Known for blending traditional Jewish themes with Reggae, rock and hip hop sounds, Matisyahu is most recognizable for his single “King Without a Crown”, which was a surprise Top 40 hit, and for being an orthodox Jew. Since 2004, he has released two studio albums as well as one live album, two remix CDs and one DVD featuring a live concert, and a number of interviews. Through his short career, Matisyahu has teamed up with some of the biggest names in reggae production including Bill Laswell and duo Sly & Robbie.
Since his debut, Matisyahu has received positive reviews from both rock and reggae outlets. Most recently, he was named Top Reggae Artist of 2006 by Billboard as well as being named a spokesperson for Kenneth Cole.
Matisyahu was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania; his family eventually settled in White Plains, New York. He was brought up a Reconstructionist Jew and sometimes performed under the alias MC Truth for MC Mystic’s Soulfari band. He spent some time as a young man as a self-professed “deadhead,” taking hallucinogens and following the rock band Phish on tour.
At 16, Matisyahu took part in a semester-long program that offers students first-hand exploration of Jewish heritage at the Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon, Israel. His experiences there significantly affected his feelings towards Judaism eventually leading to his decision to adopt Orthodox Judaism, becoming a Baal Teshuva around 2001. Initially he found his way to the Carlebach Shul on the West Side of Manhattan. Matisyahu then found his way to Chabad of Washington Square. He finished high school at a wilderness program in Bend, Oregon. Following this seminal event, Matisyahu began playing with the Jewish band Pey Dalid.
From 2001 through most of his early career until July 2007, Matisyahu was a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York. However, as of 17 July 2007, he told the Miami New Times in an interview that he no longer “necessarily” identifies with the Lubavitch movement. In the interview, he stated that “…the more I’m learning about other types of Jews, I don’t want to exclude myself. I felt boxed in.” Additionally in the autumn of 2007 while on a family vacation spent primarily in Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighborhood he has expressed interest in another Hasidic sect, that of Karlin. As of November 2007 he has confirmed a preference to pray at the Karliner synagogue in Boro Park where the custom is to ecstatically scream prayers; however he continues to reside in Crown Heights because of his wife’s affinity for the community.
Soon after his adoption of hasidism, Matisyahu began studying Torah at Hadar Hatorah, a yeshiva for returnees to Judaism where he wrote and recorded his first album. He counts Bob Marley, Phish, God Street Wine and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach among his musical inspirations and gives credit to Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s book Toward a Meaningful Life for the lyrical inspiration to Youth’s title track. As part of his faith, he does not perform in concert on Friday nights in observance of the Jewish Sabbath. An exception to this occurred at a 2007 concert in Fairbanks, Alaska, which he allowed because the sun didn’t set until 2am.
Matisyahu is married to Tahlia; the couple have two sons. He also has a younger sister named Julie.
In 2004, Matisyahu, after having signed with JDub Records, a not-for-profit record label that promotes Jewish musicians, released his first album, Shake Off the Dust…Arise. At the time a relatively unknown musician, he did not rise to prominence until Bonnaroo 2005, when Trey Anastasio of the band Phish invited him a guest spot on his set. This would prove to be the event that launched his career.
His live album, Live at Stubb’s, released in 2005, was recorded at a concert in Austin, Texas. This concert album, and Youth, his second studio album, both received critical and popular acclaim. Each album marks significant changes in Matisyahu’s style, most markedly between Stubb’s and Youth, when more rock music influences are evident. Since his second two albums became popular, Shake off the Dust has steadily risen in demand, fetching prices upwards of $30USD on online auction sites such as Ebay.
Throughout 2005 and 2006, Matisyahu toured extensively in the United States, Canada and Europe; and made a number of stops in Israel, including a performance as the supporting act for Sting in June 2006. In late 2006, Matisyahu released No Place to Be, a remix album featuring re-recordings and remixes of songs from all three of his earlier albums, as well as a cover of “Message in a Bottle” by The Police.
The live version of the song King Without a Crown, broke into the Modern Rock Top 10 in 2006. The accompanying video and album, Youth, produced by Bill Laswell, were released on March 7, 2006. On March 16, Youth was Billboard magazine’s number-one Digital Album. In 2006, Matisyahu appeared once again at Bonnaroo, this time performing a solo set in front of an estimated crowd of over 10,000 people.
In Spring 2006, right before the release of Youth, Matisyahu cut ties with his managers at JDub Records, which resulted in some controversy due to Matisyahu’s role in the founding of the label. Contrary to popular belief, JDub managed his act, but was not his record label.
In January 2007, Matisyahu performed in an impromptu concert at the Park City Film Music Festival in Park City, Utah, while in Park City for the Slamdance Film Festival. Matisyahu’s music is part of the winning documentary film “Unsettled” which won at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival.
In April 2007 it was confirmed that Matisyahu, along with Los Angeles based jam band Particle and British ska band The English Beat, would open for 311 on their Summer Unity Tour 2007. The tour ran from late June to late August and included shows all across the country.
In June 2007, Matisyahu played at the Waikiki Shell in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he received a triple encore. His opening bands follow in order of appearance were Madina Lake, Plain White T’s and Yellowcard.
In July 2007, it was reported that Matisyahu had begun writing new songs for his third album.According to Billboard.com, Matisyahu’s new album, entitled Light, is expected to be released sometime in early 2009.
In a 2008 rockumentary, Call+Response, headed by Justin Dillon, Matisyahu performed “Indestructible” and “Redemption Song” in support of the film’s cause: a movement against current slavery and human trafficking.
Matisyahu has planns to release his new album, “LIGHT” April, 21 2009.
The music, developed partly with his backing band Roots Tonic has a unique sound, mixing reggae, traditional rap, and guitar solos typical of rock music. He sometimes performs with Kenny Muhammad, a Muslim beatboxer. Matisyahu’s major label debut album was produced by avant-garde musician and producer Bill Laswell, with minor contribution by pop producers Jimmy Douglass and the Ill Factor.
Most of his songs are almost entirely in English with just a few words of Hebrew and Yiddish sprinkled in. His reggae vocal style is along the lines of traditional Rasta Roots stylings mixed with dub sound. The easiest comparison would be similar to the conscious and cultural sides of Buju Banton, Snow, Sizzla, Capleton, or Junior Kelly, but with the upbeat message of Luciano, Bushman and Everton Blender, and vocal dexterity of Barrington Levy. The production of the tracks draws from King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Mikey Dread, and Linval Thompson. Similarities to the Foundation Sound of the late 1970s and 1980s would be accurate, and comparisons to Morgan Heritage likewise, would not be wrong.
However, he mixes in contemporary stylings of rap and beatboxing, similar to Sublime, as well as the traditional Hazzan style of Jewish cantors and Hasidic nigunim. The generally critical New York Times‘ Kelefa Sanneh notes that “His sound owes a lot to early dancehall reggae stars like Barrington Levy and Eek-a-Mouse.” The Chicago Tribune’s Kevin Pang has described a Matisyahu performance as “soul-shaking brand of dancehall reggae, a show that captures both the jam band vibe of Phish and the ska-punk of Sublime.” Reviewers generally agree that Matisyahu may disappoint reggae purists, but acknowledge the unique blend of musical traditions that Matisyahu harnesses generally please the people who see his performances. Matisyahu’s style has been compared to Jew da Maccabi, an Orthodox Jew from Florida who includes religious lyrics within a musical style derived from hip-hop. Matisyahu’s style has also been compared to Jordan Chaviv, an Orthodox Jew from Canada whose lyrics are also inspired by Jewish teachings.
Matisyahu has stated that “All of my songs are influenced and inspired by the teachings that inspire me. I want my music to have meaning, to be able to touch people and make them think. Chasidism teaches that music is ‘the quill of the soul.’ Music taps into a very deep place and speaks to us in a way that regular words can’t.”
Origin of his name
Matisyahu is an Ashkenazi Hebrew and Yiddish pronunciation of the Biblical name Matthew (מתתיהו). The same Hebrew name corresponds to the name Mattathias — which is sometimes used as a translation of the name of the 2nd century B.C.E. Jewish high priest of the Maccabees.
Matisyahu Miller explained the origin of his personal use of the name in an interview in Kosher Spirit Magazine (a publication by OK Kosher Certification) as follows: His full secular name is Matthew Paul Miller, and the legal Hebrew name he received at his brit milah (circumcision ceremony) at eight days of age was forgotten. In Hebrew school it was assumed to be Matisyahu because of the connection between Matthew and Matisyahu. The original certificate from the brit was later located and he discovered that the actual name given at the brit was the Yiddish name “Feivish Hershel”. He was advised by his rabbis to continue using the Hebrew name that he had grown up with.
- Matisyahu – vocals (2000-present)
- Aaron Dugan − guitar (2004-present)
- Jason Fraticelli – bass guitar (2007-present)
- Rob Marscher – keyboards (2008-present)
- Skoota Warner – drums (2007-present)
- Daniel Sadownick – percussion (2006-present)
- Jonah David − drums (2004-2007)
- Josh Werner – bass (2004-2007)
- Borahm Lee – keyboards (2006-2007)
|Date of Release||Title||Label||US Billboard Peak||US RIAA Certification||October 12, 2004||Shake off the Dust… Arise||JDub Records||March 7, 2006||Youth||JDub/Or Music/Epic||#4||Gold||April 21, 2009||Light||JDub/Or Music/Epic|
|Date of Release||Title||Label||US Billboard Peak||US RIAA Certification||April 19, 2005||Live at Stubb’s (live)||JDub/Or Music/Epic||#30||Gold||March 7, 2006||Youth Dub||JDub/Or Music/Epic||December 26, 2006||No Place to Be (remix album) (CD/DVD)||Sony Music||#149||October 21, 2008||Shattered (EP)||Epic|
|Year||Title||Album||2006||“King without a Crown”||Live at Stubb’s / Youth / Shake off the Dust… Arise||2006||“Youth”||Youth||2006||“Jerusalem (Out of the Darkness Comes Light)”|
(new version with Sly & Robbie)
- So Called – The So Called Seder: A HipHop Haggadah, JDUB Records, 2005
- Track 3rd Cup: Yahu (also featuring Trevor Dunn)
- P.O.D. – Testify , Atlantic, 2006
- Tracks Roots In Stereo and Strength Of My Life
- Ta-Shma – Come Listen, JMG, 2006
- Track Rachamana
- C-Rayz Walz – The Dropping, Urchin Studios, 2006
- Track Childhood (also featuring Kosha Dillz)
- Amnesty International/iTunes exclusive compilation Make Some Noise in support of Darfur
- Matisyahu & Dub Trio track Watching The Wheels (like all songs on the compilation this is a John Lennon cover)
- Performed “Love Song” with 311 on many tour dates during 311’s summer tour entitled the “Unity Tour” adding a verse of reggae based on the song “Jerusalem”,”Aish Tamid” or “Heights”.
- Co-Wrote the song “Away with This” with Joseph Israel and performed it live on both 2/19/2005 in Austin, Texas at Stubb’s and again on 12/8/2007 in Brooklyn, New York at the Warsaw Theater.
- Performed live with Infected Mushroom at Virgin Music Festival 2007 – Baltimore USA YouTube Video of event
- Performed “Indestructible,” “Time of Your Song,” “Dispatch the Troops,” and others live with Minnesota-based jam band group Wookiefoot at the “Ripple Effect” free concert on September 02, 2008 on the State Capitol lawn outside of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN
- “Message in a Bottle” (The Police) – Album cover – Appears on his No Place to Be CD/DVD set
- “Rastaman Chant” (Bob Marley) – Live cover
- “Soul Rebel” (The Wailers) – Live a capella cover
- “Watching the Wheels” (John Lennon) – Album cover – Appears on Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur
- “Zion Train” (Bob Marley) – Live cover
- “Morning Dew” (Bonnie Dobson) – Live Cover
TV and radio appearances
- Jimmy Kimmel Live (August 24, 2004)
- Last Call with Carson Daly (2004)
- Steve Harvey’s Big Time Challenge (2004)
- The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (2005)
- Late Night With Conan O’Brien (2005)
- World Cafe (NPR) (July 29 2005)
- The Late Late Show (November 15 2005)
- mtvU Woodie Awards 2005 (November 2005)
- MTV 10 Spot (December 6 2005)
- MTVU : Uber (December 19 2005)
- Late Show with David Letterman (January 16, 2006)
- Late Night with Conan O’Brien (March 7 2006)
- Jimmy Kimmel Live (March 8 2006)
- CBS Sunday Morning (March 26 2006)
- WOCL Early 2006
- Guerilla Gig Live (March 31 2006)
- Later with Jools Holland (May 12 2006)
- Late Late Show with Pat Kenny (May 19 2006)
- Zane Lowe, BBC Radio 1 (May 31 2006)
- MTV LIVE, MTV Canada (June 12 2006)
- Bonnaroo, Manchester, TN (June 18 2006)
- Rock Werchter 2006, Belgium (June 29 2006)
- Lollapalooza, Chicago (August 5 2006)
- Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin, Texas (September 17 2006)
- Soundcheck, WNYC, New York City, (December 11 2006) Listen
- The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (January 3, 2007)
- Jimmy Kimmel Live (January 4 2007)
- The Jewish Americans (PBS miniseries) (2008)
- 2006 Esquire’s Esky Music Awards – Most Lovable Oddball in The magazine called him “the most intriguing reggae artist in the world.”
- Awake Zion– a documentary that compares reggae and Judaism
- “Sean Paul, Matisyahu reggae’s top acts in ’06” Todd Martens for Reuters.
- “Matisyahu: Clothes Horse, Diversity Poster Boy” by Carolyn Slutsky for Jewish Week New York.
- AskMen.com – Matisyahu Picture
- Jewish MC rocks the mike and keeps it kosher Joan Anderman, 20 June 2004.
- Matisya-Who? by Brian Blum at Shabbat Shalom; June 15, 2006
- Matisyahu Tonight at Sound Advice Amphitheatre. 17 July 2007, Miami New Times Blog.
- The Bob and the Baba. 09 October 2007, HaAretz Daily Newspaper Israel.
- Matisyahu’s New Spiritual Groove. 28 November 2007, The Jewish Week.
-  Rolling Stone. New CDs: Matisyahu, Juvenile, by Peter Relic. 6 March 2006
- Oy!Chiacgo Accessed July 4, 2008.
- AIM Celebrity Interview
- Matisyahu: Hasidic Hot Stepper Rolling Stone Magazine, Evan Serpick. Feb 24, 2006
- Hasidic Reggae Singer Surprises His Managers. 14 March 2006, Ben Sisario, The New York Times.
- Matisyahu Begins Writing New Album. 18 July 2007, Ultimate-Guitar.com.
- Matisyahu Preps EP, Eyes ’09 For New Album. 24 September 2008, Billboard.com.
- Matisyahu – Reggae Review – New York Times
- Jew Da Maccabi, Leslie Bunder. “Something Jewish” Dec. 19, 2005.
- Jordan Chaviv – Biography – Jordan Chaviv – Biography – Jewish RAP, Jewish Hip Hop, Jewish Soul, Jewish RnB – Baal Teshuva – Blue Fringe – Gad Elbaz – Matisyahu – Palestinian rap – Palestinian music – Israeli – Jerusalem – Israel
- Matisyahu’s Passover, Chabad.org, April 2006.
- M on M – Hasidic Reggae Superstar Kosher Spirit Magazine, Fall 2005.
- Amazon listing for Album, Track 9. Released Jun 21, 2005.
- Amazon listing for Album, Tracks 1 and 11. Released Jan. 24, 2006
- Amazon listing for Album, Track 2. Released Sept. 19, 2006.
- Internet Archive Setlist Live at The Funkbox on 2004-10-21
- Internet Archive Setlist Live at 2004 Jewish-American Festival on 2004-09-05
- Internet Archive Setlist Live at Toad’s Place on 2007-12-02 (December 2, 2007)
- The 2006 Esky Music Awards April 2006, Volume 145, Issue 4.
- Official website
- The Bridge – The Official Fan Club
- Official MySpace
- Official Video Site
- Concert Gallery
- The Jewish Channel’s Review of Matisyahu’s bio film
- Matisyahu at the Open Directory Project
- Matisyahu collection at the Internet Archive’s live music archive
- DVD: Matisyahu rocks the Holy Land
- Matisyahu: “Youth”, a review-essay by Said Shirazi
- Article about Matisyahu in Russian
- Matisyahu On Camera Interview Uncut