Shyne Speaks: “Everything I Do Is A Great Effort”
On the phone from Jerusalem, Shyne sounds invigorated. Like most men who come out of a long stay in prison, the man born Jamal Barrow (now Moses Michael Levi) is chatty and full of self-prescribed knowledge, colorful narratives and change-the-world optimism. From his birthplace of Belize to New York City to ten years behind bars to his current spiritual sojourn, the 33-year-old’s life journey is an incredible one.
“Israel is beautiful,” he says over a crackly line. “I’m here seeing everything firsthand, especially the struggle. The struggle of the Israeli people, the struggle of Palestinians who’re suffering. Not the ones that are terrorists against the state of Israel, but the ones who want to live in peace. It’s real here.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to travel extensively since I got out,” he continues. I tell him my mother’s family is from Lebanon, which sits above Israel, and he’s familiar with the country. “Oh, Lebanon is beautiful; I’ve been there too. I’ve also traveled to France [he pronounces it the French way], all over Latin America; so many places. I haven’t been confined to Belize and that’s been a blessing.”
Our conversation inevitably turns to the music the rapper’s released since his own release. Songs like “Roller Song” and “Messiah,” panned by fans and critics alike. I bring up his quote to XXL magazine (“Greatness excites people and that doesn’t exist today”) and ask him if his recent offerings have been a great effort. “Everything I do is a great effort,” he replies, defensively. “Your response to it or Joe Blow’s response to it isn’t about the effort. It’s not about the gift that I have.”
We speak on how harsh the criticism has been, but also how many people are rooting for him to win. “Who are people, anyway?” he interjects. “From what I understand, people could be ThisIs50.com and his three million bloggers. Once the propaganda gets out there, the masses follow. People get it twisted. This is genius. This is a gift.”
The intensity in his voice doubles and words fly fast and furious. “Everything is interpretation. Everything! I feel like everything I’ve done has been great. Nobody wanted to sign Jay-Z when he first came out. Icons like James Brown, Machiavelli. We all have a gift. It’s not a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I ain’t got to be about what ‘they’ want me to be about. This is about poor people. Let’s build schools instead of prisons. Let’s teach the children to be better. That’s the stuff I’m into.”
I ask him if his heart is still in hip-hop. “This is hip-hop, ma. What it used to be, anyway. Public Enemy‘s ‘Shut ‘Em Down.’ Poor Righteous Teachers all the way back to Kool Herc. Hip-hop is righteous. Like a crack dealer who never had the opportunity for a better life, yet dedicates himself to teaching younger ones to never, ever go down that path. Striving to be better than the cards you were dealt. There are a lot more Shyne’s out there than Obama’s, believe me sweetheart.”
It’s late night in Jerusalem and we’ve only been allotted 15 minutes for our conversation, so I lightheartedly wrap things up by telling him DrJays.com now ships to Belize so he can shop away to his heart’s content when he’s back home. He replies (almost to himself), “See! No one knew about Belize before I started bringing awareness to it. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
Listen to Shyne’s current single “Roller Song”: