding culture.  12 years ago my wife and I left the Northeast to move to Dallas where we joined the Dallas kollel and subsequently started a meat business.  It is a land like I have never seen growing up; God is revered and Jews are respected.

Over the years, I came to the conclusion that we need not be as insular as we were in New York and can speak values to the world around us, as our Patriarch Avraham did.  The culture is utterly receptive; if it is listening, should we not speak?  You, Matisyahu, were an example of what could be done if only we would speak. 

But now I am discouraged.  You recently tweeted: “I felt it was time to walk a new path. What that exactly means or looks like I am still figuring out, and will be for the rest of my life, I hope.”  Saying those words at this point in your life says, to me, that you have been sucked into the culture you were trying to influence.  You have become connected to the hedonism which abhors rules and undermines values.  And it says that I will too, if I go it alone as you did.

Sometimes I lay under the moon and think each observant Jew should reach out and touch the world. Now I see that community is the protector of God-centeredness, and that discipline is the precursor of Kiddush Hashem.

I still believe that the American ship is listing precariously and the inspired Charedi community has a lead role to play in righting it.  I still believe that if we speak the world will listen.  But I now appreciate, more than before, that it needs to be within a framework of community.  And I pray that God helps us create and sustain a community that rallies behind the banner of Kiddush Hashem, living passionate Charedi Judaism in a way that the world can observe, understand, and appreciate.

The author of two books, Yaakov Rosenblatt “tends the flock” literally and figuratively, as the CEO of AD Rosenblatt Kosher Meats, LLC and a rabbi at NCSY – Dallas

Gangsta rapper Shyne, now an Orthodox Jew, plans comeback


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.

“A guy with payes? Maybe they might believe him,” he tells JTA, laughing.

Levi, 32, a former protegee of the hip-hop mogul Sean Combs (aka P Diddy), found himself drawn to Judaism ever since hearing Old Testament stories from his grandmother as a boy. He was with Combs and then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, the singer and movie star, the night of a 1999 shooting at a Manhattan nightclub that left three injured and resulted in a trial that became a media circus.

Combs was acquitted, but Levi was found guilty of opening fire in the nightclub. In 2001 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. After serving nearly nine years he was released last year.

Levi credits Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, one of his attorneys, with helping him gain access in prison to prayer books and other religious items like a tallit and tefillin.

Now, as he walks through the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City on his way to the Western Wall, he clutches a worn prayer book whose maroon leather cover was torn off by prison officials for security purposes.

Adhering to an Orthodox approach to Judaism made the most sense to him, said Levi, who is studying with several haredi Orthodox rabbis from some of the most stringent yeshivas in Jerusalem. A few months ago, Levi said, he underwent a type of conversion called a “giyur l’chumra”—a conversion usually for those who likely are Jewish but undergo conversion “just to be on the safe side.”

“I’m looking for a connection to Hashem,” Levi says, using the Hebrew name for God. “I am not trying to weaken it. I want to know what is done, then I can decide if I’m up to it. What did Moses do? What do the sages say to do?”

Levi feels like he’s returning to the fold. His days are spent in study and prayer. Reminders of his newly acquired Jewish education come out in his rapid fire, Brooklyn-accented speech smattered with Hebrew words and Talmudic and biblical references.

Levi is an anomaly in more ways than one.

His father is a prosperous lawyer who currently is the prime minister of Belize, in Central America. When Levi was a child, his mother took him from Belize to the United States. They settled in New York, where she worked as a house cleaner to support them.

But Levi soon was enamored with life on the streets, becoming a gang member. He was in and out of trouble, and at the age of 13 he was sent away to a juvenile center. By 15 he had been shot.

These days, after spending time in prison, adopting Judaism and moving to Israel for a few months, Levi is talking about a musical comeback.

He plans to release two albums this spring that are part of a joint venture with Def Jam Records, the major hip-hop label. Gone is some of the harsher and misogynist language of his previous two albums, one of which came out while he was in jail. While not explicitly religious, the lyrics do have a spiritual bent.

In Jerusalem, where Levi says he plans to stay for the next few months, he appears nonplussed by the second glances he attracts. But as a black man in the clothes of a haredi—complete with long black wool coat, fedora, knickers and black ribbed socks—Levi indeed stands out.

At the Western Wall plaza he encounters a group of young, religious Ethiopian Israelis. Levi’s great-grandmother was Ethiopian, and he thinks she may have been Jewish. Exploring his possible Ethiopian Jewish heritage intrigues him.

Levi plans to travel to Ethiopia in the spring, and says he’d like to help fund a yeshiva for Ethiopian immigrants in the town of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem.

“The Israelites won’t be whole and Messiah won’t come until all the tribes are connected to Hashem,” Levi says, referring to the Ethiopian Jews as a lost tribe—an originally Jewish community cut off from the rest of the Jewish world for generations.

Levi finishes his evening prayers at the Western Wall before paying a visit to the protest tent next to the prime minister’s residence that calls for the immediate release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held captive by Hamas in Gaza for more than four years.

Noam Shalit, the captured soldier’s father, is in the tent, and Levi is anxious to speak with him.

“I know what it’s like to suffer and not be with your family, and heaven knows what kind of pain and torture they are doing to him,” Levi says after the two shake hands and sit down. He adds, “All we can do is pray.”

“We need more than prayers,” a polite but terse Noam Shalit replies.

From the Shalit tent, Levi heads out into a chilly Jerusalem night to meet with one of the rabbis with whom he studies regularly.

Every day, he says, the tenets of Judaism help him become closer to the kind of person he strives to be.

“The bottom line is not to be a Chasid,” he says. “Some people can dress up and look the part, but sometimes they don’t behave that way and the person you never expect turns out to be the mensch. Right?”

Spectator – It’s Hip to Be Chutzpah


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.

Enter Chutzpah, or the new “Jewish Hip-Hop Supergroup,” as they would have it.

People say “that we could perform in front of a black urban audience and they would be into the beat and into the rap,” said Jewdah (a.k.a. David Scharff, Chutzpah’s manager). “Of course, it was a couple of Jewish guys saying that.”

That kind of irreverence makes Chutzpah a hybrid entertainment experience. On the one hand, the raps they sing — like “Chanukah’s Da Bomb” or “Tsuris” — sustain a head-throbbing beat that might hold its own in the innercity. On the other hand, the group, which consists of Master Tav (a.k.a. Tor Hyams), Dr. Dreck (a.k.a. George Segal) and MC Meshugenah (real name unknown) keeps trying to make you laugh and to get you in on the joke.

In “Chutzpah, This Is, The Official Hip-Hop-Umentary,” Chutzpah’s debut DVD, the group explains its origins in a mock-serious “This Is Spinal Tap” fashion. The group officially started when Master Tav called up Dr. Dreck, who was then moonlighting as George Segal, and left a message inviting him to join a Jewish rap group. Dreck wanted to delete the message, but instead pressed a button that called Tav back, and Chutzpah was born.

Dreck, who wears heavy gold chains and looks just a bit too old to be doing the arm-bouncing motions so favored by rappers, was rumored to have invented scratching on a Victrola in 1948. He also claims that Dr. Dre stole his name and dropped the “CK.”

In addition to the DVD, Chutzpah also has a CD “Chutzpah, Eponymous.” The group claims that its music will cross ethnic boundaries, bring Jewish culture to the masses, and make people say, as Tav put it: “I wish I was a cool Jewish rapper.”

For information on Chutzpah, visit

White Rapper Gives Lyrics Kosher Spin


 

Onto the stage walks a Caucasian man in a button-down shirt and thick, plastic glasses. He looks like he would fix your computer. Instead, off come the glasses and out comes the Jewish “bling,” a rhinestone-studded Star of David on a bulky metal chain.

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.

Schwartz has a gig at The Laugh Factory this week and also just posted his latest parody, a musical take on Michael Jackson called, “Bubbles and Friends.”

When he sat down to be interviewed at a Beverly Hills-adjacent coffee shop, his responses to questions quickly became a one-way rap session.

“I’m white,” said Schwartz, who was raised as a Reform Jew and attends temple. “People are going to notice that right away.”

For a rapper, though, he dresses almost nerdy: “Eminem has his own thing — this is how I dress. I don’t try to look like something that I’m not.”

“People don’t expect the fire that I am about to spit,” he added. “I think that’s why when I’m on stage, people are caught off guard.”

As for his Jewish shtick, it’s a “big part of who I am, but it’s not everything. I do other kinds of music, too,” such as his parody of Jackson. During the interview, one coffee shop employee recognized Schwartz from his televised parody of rapper Eminem as a gay “Feminem.”

But it is his Jewish-themed lyrics that set him apart. “So Kosher” is a parody of the No. 1 hit single “Slow Motion” by Juvenile. Schwartz’s version, goes, in part:

Mmmm, I like it like that.
Can’t eat this and that.
I want a Big Mac.
I don’t know how to snack.
So kosher for me,
So kosher for me.

It’s like I live by rules of the psalm.
Cuz I’m a Jew and I’m strong,
Without tattoos on my arm.

His parody song, “Hannukah Hey Ya,” became a widely distributed animated e-card in 2004. (The e-card was made without his permission. Schwartz finally tracked down Jason Kwon, the animation artist, and both now share credit for the piece.)

Other songs from his CD, “Kosher Cuts,” include “Crazy Jew,” a parody of Outkast’s “I Like the Way You Move,” and “Lose the Gelt,” a parody of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”

His love of hip-hop goes back to when he went to swap meets with his father, a clothing vendor, or “shmata salesman,” as Schwartz put it. After he discovered rap music, he would comb through bins for used discs that he listened to with near religious fervor.

He spent all of his bar mitzvah money on turntables instead of saving for college. But he earned money back by using those same turntables as a DJ at other people’s bar mitzvahs and other gigs. Schwartz earned a degree in journalism from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which has inspired some of his comedy.

“News is everybody’s experience and has a great impact on people,” Schwartz said. “It works the same way with comedy. My comedy is about what’s going on, whether it be pop-culture or politics.”

He was recently quoted saying that President Bush and former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein should have used “rap lyrics to duke out international conflicts on the microphone.”

“They should battle it out like in ‘Eight Mile,’ he told The Journal, referring to the movie starring Eminem.

Schwartz’s recent projects include a commercial promoting John Travolta’s latest film, “Be Cool,” in which he accosts Travolta and starts rapping at him. He also narrates the television show, “Animal Atlas,” on the Discovery Channel, and he’s the new host of a Tuesday comedy lineup at the Laugh Factory. In addition, he performs at The Comedy Store, where audiences can judge for themselves whether he really can, as he claims, “shake it like a kosherized pickle.”

Eric Schwartz (