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Divine Sounds of Matisyahu

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

Jewish-American rapper Matisyahu proves that enlightenment isn't necessarily what you think.

Photo by: Adam Anderson

Raise your hand if you've ever gotten into a heated debate with a friend or family member? *RAISES HAND* Ok, now raise your hand if you've ever gotten into a heated debate with a friend or family member over the topic of #religion? *RAISES BOTH HANDS*

Religion is an extremely divisive topic, no matter what you believe in. Like tastes in food or political affiliation, it always seems like someone gets bent out of shape one way or another because someone else lives a different way other than what we're used to. I mean, this isn't just a friendly disagreement about the best #Thai food in town. That's why the old adage to never talk about money, politics or religion, exists in the first place. It's an extremely stifling and downright shitty situation, no matter what side of the fence you're sitting on.

Photo by: Carey Bermingham

Jewish-American musical artist, Matisyahu, knows all about the the criticism from both sides. Here's a cat, born Matthew Paul Miller, born in Pennsylvania and raised in New York, that grew up with a rigid childhood upbringing. Fast forward a few years after high school, a few stints in drug rehabilitation and faced with a search for his true identity, and Matisyahu was born. I first heard of him while in school at the University of Texas at Austin, when he played a show at Stubb's BBQ on Red River in 2005. I went there mainly for the BBQ, but was let in to the concert with some friends, not knowing who was playing. If you look at some old videos on YouTube, you might see me throwing my hands up all the way in back.

Little did I know, that concert would be turned into his second full album, Live At Stubb's. His #reggae sound combined with #beatboxing and unique #Jewish lyrics was mind-blowing, especially when I first heard the song "King Without A Crown." It was an infectious song that made my friends and I jump up like it was Dr. Dre or Eminem. Now, we know CROSSxOVER is all about discovering new artists or creatives and that Matisyahu has been around for a while. But what's great about telling people who may not know Matisyahu, is the journey he's been through the past 15-20 years. Even as he was performing and adhering to a strict Jewish life, from his hair and wearing a yarmulke to attending services every Sabbath, the essence of his music was all about being a good person; an overt message of acceptance. Quite ironic when we're talking about religion, which can more often than not be depicted as extremely rigid, no?

Photo by: Gus Samarco

Looking at him now, after he's cut off his hair, looks and dresses normally (as in jeans, hoodies and t-shirts, etc.) and you have to ask to yourself what his musical journey was like to get to this point. He still performs at many Jewish festivals and concerts, but has evolved into a more alternative/indie sound. The beatboxing remains unphased, but years ago when his lyrics consisted of religious sanctimony and vivid metaphors have now shifted to a "this is me, take it or leave it" persona that is just as refreshing, heartfelt and, in our eyes, even more inspirational. Songs like his iconic "One Day" are still performed in his set, but they sit comfortably alongside the almost spiritually modern "Back To The Old."

It's always in the back of my head, if I weren't there to witness his set at Stubb's, would I still be wondering what his journey is like? I'm fascinated by this guy's life. His music is a reflection of this evolution, and I've come to the conclusion that he's letting us peer into this window, showing his salvation that is beyond pure religion and perfection.

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I'm curious to know what the future holds for him and how his music will evolve in the next couple of years. To us, even though he may not be as big as a household name like Dr. Dre, Kenny Dope or Big Daddy Kane, he's breathing that same rarified air.

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