HipHopKhasene – Solomon and Socalled
The concept of violinist Sophie Solomon & DJ Socalled's HipHopKhasene
is decidedly cute, though oddly fertile: a marriage between klezmer and
hip-hop. Literally, a marriage. The album takes the musical form of a
traditional Jewish wedding and uses it as a linear structure, songs and
traditions interspersed with vows and invocations. Sure, it's a tenuous
conceit, and elements of it seem forced and gimmicky, but the union is a
sound one. Really, the record takes the 20th century cut-up methods of
hip-hop and uses them to shepherd klezmer music firmly into the now.
Though there have been countless innovators, klezmer has remained
essentially unchanged as a genre through the centuries. It is still mostly a
pre-modern music, songs traded from musician to musician or via sheet music
as opposed to learned off of recordings. Melodies and solos generally stay
within a proscribed form within predetermined scales. As an approach,
hip-hop adheres to an any-means-necessary methodology, pulling in whatever
might best serve it. The idea of sampling fits klezmer music to a tee. For
many, the initial appeal of the genre is in its sinuous changes, its exotic
old-world melodies, and its evocative timbres — in short, its appeal is
textural. It is a not an immediately dense or tonally challenging music.
Lifted out of context, its swirling clarinets and rhythmic upbeats sound
Socalled, then, scans through klezmer – and all of Jewish culture, for that
matter – and lifts it gloriously out of context. Meanwhile, Solomon, and an
all-star band featuring latter-day klezmer all-stars like clarinetist David
Krakauer, recontextualize the samples by delivering traditional forms. In
all cases, it's hard to tell whose part is feeding off whose. The resulting
music isn't nearly as all-encompassing as hip-hop, but that's fine. The
hip-hop acts as a focusing tool. Into the mix go not only the usual
drumbeats and samples of old klezmer recordings, but Borscht Belt stand-up
comics, sober sounding Rabbis, and gravely reciting academics.
By virtue of content alone, HipHopKhasne is a klezmer album. Whether
or not it is successful in communicating the sweep of Jewish experience,
which it certainly attempts to do, it definitely conveys something whole. It
is a disparate record, but just about everything fits snugly under the
conceptual umbrella. There's campy humor, such as a mock Rabbinical blessing
over the wedding ("Badd-Khones"), but even that can be grouped with the
Catskills humor that pops in from time to time.
But the real icing on the cake is that it's good. The traditional
music is impeccable and recorded with an astonishingly rich sonic depth,
such as the "Dobriden." Socalled has found some great samples. And while a
few stalk the realm of the predictable, such as "Freylekhs Far De Kale,"
they usually do with panache. "Freylekhs Fun Der Khupe" and others use
brightly vintage recordings the way Mark de Gli Antoni employed Raymond
Scott samples on old Soul Coughing records. When there's rapping, it's right
clever, suggesting a slightly more self-consciously Jewish Beastie Boys. No
matter what elements are mixed, and what tricks are deployed, the album
remains fruitfully adventurous. And resisting all metaphors of blessed
union, that's truly a great thing.