'I'm a Breslover - I go out to the fields and talk to Hashem'

AuthorLaura E. Adkins
Publication Date18 Dec 2020
Not in love with Judaism, though he's fastidious in prayer and observance. Not in love with spirituality, though most mornings, you can find him meditating in the Israeli hills after sunrise. Not in love with ritual, though he's a devoted Hasidic Jew.

No, Nissim Black is in love with the creator of the universe, with whom he has an intimate and fierce connection. He's faced no shortage of adversity, experienced myriad modes of connection with the divine. Yet he's unapologetically who he is, doing what he loves — rapping — with the undeniable gifts — perceiving and conveying clear-eyed truth — he's been endowed with.

Days after his 34th birthday, on which he released "The Hava Song," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency spoke to Black at length about his music, his faith and his communities.

JTA: You just released a totally transformative version of "Hava Nagila." Walk me through how that happened.

Black: It was really a story of divine providence. Thank God, I have been out there enough that producers send me beats all the time [musicians frequently utilize sample tracks to layer under their own lyrics]. My brother-in-law is my producer. He's really a tzaddik [righteous person], so I let all of the beats go to him. Because if it's good, he's gonna tell me.

So this particular producer sent me a WhatsApp message — I used that when I didn't have management. My wife and I were driving home from the grave of Shimon HaTzadik in Jerusalem. And we got in the car, we're driving for a little bit, and she just starts putting on beats. My wife never just puts beats on!

And I'm like, where'd you get those beats from? And she's like, somebody sent it to you! And the "Hava Nagila" beat came on, and I was flipping out over it.

He had a lot of good stuff on there. But that's not my normal way of getting beats. So that one kind of slipped through the cracks. It was supposed to get to me.

I went home — I have a studio now in my house because of COVID — and I think within a few days, I had the song.

I can only imagine that with six kids at home, your day-to-day life is so crazy right now. What does it look like?

Thank God, everybody's back in school except for my two youngest, but my wife manages that department and I'm either in the studio at my house or out running around handling other stuff that I have to handle musically.

I have a "Blackout" series on YouTube, so whenever I'm out, I have something to do. I have a camera guy that follows me around, or meetings or whatever else that comes along with it. But thank God, even when my kids were at home, I spent a lot of time inside the studio.

I don't know how that happened, my kids were downstairs and I just gave a few hours, went up and worked on music, and then came back down. When I got sick with COVID, I came back home and was self-quarantining. But still, looking back, I'm like, how did I get that done? Even though they're in school, now I can't get anything done!

When do you find the time? Do you work in between day-to-day life? Are you more of a morning person, night person?

Yeah, I have an issue. I'm a never-go-to-sleep person.

I try to do everything now during the day, normal hours. I have to be ready to get the kids down for sleep around, you know, 5 or 6 o'clock — by then my wife's all ready. I'm not getting the call, I'm getting the look. [laughs]

So I try to really go into the studio from noon or so, and I learn [Torah] in the morning hours. Right now I'm releasing one song a week. I actually have another song coming out in like two days, which I don't know how I'm gonna manage. I just shot the video for "The Hava Song" also. There's going to be a content overload coming up.

So the awesome part about it is that my wife is very supportive. The hard part is balancing my learning schedule with the father schedule. But Hashem gives us strength, He gives us power.

What is your learning schedule these days?

I'm actually looking for a new kollel [Torah institute] to learn in. But usually I get up very, very early. In a normal week — this week has not been normal — I usually get up to pray at sunrise, the earliest you can daven [pray].

I usually daven with an early morning minyan, and then I usually learn for a while. And then I go out to the field and meditate. I'm a Breslover Hasid, so I go out to the fields and go talk to Hashem. I go out to a lot of beautiful open meadows and forests here in Beit Shemesh.

Then after that, I get to work. And then after I'm done with the kids and speak to my wife, late at night, I'm also working. I've either got a Zoom, some type of interview, some type of something, usually at night to 2, 1, something like that. Ain't no rest for the weary.

After I had COVID, I was drinking way too much coffee. I think I had a caffeine overdose a little bit. I stopped for a while. But now I'm doing it more slowly. Plus, I'm doing keto right now. It's really not that bad. Like, you're telling me I can eat meat and fat? That's not really the worst. OK, so I'll skip out on the doughnut, but I can have the steak. Not the worst thing in the world.

I haven't really been able to maintain it, but I think it's really helped me out because I wasn't feeling so well. I think I was having some aftermath symptoms. The combination of pounding caffeine and not getting enough sleep didn't help. After COVID, my body really needed to recover. I was having some other issues affecting me. But Baruch...

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