Black Jewish History Month: Shyne

Today in Black Jewish History Month, Shyne

How Are YOU Jewish: Matrilineal

Moshe Levi Ben-David (born Jamal Michael Barrow), better known by his stage name Shyne, is a Belizean Orthodox Jewish rapper.

Shyne was born in Belize City, Belize, the son of Frances Franklin, and Dean Barrow, the current Prime Minister of Belize. Shyne has only reluctantly acknowledged him as his father, due to his father publicly stating that Shyne was “unwanted”. His mother is the sister of Michael Finnegan, one of Barrow’s long-time political colleagues. Shyne remained behind with his uncle in Belize City when his mother moved to the US. It was not until the age of 13 when she was able to bring him with her to Brooklyn’s Vanderveer Estates in East Flatbush (now known as ‘Flatbush Gardens’).

In 1998, while Shyne was freestyling in a barbershop with friend J.CABA, hip hop producer Clark Kent noticed something unique in Shyne’s voice. He sounded to him eerily similar to the late Notorious B.I.G.. At the time, Clark Kent was working on B.I.G.’s posthumous “Born Again” album.

Not long after, Shyne started making appearances on recordings made by Bad Boy Records artists. He notably featured on a remix of Total’s “Sittin At Home” track and on Mase’s second album Double Up, on the track entitled “From Scratch”. In the same year he featured on Bad Boy Records’ chief executive Sean Combs’ Forever album (Reverse), as well as on a remix of P.E. 2000.

December 27, 1999, Shyne, who was with Sean Combs and Combs’ then girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, was involved in a shooting at a Manhattan club which left three people injured. As a result the 23-year-old rapper, whose debut album was pending release, was charged with and convicted of attempted murder, assault, and reckless endangerment. This led to rumours about Shyne’s position at Bad Boy records and doubts about whether his debut album was ever going to be released.

On June 1, 2001, Shyne was sentenced to ten years in prison.[He began serving his sentence at the maximum security prison Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. This seemed to spell the end of his rap career and his legal team’s attempts to appeal for a suspended sentence ultimately failed. Rumors that he had severed all ties with Sean Combs and Bad Boy Records proved later to be true.

He had his name legally changed, in early March 2006, from his birthname of Jamal Michael Barrow to Moses Michael Levi to reflect his mother’s Jewish heritage. Just days later he was in court again to challenge New York’s application of the ‘Son of Sam’ law, a law which resulted in his assets being frozen and limiting his ability to line up record deals and remain profitable. He and his lawyers argued that allowing him to make deals with record producers would also increase the value of a potential settlement with the victims involved in the night club shooting.

Despite his ordeal, his incarceration drew many sympathizers, as well as the admiration of many in the hip hop community. His adherence to the code of silence, which he made reference to numerous times on his self-titled debut album, earned him a hardcore reputation in both the prison community as well as on the streets. Even while incarcerated, his name continued to be linked with several record labels.

However, he was not without his detractors; fellow New York rapper 50 Cent even went so far as to call him a punk and made light of his situation and his involvement in the “night club incident”. Shyne responded in kind on his 2004 release Godfather Buried Alive, with a track entitled “For the Record”.

On February 16, 2010, Shyne signed a seven figure deal with Def Jam Records. Gangland & Messiah, are scheduled to be released on April 5, 2011, and they will be his first studio albums since his release from prison.

This is Black Jewish History Month at MaNishtana’s Musings.


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