Ex-Hasidic Rapper Comes Out of Closet, Receives Support of Orthodox Fans

Y-Love tells Haaretz, 'I fully expected to lose most of my Orthodox fan base.'

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten
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Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Yitz Jordan, the African American "ex-Hasidic" Jewish rapper known as Y-Love, said he is overwhelmed by the support he has received from fans, especially those in the Orthodox community, since outing himself as a gay man earlier this week.

"I fully expected to lose most of my Orthodox fan base," he wrote in an e-mail to Haaretz. "Not only has this not been the case, but I am seeing an outpouring of support which has completely taken me aback."

The 34-year-old half-Puerto Rican, half-Ethiopian rapper, who converted to Judaism in 2000 and studied at the Ohr Somayach yeshiva in Jerusalem, publicly came out of the closet on Tuesday in an article in Out magazine. He said he hid his sexuality for years for fear of being ostracized by the Hasidic community and losing his religious fan base.

After a failed marriage to a woman and a stint in "conversion therapy," Jordan told Haaretz he wasn't willing to sacrifice his happiness for his career any longer. "Should I sit alone, and watch all my friends get married and lead normal lives, while I sit in silence and secrecy? Should I continue to badger my friends and ensure they've 'kept my secret'? I can't go on that way. No one should have to."

In the wake of his announcement, Jordan said he received thousands of comments on his Facebook page, most of them positive. "While there are some ultra-Orthodox friends of mine who I have lost, their anti-gay, bigoted posts are usually followed by a deluge of supportive comments and thoughts," Jordan said. "I had no idea that homophobia was dwindling so quickly in the shtetl. May this trend continue."

Members of the Israeli hip hop establishment have also offered words of encouragement. Khen Rotem - a.k.a. Sagol 59 - told Haaretz he wrote to Jordan right after the announcement to praise him for his courage. Asked if Jordan's sexuality would alienate him from his fans in Israel, Rotem said: "I think as far as the hip hop crowd goes, it won't matter to them one bit. Secular Israel is one of the most tolerant countries for gay people."

The two rappers have performed together in New York and Tel Aviv, among other places. "He's a very exciting artist because of all the cultural and spiritual baggage that he brings to the game," Rotem said. Rotem added that he looks forward to collaborating with Jordan again.

While the timing of Jordan's announcement seems noteworthy - U.S. President Barack Obama voiced his support for gay marriage earlier this month, and the formerly Hasidic reggae superstar Matisyahu has been in the process of "reclaiming" himself since shaving his beard last December - Jordan denied any connection to recent events.

"I show Matisyahu love," he said, "but his issues with observance, if any, are on a whole different level than mine. I fought racism for a decade, fought homophobia almost my entire life."

Jordan confirmed that he no longer records exclusively for Shemspeed, the indie Jewish label that released his 2008 album, "This Is Babylon," and assorted EPs. He said that while he will continue to collaborate with Shemspeed artists and producers, he has joined a new label called Bancs Records in order to "reach a wider mainstream and global audience."

In conjunction with his coming out, Y-Love released a new music video called "Focus on the Flair," in which he appears alternately in Hasidic garb and in drag sans beard. Jordan said the video tells "the story of the complexity that is Y-Love."

In his e-mail exchange with Haaretz, Jordan also touched on issues relating to his lyrics and his Jewish identity.

Will the content of your music change in any significant way now that you're out?

"I am concerned that people will see my music as somehow 'less Jewish' because of my orientation, but such an assessment would only be due to the listener's shortcomings: My music still has some Hebrew lyrics, I'm still not using profanity in my rhymes, I still don't advocate violence or misogyny. My music is as kosher as it ever was."

Are you concerned this may affect your ability to book gigs at certain venues or reach a more religious audience, in Israel or elsewhere?

"While I previously thought that I would be persona non grata at religious functions from here on out, the show of support online I've gotten from my religious fans makes me think that I will be able to perform at functions in the future. The ultra-Orthodox community is far from the only observant Jewish community on earth: Losing them, while I would lament the loss, would not mean the end of my performing for religious audiences."

How would you describe your level of Jewish observance at the moment?

"Now I call myself 'OTD' [off the derech]. Do I still perform mitzvot? Yes, of course; but I know that the Haredi/ultra-Orthodox world will never consider me 'observant' if I'm out. I consider myself 'off the derech' of ultra-Orthodoxy. While I am not as observant now as I once was, unless I'm out and able to live truthfully, I won't be able to be observant at all."

Yitz Jordan, known as Y-Love, converted to Judaism in 2000.Credit: Courtesy of Shemspeed