Matisyahu: Musical and Spiritual Transformation
Matthew Paul Miller—a man you may only know by his stage name, Matisyahu—is on a journey through music and spirituality, taking fans with him as he travels with the band on his 2014 tour, Built To Survive. One of America’s only Hasidic American reggae rappers, Matisyahu revolutionarily combines alt rock, reggae, beatboxing, and rock. All the while, the content of his lyrics, which he steps through so gracefully, is straight from the soul and touches on Orthodox Jewish themes, something central to his upbringing. A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, his name is Yiddish for “gift of God.” Raised a reconstructionist Jew, Matisyahu rebelled against his upbringing and dropped out of high school after the first day of his senior year. Why? To travel around the country and explore nature. He soon received musical success. His 2005 Top 40 single “King Without a Crown” marked the beginning of a new phase in his life. However, much has changed in the past 10 years. Most noteably, Matisyahu has changed his appearance drastically since he first received success. As a result of his devotion to Orthodox Judaism, gone are the distinctive curls and thick, full beard (not to mention the yarmulke), which drew attention from faithful followers. Practically unrecognizeable, he has even had trouble getting into premieres and parties. Personally, I like the new clean-cut pedestrian look.
Playing songs like “Surrender,” “King Without A Crown,” and “Darkness Into Light,” Matisyahu made sure the show at the Music Farm was full of energy and, if you listened closely, constant religious undertones. Almost immediately, there was a faint sway apparent amongst the crowd. Matisyahu himself got very into the music, eventually dancing and jumping around to get the crowd going. The audience definitely received him well. His new album, Akeda (the Hebrew word for “binding”), is much different than his older material. It is deeper, more roots based, less dancehall. It branches off to new musical realms. It’s like electronic hip-hop meets synthesized pop, although some songs have that classic and familiar reggae beat we all love from him.
I have to mention the opener, Radical Something. I only caught the last few songs by this California band, but compared to Matisyahu, their applause was tepid. Their music was fun loving, light, and summery; however, it wasn’t exactly right up my alley, and I don’t think I was alone.
Matisyahu possesses an unusual yet captivating talent. The spirituality behind his work is what makes him unique. No matter how he looks, his musical talent is not bound to constructs. The man’s got skill and knows how to move an audience. It will be interesting to see how he continues to change along with his music in the future.