The Brag

On our cover this week: Matisyahu

In Brag 323 (August 3), Feature Story, Interviews on August 4, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Left of Centre
Matisyahu talks to Ruth Tyler

Originality – especially in a music world where the listening public are constantly force-fed or bombarded by increasingly bland, middle-of-the-road-please-the-masses ‘product’ that’s seen as a commodity rather than actual art – is a something of a strange concept. Sure, there are polarising figures the world over we love-to-hate, or simply just love – who are brilliantly creative (see: James Mercer or Thom York) or hacks posing as innovators (see: Chris Martin or Daniel Johns), but few come to us as fully formed and downright left-of-centre, as Matisyahu.

Born Matthew Miller (he took on Matisyahu the Hebrew name for Matthew after becoming observant) and brought up in Pennsylvania and New York, Matisyahu has tread an incredibly unique path in his artistic rise – one that can almost be surmised by a simple question. Whoever heard of a Hasidic Jewish reggae-hip hop rapper?

Sure, the white-boy rap path has been most famously sauntered along before by Beastie Boys, Ill Bill and MC Paul Barman, but none were so striking in their appearance. The fact that Matisyahu dresses and keeps his personal guise in accordance with his faith (dark jacket and pants, white shirt, hat, peyos, un-shaven beard) was alone enough to set him apart from music of the music industry. It is, after all, an industry brimming with nondescript indie-clones or factory-floor rock wannabes and cookie-cutter pop-types, and thus it’s understandable how Matisyahu quickly gained a wave of hyperbole following his emergence in 2004.

But the road from his debut Shake Off The Dust… Arise to his new album Light has been long, spiritually challenging and, in many ways, an inspiring journey.
“It was a really strange way that I came into music,” Matisyahu explains from a carpark in Minnesota, where he’s midway through a quick US tour. “Once I gave voice to it, the pit of emotions that I guess I knew was inside of me for a long time, the stream never really stopped.

“But,” he adds, “at first I didn’t really know how to approach music, you know?” he queries rhetorically. “People didn’t know what to make of me, and I was trying, as a young man, to form not just an idea of myself, but as myself as an artist. And, obviously, it was a very confusing time period, but making music was the ideal outlet for me to at least express frustration at life, and celebrate aspects of it.”

[to read the rest of the article, pick up this week's issue of The Brag]

Who: Matisyahu
What: Light is out through SonyBMG
When: August 12, 2009
Where: The Metro

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