Aug 27, 2009
Matisyahu is back to crowd surfing
"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.
, 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 new song "One Day", which seems to be the emerging hit from the new album, is a song easy to like. It has been a while since he did anything noteworthy, but perhaps he needed the time to work through all his issues and come out the way he wanted.
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.