A decade ago, my friends threw me a bachelorette party at The Park. As luck would have it, we were seated two tables away from Q-Tip, at the time my absolute favorite rapper. (Yes, he’s since been replaced. Two words in my defense: Vivrant Thing.) But Q-Tip was also part of a cohort of late 1990s hip-hop stars converting to, and singing about, Islam—a trend that fed into fears of rising black anti-Semitism that, every now and again, sent certain Jewish organizations into apoplectic fits of worry. I even remember a friend chastising me when she stumbled upon my copy of The Low End Theory, the masterpiece of an album that Q-Tip made with his band, A Tribe Called Quest. Anyway: The marriage didn’t work out, but to this day I remain the proud owner of a napkin from The Park with Q-Tip’s autograph.
And so imagine my surprise this morning when I opened my email to see that this week’s column from Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel, the ultra-Orthodox communal organization, is about none other than Q-Tip (delightfully referred to as “Mr. Tip”). Titled “Rapper’s Sabbath”—an allusion to “Rapper’s Delight”? I don’t want to ask, lest it not be true—the piece notes that the rapper recently confessed to falling for the Jewish Sabbath while filming Holy Rollers, the new film about Hasidic ecstasy smugglers in the 1990s. “I’m going to enjoy Sabbath on Saturday, so on Friday at sunset I’m going to turn off my TV, my radio—I’m not going to do anything,” Q-Tip told the New York Daily News. “And then when the sun sets on Saturday night, I’m going to raise hell!”
Remarkably, Shafran doesn’t exploit Q-Tip as an easy target for ridicule and condescension, but rather as a potentially useful example for Orthodox Jews. “When the Sabbath ebbs away—especially during the long days of summer – are we saddened a bit by the imminent loss of its holiness, pained at least a little to emerge from our day-long cocoon of connection with the Divine?” he writes. “Or are we itching … to barge as quickly as possible back into the ‘real’ world, to listen to the news, check our e-mail, get in our cars—surrender without a fight to the mundane? If so, perhaps we shouldn’t smile so condescendingly at Q-Tip and his Saturday night plans, but rather recognize a bit of him in the mirror.”
Neither Shafran nor the JTA, which picked up the Daily News story, noted Q-Tip’s Muslim background. This is probably because the Jewish community has more significant concerns these days—and which may be why, for a few brief moments today, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for the last decade. Still, if the kind of ecumenicism espoused by Shafran is any indication, maybe there are reasons for some optimism. Mr. Tip, consider this your invitation to Shabbat dinner. I’ll even give you a new napkin.
Rapper’s Sabbath [The Matzav Network]