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Socalled - Ghettoblaster

Released on Jdub Records, 6/12/07

Josh Dolgin grew up in the outskirts of Ottawa, a suburb named Chelsea, as one of the only Jewish kids in a predominantly Protestant area. He took part in typical childlike activities in the face of such an unconscious cultural and religious divide. He joined a Christian gospel group and played piano. He also joined a salsa band, a folk band and, the detrimental-to-any-teenage-musician, a rock and roll band. It was around this period that Dolgin was introduced to hip hop by one of his God-loving gospel band mates.

Fast-forward ten years, one million samples on the Dr. Rhythm beat machine, and a lifetime of mild and general displacement disorder. Dolgin, once again, feels himself a stranger from within his own realm of understanding and existence. The majority of the hip hop culture Dolgin associates with describes a lifestyle that a kid from the Canadian suburbs cannot relate to.

Dolgin, aka Socalled, raps about being Jewish, he samples traditional prayers and weaves his beats around them. He begins to search thrift stores for old records he can use. He comes across a Yiddish theatre record by a man named Aaron Lebedeff and Dolgin’s world is forever altered.

Says Dolgin in an interview, "Hip hop is all about the break, like the little moment where everything breaks down except for one little funky thing that happens. And you're always looking for these things to sample. Just by accident, I'm looking at this Yiddish theatre record -- this guy Aaron Lebedeff -- and every song, between the verses, has that break, has this wicked little melody that you're looking for all day. The whole album was full of them."

Dolgin’s exploration into traditional Jewish music and prayer mixed with current hip hop beats, breaks, and R&B vocals has truly revolutionized a cross-cultural intermingling that has been in the works for years now. His first release, The Seder, sent him shooting up the European charts and had him playing in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans. His latest, Ghettoblaster, takes this cultural journey one step further.

Not only is he popularizing traditional Jewish music, like klezmer, but he is finally able to reconnect to his own culture in a way he could both relate to and promote to his peers far and wide. Klezmer was born from within the ghettos of Eastern Europe; it was developed as a distraction from destitution and poverty. There have been parallels drawn between the plight of Jewish individuals and their creation of klezmer music and African American hip hop culture in the United States.

Taking all this into account, Ghettoblaster holds more meaning both literally and figuratively. Though Dolgin claims he is not trying to make any overtly political statements, the record truly speaks to this on its own, intentional or not. It features Jewish actor and folksinger Theodore Bikel on vocals, his voice heavy and thick, slipping between samples and beats while in conversation, song and prayer. The album starts off with “Baleboste”, traditional klezmer with smooth and easy beats placed over the top.

It’s difficult to reject the flow of Ghettoblaster from the get go. There is something pleasing to the melding of these folk songs and conversation, despite the unfamiliarity of the languages used. This is where Socalled uses classic breaks to tie everything together. “Heart Attack Feeling” is catchy, quirky, and reminiscent of a hiphop long gone, now buried in Benjamins and bling culture.

“I am a Universalist”, says Bikel at the beginning of the second track “Belz”, “I believe in the family of man. I believe in the brotherhood of man. I am curious about my neighbor; I hope he is curious about me. I sing Jewish songs not because they are better songs than the songs of my neighbor. I sing them because they are mine and unless I sing them that part of the culture will vanish…”

Ghettoblaster is altogether worldly in a completely unpretentious way, it preaches an undercurrent of self-preservation and unity, and it has achieved a uniqueness rare in popular music today.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars