New York – Hasidic Star Matisyahu Mixes it Up on New Album


    New York – The world’s first Hasidic reggae superstar is getting a little unorthodox.

    Matisyahu Miller, known to his fans by his first name and to his friends simply as Matis, emerges this month with his first full-length album in three years — and a sound more like Jersey than Jamaica.

    He’s added electronica, funky pop, straight-up guitar rock and even a touch of folk to his playlist. Singing lessons have given his voice new depth and melody.

    “It’s not really any longer about me being the Hasidic reggae guy,” he says an interview. “I’m informed by Hassidism and Judaism and reggae music, but it’s not that black and white, and it’s not that simple.”

    The early reaction? Not always cheers in Crown Heights, the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn where he lives in a modest apartment with his wife and two young sons.

    “Just yesterday I was walking down the street and some kid was walking by me. He’s like, ‘Matis, stick to the reggae!’ I was like, ‘Ahhgh!'” he recalls.

    Matisyahu, 30, pays any hecklers no heed. An underground curiosity-turned-mainstream star, he’s not about to remain in his unusual genre of one.

    “I think the vast majority of people that respect what I do are willing to move with me. I think it’s not so much about genres or styles of music as it is about expressing the emotion or the idea,” he says. “Whatever allows you to do that, whatever style, as long as it’s authentic.”

    Matisyahu was initially seen as a musical oddity when he emerged five years ago, an Orthodox Jew in a flat-brim black hat and bushy beard who loved hip-hop beats and sang dancehall reggae in a Jamaican accent. Seeing him for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking it was all a Sacha Baron Cohen skit.

    His 2004 debut “Shake Off The Dust… Arise,” and the subsequent CDs “Live at Stubb’s” and “Youth” — all featuring versions of his biggest single “King Without a Crown” — became a crossover hit. Not bad for a former Deadhead who, before his conversion, had followed Phish on tour, dabbled in drugs and grew up nonreligious in White Plains, N.Y.

    His new 13-song CD “Light” is still definitely grounded in reggae — just ask your iPod, which classifies it that way. The first single, “One Day,” is reminiscent of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.”

    But the album, which features collaborations with Good Charlotte, Trevor Hall and members of Fishbone, also has songs that could easily appear on a CD by Maroon 5. If you politely swayed while listening to his previous work, this will likely make you dance while pumping your fist.

    “One of the things I really love about making music is being able to tap into almost like different sides of myself,” Matisyahu says. “I’m sure I will keep evolving in terms of what feels right to me.”

    WFNX-FM, the New England-based alternative rock radio station, was one of the first to champion Matisyahu and invited him back this summer to play. Keith Dakin, the program director, likes his new song and sound, but knows the pressure he’s under.

    “He’s got to convince the fans and the radio community that, ‘Hey, there’s more to me than just that one song from three years ago. I’ve grown as an artist and here’s another song and another record that will help me stand out,'” Dakin says. “That’s definitely his cross to bear. He’s got to figure out a way not to turn into Chumbawamba.”

    The evolution of Matisyahu’s sound has many roots. While on tour, he listened and absorbed what his band liked: The Flaming Lips, Elliott Smith and Jeff Buckley.

    Dance and electronica also started to interest him — and that community returned the favor. He provided the voice for “Drown in the Now,” the first single off electronic duo The Crystal Method’s new CD.

    Intense voice lessons also led to his growing confidence as a singer, evident in the CD’s last song “Silence,” which is a lilting, stripped-down folk song.

    “I was able to have more control and do more of what I what I wanted to do. And not be afraid to sing. Not be afraid to lose the accent. And let my voice come out,” he says.

    Something that hasn’t changed is Matisyahu’s intense work on his lyrics, which often have layers of meaning and explore religious themes.

    Take just one tune from the new album — “We Will Walk.” It combines mystical themes he studied from Rabbi Nachman (1772-1810), the crisis in Darfur he learned about while contributing to a John Lennon tribute album, and the tragedy of Africa’s child soldiers.

    “There’s a lot of layers,” he says with a smile. “But if you listen to the song, it might sound like a love song.”

    To support the new album, Matisyahu is hitting the road, which presents a challenge for a devout Orthodox Jew: No Friday night shows, the need for kosher food backstage, and avoiding physical contact with women not his wife. He says it takes focus to steer clear of temptations.

    “You have so much available to you — the whole sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll thing. If you let yourself go a little bit, then it’s like this landslide,” he says.

    Stage-diving — something he abandoned for religious reasons — is back, however. He says he has always struggled with that particular interpretation of the rules.

    There’s also another reason.

    “It’s such a fun thing to do,” he says with a smile.

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          • I don’t think it is an appropriate thing, but lets dan l’kaf zchus a little:

            1. Most participants are going to be male simply because females are going to have a much harder time bearing a significant part of the weight of a full grown adult.

            2. This is definitely not derech chiba since he cannot determine at any given time whether he is being held by a male or a female. While it is not quite like getting onto a crowded, mixed, bus when one knows there will be contact with the opposite gender (which Igros Moshe permits) I would suggest it is similar with respect to the negiah aspect.

    1. I wouldnt judge him. While I would not agree with the stage diving thing, he makes a huge kiddush hashem wherever he goes, and reaches people who are not affiliated who would never have any contact with a frum person. We all have our nisyonos…

    2. Please ppl i respect this man alot hes not even frum for ten years & look
      at how far he has come & how strong he is with yiddishkeit.
      2)Reply to # 5: Regarding stage its nice if he decides to take it upon him self as a chumrah but ladies generally do not participate in stage diving.

    3. Guys if anyone would just watch the videos of these stage dives they would see
      that its all these strong men participating so there is no problem of shomer negia.

    4. What would the Berdichever say about/to him? I can’t answer, of course, but think of all the stories of the Rav Levi Yitzchok before commenting. He has an aydel panim, has come from the polar opposite of yiddishkeit and let us welome and encourage him. That should be our – Torah Jews’ way.

    5. Cut and paste – quote from Matisyahu:
      “I think the vast majority of people that respect what I do are willing to move with me. I think it’s not so much about genres or styles of music as it is about expressing the emotion or the idea,” he says. “Whatever allows you to do that, whatever style, as long as it’s authentic.”

      And I will take strong issue and disagree. We do not have the freedom to adopt whatever style of music – regardless of whether it is called “authentic”. There is a concept of illicit music, mentioned in Mishlei a few times. This is music which emanates from sources that are founded on temptation and ta’avos. Such music has no place in Yiddishkeit. It chases away the zaides and babbes that come to attend the weddings of their descendants. It creates a passage for the yetzer horoh into the hearts of those who listen to it. This type of music is, and should always be foreign to us. I find it a personal outrage that someone abuses and denigrates the holy words of tehillim, tefilloh, and other parts of Torah by attaching them to these forms of “shir agavos”.

      Whether the originator of this stuff dons a chassidishe levush, stands stationary at the microphone or prances around like Tom Jones, wears glasses and looks at the audience, sings to mixed crowds, or carries on outside of performances as a mensch or not is irrelevant. “Jewish reggae” is an oxymoron, and should be the subject of a kol koreh to ban it completely. I will consider it a cause for true simcha when these forms of music become completely extinct.

      • if you knew reggae at all, its nothing like rock n roll and is not typically about toava but more meaningful. the style may not speak to you but there’s no reason to ban it.

      • What is funny about your comment is that the same things were said 40 years ago.

        I always hear people say things like “we should listen to groups like The Rabbi’s Sons”. However, back then people thought the concept of guitars, drums and other “goyishe” music styles should be banned.

        Music is about reaching your neshoma. For every person it will be different styles. Some will like Bach over Beethoven. Some will like MBD over Dedi. Some will like The Diaspora Yeshiva Band over The Miami Boys Choir. However, it is the intent behind the music that matters. If you ever listen to Mati or read the words he sings, you would realize that he sings about his own realizations and struggles with yiddishkeit and his faith in the RS”O. Believe me, for many people who are going down the same path, his words and his sound are like a holy beacon.

    6. I think it’s great that he’s frum, and is a rock and roll star. I’m just a little disappointed with the whole stage diving thing. He can still do a rocking show without stage diving, and it kinda compromises his seriousness as a frum jew.

      • I don’t feel we should beat up on mattisyahu about stage diving since this is something he himself says he is struggling with & there is no issurim involved , but I have read an article that he never peforms on shabbos except when he was in alaska when sundown was at 2 o’clock in the morning – does this mean he did not keep shabbos ??? false report ??? performed without a mike ???

        • makes sense since at times in alaska the sun is up till the wee hours of the morning shabbos does not start till very very late. so to have a friday night show is nothing wrong since it wasnt shabbos yet. also the guy is super nice and learns at every free moment. trust me.

    7. Have been a fan since “Shake off the dust, arise”. I doubt anyone who calls this good Yid Meshugena has ever listened to his words, probably never heard a word from any of his songs. I ask just read his lyrics and perhaps you might feel meshugena for missing out on some holy and uplifting music.

      Exp. here are the lyrics from one of his most popular songs “king without a Crown”

      *I said, ?You’re all that I have and you’re all that I need”
      Each and every day I pray to get to know you please
      I want to be close to you, yes, I’m so hungry
      You’re like water for my soul when it gets thirsty

      Without you there’s no me, you’re the air that I breathe
      Sometimes the world is dark and I just can’t see
      With these demons surround all around to bring me down to negativity
      But I believe, yes I believe, I said, ?I believe?

      I’ll stand on my own two feet, won’t be brought down on one knee
      I’ll fight with all of my might and get these demons to flee
      Hashem’s rays fire blaze burn bright and I believe
      Hashem’s rays fire blaze burn bright and I believe

      Out of darkness comes light, a twilight unto the heights
      Crown heights burnin’ up all through the twilight
      Said, “I thank you” to my God, now I finally got it right
      And I’ll fight with all of my heart and all my soul and all my might

      What’s this feeling? My love will rip a hole through the ceiling
      I give myself to you from the essence of my being
      An’ I sing to my God, these songs of love an’ healing
      I want Mashiach now, so it’s time we start revealing

      What’s this feeling?

      Me no want no Sinsemilla, that would only bring me down
      Burn away my brain, no way, my brain is too compound
      Elevated my soul, you’re a flying my sound
      Like the sun of a sun ray burning up through a cloud

      Say, Torah food for my brain, let it rain till I drown
      Thunder, let the blessings come down
      Say, Torah food for my brain, let it rain till I drown

      Strip away the layers and reveal your soul
      Give yourself up and then you become whole
      You’re a slave to yourself and you don’t even know
      You want to live the fast life but your brain moves slow

      If you’re trying to stay high, then you’re bound to stay low
      You want God but you can’t deflate your ego
      If you’re already there, then there’s nowhere to go
      If you’re cup’s already full, then it’s bound to overflow

      If you’re drowning out in the waters and you can’t stay afloat
      Ask Hashem for mercy and he’ll throw you a rope
      You’re looking for help from God, you say he couldn’t be found
      Looking up to the sky and searchin’ beneath the ground

      Like a king without his crown, yes, I wanna get down
      A king without his crown, yes, you keep fallin’ down
      You really want to live but can’t get rid of your frown
      Try reach him to the heights and wound down, down, down, down

      Say what’s this feeling? My love will rip a hole through the ceiling
      I give myself to you from the essence of my being
      An’ I sing to my God, these songs of love an’ healing
      I want Mashiach now, and it’s time we start revealing

      Said, ?I’m reelin’ him in, I reel him in
      Where ya been, where ya been for so long for so long?
      It’s hard to stay strong
      I’ve been livin’ in Galus for like too long?
      I said, ?Where ya been, a where ya been for so long for so long??

      What’s this feeling? My love will rip a hole through the ceiling
      I give myself to you from the essence of my being
      An’ I sing to my God, these songs of love an’ healing
      I want Mashiach now, and it’s time we start revealing

      What’s this feeling? My love will rip a hole through the ceiling
      I give myself to you from the essence of my being
      An’ I sing to my God, these songs of love an’ healing
      I want Mashiach now, and it’s time we start revealing

      Said, ?I’m reelin’ him in, where ya been, where ya been??
      I said, ?I reelin’ him in, where ya been for so long? Oh
      Where ya been for so long? It’s hard to stay strong
      Been livin’ in exile for?

    8. Matisyahu and his music are wonderful.

      If anyone in the frum community had the decency to listen to even a few of his songs, they’d quickly see the true yiddishe depth in his ideas and lyrics, especially compared to the stupidity that passes for “true” Jewish music these days.

      But of course, since he’s a little bit different than all the sheepil…

    9. I like a lot of Matisyahu’s music and I am sure he is a great guy and has a wonderful personality and has a lot of love for Hakadosh Baruch Hu, BUT, what he may not understand is that Judaism, while a somewhat flexible religion, has certain principles that cannot be compromised. He does have to choose between being a Baal Teshuva and continuing on this career path. Its unfortunate that this is the truth but the music community is the opposite extreme of Yisddishkeit and it’s just not possible for a religious Jew to live in both worlds.

    10. If we (the frum world) would understand his songs/music we would play/dance with it all the time! Matis is a hero! He has accomplished more with his courage, and understanding of today’s youth, than any of our superstars. Matis has more fans than mdb, fried, lipa, schwekky, and then some, combined!
      Please respect this wonderful angel, named Matisyahu!

      • the only reason why he has more fans then all the singers listed is because he is the only person who caters to the non jewish world. If you count his fands in the jewish world every singer has triple that much the only people who like him most properly have alot of problems or this just for them takes the place of the non jewish music that they listened to as a kid.

        • If you count his fands in the jewish world every singer has triple that much the only people who like him most properly have alot of problems or this just for them takes the place of the non jewish music that they listened to as a kid

          The only one who has a problem is you. Your mind is has a problem accepting that the world moves on and listening to the music of Matisyahu or Lipa doesn’t turn you into a goy or doesn’t mean you have problems. B”H myself and a lot of other people have free minds that let us enjoy the talent given to these two wonderful people by the Aibester. When I was a bochur in yeshiva it was osur to listen to MBD or avrohom fried in 20 year from now all the people banning this music will listen to it.

        • I agree with Big Matis Fan- you are the one with problems. Matis has a huge amount of talent, way beyond most of the so called “Jewish Music” that cannot (with a few exceptions) even compare to the level of musical talent found in the non-Jewish world. So what if non-Jews like him? He deserves the success he has reached. And so what if his fans (and not “fands”) are limited among Jewish listeners?

          Music is such a positive and unifying force for everyone that it simply enrages me that some people are so judgmental about what others listen to. They have an underlying gripe against any music that is not performed by a guy in a beckesher and white shirt. And they have an overt presumption that anyone who listens to non-Jewish music will become a goy. What an embarrassment.

          I guess that beside from being a music critic, you are also a psychologist. One thing you are not is literate in the language known as “English”. The statement, “this just for them takes the place of the non jewish music that they listened to as a kid” is a grammatical shanda. Luckily I was fortunate to listen to everything growing up, from classical, jazz, jazz fusion, rock and folk, and everything in between. I played in bands and had musician friends, taught guitar, and without a doubt, my musical development helped me grow as a person in many ways. And guess what- despite all of it, I still became a BT- and I still listen to much of the same stuff I grew up with.

          I guess to some people who have nothing better to do, guys like me are tainted in their Yiddishkeit since I think most so-called “Jewish Music” or “yiddishe neginah” as some call it is musically worthless. But if Lipa or Shwecky or The Rabbi’s Sons give you a spiritual lift, more power to you. Just don’t offer me tickets to the next Big Event. I’d rather stay home and listen to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” or Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Evanescence, Chic Corea, Pat Metheny, or any number of accomplished musicians who are most likely not Jewish. But I still am.

    11. There is no such thing as “illicit” music. There are illicit words and illicit intentions: as far as I’m concerned making music is next to davaning: No Music No Life!

    12. this is why we don’t encourage converts, he is dragging our youth to the ground, yiddishe neginah is supposed to be holy, not african american. he is the opposite of what chabad stands for, no jew should let his trash into their homes. we have enough nisyonos from within, we don’t need them coming from the goyim.

      • This is a disgusting racist statement. Its a good thing you did not identify yourself since it would be an embarrassment to you and your family, if you have one. You really think the awful “yiddishe neginah” that is out there has any value from a real musician’s standpoint? Well it doesn’t. Most so-called Jewish music is complete garbage. The singers are out of tune. The rhythms are so basic and boring. Most of the instrumental accompaniment is horrible and moronic. And you dare to be-little african american music which has a history and soul that many Jews could learn from if they took a break from the Miami Boys choir or “Shwecky” or “Lipa” or
        any of the dopey groups that would be nowhere if they were judged for their true musical value.

        The only thing dragging our youth to the ground are close minded comments like yours. Yes, we do have enough “nisyonos from within” – and they are caused by people like yourself.

    13. Actually what we are noticing in him as we should all notice within ourselves is his inner struggles.From being a secular jew to becoming a full fledged bal tshuvah he ofcourse has even more inner struggles then the frum from birth jew because he has already been there, done that, and it is much more difficult for him to deal with it. You always have to look at where a person is coming from. We were born frum from birth whereas he has not, so he gets MUCH MORE CREDIT THEN US for being at the stage he is at. So Yiden in this heilig month of Elul let us all stand behind Matisyahu and ask Hashem to help guide him through the right path and use his music in a “helige” way to enrich and open doors to all the secular yiden and help them see the light of our heilige Torah. Let us, all of us Yiden be zoche to see Moshiach already. Amen

    14. whats your problem if you dont like him dont listen to his music did he ask you to support him are hashems masgiach why dont you go be mocheh all mixed weddings that are going if you dont have what to do try something else because obviously this is not your line of work

    15. just wondering a simple yes or no question if u asked hashem if he wants this type of behaivor and music in yiddishkeit can anyone seriosly think of the answer

    16. This man’s lyrics are from a deep source of kedusha and for those that detract from his style and depth it is simply a reflection on themselves that lack the depth and beauty of Hashem Yisbarach. He is a soldier that fights the wars that those sitting in the beis hamedrash would find hard to deal with. If a child from a frum home wishes to listen to this music, then we should encourage him as the saying goes, teach a child according to his way. Kol Hakovod to this man.

    17. did anyone actually listen to the song posted? its great! great beatboxing, and although the words are a little floaty unlike his older songs which are deeper, its still nice.

      i used to be a DJ who played his songs on the radio before he became so famous, and the lyrics (and other influences) led me to become a baalat teshuva, and now BH im married and raising a shomer mitzvot Jewish family!

    18. Recently in a class, we were discussing music. My teacher said there are 2 types of music. Body music and soul music. Music for the body just makes your body move. Music for the soul affects you on the inside. For example, after listening to a sad song (under the category of music for the soul), you may feel sad. This type of music may also inspire you spiritually. We did not get into whether or not we should listen to non-jewish music, because that’s a whole other discussion. But to summarize what my teacher said, body music, in the long run, is music that affects you in a not so good way. But soul music affects you in a very positive way. So, basically one should avoid body music and stick to soul music.
      The whole point of what I just said was…
      I don’t doubt for one second that Matisyahu’s music is soul music. Not only just the tune, the sound. But if you listen to his lyrics, they are all talking about Judiasm and Jewish ideas. Why should everyone put him down just because non-jews also like him if he is clearly making such a big Kiddush Hashem? I, for sure, could never have gotten as far as he has and remained true to Judiasm. I don’t think he could represent us any better.


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