Neither Reggae nor hip-hop are new music forms and the combination of the two isn't a groundbreaking concept at this point either, but when Matisyahu melds the two, it results in something undeniably special. Sure, there's an element of curiosity added when you realize that he's a Hassidic/Orthodox Jewish rapper, but once you get beyond the novelty factor, you realize it's Matisyahu's spiritual approach that adds the intangible factor to his music.
When he arrived on the international stage with the release of Live at Stubbs, Volume 1 in 2005, Matisyahu immediately turned heads with his fresh blend of hip-hop and reggae. As he evolved with the studio releases Youth and Light, the artist grew not only musically, but also lyrically, expanding his lyrics with a spiritual element that gave his songs even more depth.
With the release of Live at Stubbs, Volume 2, Matisyahu continues to expand sonically with a new band that adds a heavier rock and improvisational edge to his performance. When asked about the transition between bands, Matisyahu shared that "I've been lucky to play with some very talented musicians. I've found it interesting that whoever I'm playing with, I seem to be aligned with in musical taste at that time."
"With the first band, we all shared the same taste in music. As that taste grew and changed, I found myself wanting to work with different people," he explained. "Dub Trio is a group I had seen perform before and I immediately loved and followed. I looked forward to possibly being able to work with them at some point and the timing finally worked out. There are a lot of competent musicians out there; it's just a matter of being aligned correctly and at the right time."
While the band has undoubtedly helped shape the delivery of Matisyahu's material, the aspect that truly sets him apart is the spiritual aspect of his music. The intersection of faith and music has always been a hot button issue in the pop and rock genres, so I had to ask if he found any conflict in blending the two.
"It came very naturally for me," he shared. "The icons that I learned from were saturated in that, people like Bob Marley and many of the reggae artists I listened to a lot all had a very spiritual component to their music."
Furthermore, he also shared that his religious background and upbringing exposed him to more depth and majesty of the Old Testament in its Psalms and music.
"Some artists are able to bring that majesty out more than others and I try to do that," Matisyahu shared. "As I became more immersed in religious history, that became a backdrop for me."
"There are other artists, like Killah Priest, who put out an album, View from Masada," he continued. "There's a lot of biblical imagery in that album that he got into, but it was always very clear to me what was real vs. the arrogant and personal viewpoint. Humility is very important to me and reggae certainly has a quality of humility to it. I've always been more interested in music that shares faith and builds people up versus music that's used as a way to sucker people into your beliefs and manipulate them."
Matisyahu's music has always had that added spiritual aspect and it's even more pronounced on new tracks like "Mist Rising" which openly draws on biblical imagery and refers to the "The Line of King David." As he mentioned, however, the biblical references all bring his music a majestic quality and spirit of hope, renewal and redemption without being overbearing. His approach is one from which many crossover Christian artists could learn.
Over the course of his career, Matisyahu has released three studio albums, two of which were released on a major label as well as a remix album and a pair of love discs. With that career, Matisyahu has become a highly respected artist and a major draw on the concert trail. This summer's tour sees him hit 53 cities as he crosses the US.
When asked how things have changed since he exploded on the scene in 2005, he shared that "As I continue to have opportunities and the ability to tour, I continue to grow and mature. Touring has really developed my sense of the country and who my fan base is. I realize that it's the people in my audience giving me the opportunity to do this. I'm able to process that much more than I could when I was in my 20's and it was all a big whirlwind."
"I've got a certain sense now of trying to reference where I'm at and take in all the people at my shows. I'm finding myself in a cool place right now."
Although a new studio album has been started, Matisyahu indicated it isn't finished yet and he is currently aiming for a release in 2012. In the meantime, the February release of Live at Stubbs, Volume 2 not only showcased his musical evolution with Dub Trio, but also debuted a trio of new tracks.
When asked why he chose to record another live disc, he explained that "Stubbs has already been established -- people already know the venue. I also thought there was something cool about returning and doing a Part 2."
If anything, the latest disc is a perfect segue to the next stage of Matisyahu's development as an artist, tying his earlier material to the new and using Stubbs as the touchstone shared between chapters in his career.
The current tour stops in Tulsa for a concert at Cain's Ballroom this Sunday night, August 16. Trevor Hall will open the show at 8pm before Matisyahu takes the stage with Dub Trio and brings a new level of majesty to the Ballroom as a preview to what next year's release may bring.
Share this article: