Born right here in the heart of West Chester, up and coming reggae rap phenomenon Matisyahu has been causing quite a stir not only with his music, but also with his distinctive religious attire. Gracing the stage with traditional Hasidic male garb, including a white button-down shirt and a long black robe, stiff black pants and a prayer belt, Matisyahu may initially be mistaken for some horrible novelty act gone wrong. However, behind his traditional wire-rimmed glasses, thick beard and yarmulke lies an artist that is revolutionizing the craft of religious music. Uniting long time fans of reggae with fans of traditional Hasidic prayer chanting Matisyahu’s music is gaining recognition across the board. Originally born Matthew Miller, Matisyahu took on the practice of beat boxing in the back of his high school cafeteria in White Plains, N.Y. A fan of the well-known jam band Phish, Matisyahu dropped out of school to follow the band on the road, experimenting with drugs and music alike. It is here traveling from city to city that Matisyahu contemplated his teachings as a youth in traditional Jewish practice school. He spent his days reading classic scriptures of the Torah searching for an inspiration.
Infused with the love of reggae and the dedication to his faith, Matisyahu took the classic chanting of the Hasidic religion and put his own twist to it. The product? An authentic blend of style and flavor that has never been seen before. His first album, Shake Off the Dust..Arise (2004), was the beginning of the musical exploration by Matisyahu. Shake Off the Dust..Arise was followed up by his second release, Live at Stubbs, which captures an electrifying performance at of all places for a Kosher practicing Hasidic Jew..a famous pork BBQ restaurant, Stubbs, in Austin, Texas. Highlights from this energy-driven live CD include the infectious “Chop ‘Em Down,” a song that follows the Jewish story of Moses and the chosen people to Egypt.
On Mar. 7, Matisyahu released his highly anticipated third album, Youth. The release comes in tandem with the rising heavy rotation first single, “King Without A Crown.” Maintaining the unique style of the past two albums, Youth stands out due to the amount of professional studio work, giving the disc a substantial boost in both sound and lyrical quality. Working with acclaimed funk and jazz producer Bill Laswell, who has worked with Bob Marley and Herbie Hancock, Mastiyahu’s Youth graces the grey area between feel good beats and hard hitting lyrics.
The infectious beat of the first single, “King Without A Crown,” is giving Matisyahu the recognition he’s been waiting for, but beneath the head-bopping melody are lyrics reflective of faith and understanding. “What’s this feeling? / My love will rip a hole in the ceiling / I give myself to you now from the essence of my being.” The lyrics roll out in a traditional reggae fashion, a fashion that almost cannot be understood by a first time listener, but still the lyrical substance is there. Hasidic references are used frequently throughout the disc, including the hard-hitting final title track “Youth.”
Compared to the two previous efforts, it is clear that Youth possesses the most progress both production-wise and lyrically. In the past, Matisyahu has explored his religion, but it is on this disc where he digs deep into his faith and believes to produce authentic lyrics. Stand-out tracks out the album include “Unique is my Dove,” a song explaining the fidelity between women and faith and “Late Night in Zion,” an up-tempo dance number.
Matisyahu is currently headlining a sold-out US tour. He will also be heading the Purimapalooza, a benefit concert to help rebuild a Chabad House. The festival will also feature Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell.