Away in Israel, Moses Michael Levi, formerly Jamal Barrow, but best known as the rapper, Shyne, is humbled by being in holy land.
“It’s the best place I’ve ever been,” quips Levi, who just last year was in Clinton Detention Center, a maximum security prison in upstate New York, where rappers like Tupac and OBD had served time before him.
“Last year, I was in the cell 23 hours a day, and I said, ‘next year, Jerusalem’ and it’s everything I ever dreamed about. Everything you ever read when you’re a baby and your moms is telling you about the Bible.”
His spiritual journey led him here where he’s constantly awed by his surroundings. “To actually be here where Abraham, Issac and Jacob are buried and King David’s palace, this is incredible, my dude.”
”’I’ve been on the path of connecting with God since I was a young blood…at a very young age, I understood the truth of my mortality and the truth of divine intervention. I’ve been on my way with that connection for a long time and Moses Levi is the culmination of the truth that I’ve been on.
Divine intervention is exactly what it may take for him to get back to the United States.
After his release from prison after serving a nine year sentence for his involvement in the infamous nightclub shooting with Sean “Diddy” Combs and Jennifer Lopez, he was detained by Immigration and Customs and later that month, deported.
While he’d made his name as a New York emcee, whose voice was eerily similar to the late Notorious B.I.G., Shyne was actually from Belize and while he did have a green card, he’d never been naturalized as a U.S. citizen.
When asked about his current status on getting back to the States, the answer is a simple, “we’re working.”
“We’ve been working since before we even got deported,” said Shyne. “So we’re definitely hoping all the fans out there write their governor, write the president, your Senator, your assemblyman.”
What’s makes this more interesting is Levi’s strange, direct connection to the President Obama. They both share a mentor in Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law professor who taught both Barack and Michelle Obama, and has remained a close advisor to them ever since.
“Professor Ogletree is a gift man, that’s like my Pops. As much as the man that had relations with my mom. He’s like a father to me,” said Levi. “I’ll call him in Martha’s Vineyard when he’s with the president. He’s been there for me, man, through it all.”
Levi is obviously emotional about the relationship he has with Ogletree as he talks about how the professor, author and civil rights activist was in Belize with him the week after he was deported and comparing his helpful nature to what people like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela were all about.
“It’s what he do man, he’s a good guy,” said Levi. “I’m sure he’d help…anybody that needs help, he’s that type of dude. He’s going to help you if he could and by God’s grace I was able to develop a more special relationship with him.”
Oozing appreciation, he talks about Ogletree’s role as a “shield” and “champion” to those in need and how Ogletree fit helping him in between helping with the Obama campaign, fighting for the Jena 6 and helping ease situations like the Henry Louis Gates incident.
“Everybody turns over a new leaf in the pen. Everybody sing a good song in the pen. When you get out is when you know who you’re really dealing with,” said Levi. “I’m just grateful I was able to show him I’m that dude that made some mistakes but wanted to transform my life, I held fast to that. So I got out the pen and our relationship really took on a new energy.”
That new energy has involved tons of communication between the two. “He made time for me, man. Like on a personal level, on vacation, I be calling his house or I’ll call him at the crib…he fought with me, man, still fighting with me. He’s my father figure, I wish I could be like him one day.”
Levi’s time away from the States hasn’t been idle. Constantly traveling between Israel, France, Germany and his home country of Belize, where he says he’s received like a hero. More than just record sales, his journey has been inspiring to the tiny Central American nation of 200,000 people.
“Me coming out, after all that I’ve suffered and all that I’ve been through, they’re just happy for me, man. They’re just happy that I’m not suffering anymore,” said Levi.
“Having the different people fly down there on their private planes, Professor Ogletree and different professors come down there and speak to the kids, try to inspire people…Baron Davis coming down there, so it’s all good for them, they’re loving it. They’re glad that they have somebody on the World stage that cares about them and is there with them.”
Despite his detractors, disagreements with his distributor and the unresolved but escalating beef with 50 Cent, with two new albums on the horizon, Gangland and Messiah, Levi isn’t letting his clouded status block him from the bright side.
“I just want to make really clear I’m grateful, man. I’m grateful,” said Levi. “Despite all the horror I’ve been through, the nightmare I’ve been through, I’m grateful, my dude. I understand that music is a gift.”
Levi continued, “that ain’t something you just wake up chewing gum and you can just do with your eyes closed, man. That’s a gift…What Tupac did. What Jay-Z does. What N.W.A. and Dr. Dre, what these people do, or what Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix…Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen, what these people do. That’s a gift, my dude. I’m just grateful to have that gift.”