Perhaps one of the most eclectic
talents in popular music today, Hasidic reggae singer/rapper
Matisyahu (born Matthew Paul Miller on June 30, 1979)
has been captivating audiences since
he burst onto the scene in late 2004. His infectious
mix of reggae, hip hop, and Jewish soul has attracted
the praise of a multitude of fans and critics
alike. By combining the dancehall reggae sound of artists
like Bob Marley and Buju Banton with the energetic
ska of Sublime, as well as the Jewish spirit of Rabbi
Shlomo Carlebach, Matisyahu has created a popular cultural
fusion that has inspired fans across the world.
Matisyahu was born in West Chester, PA, and eventually
settled with his family in White Plains, NY.
He was brought up as a Reconstructionist Jew.
Matisyahu describes himself as a hippie at age 16 who
was interested in reggae artists like Bob Marley. He
even dropped out of high school at age 17 to follow
the jam band Phish to the West Coast. “I
wasn't into Judaism,” he
claimed in an interview with Ha’aretz. “I
was into music, Reggae, Bob Marley, girls. My
parents wanted me to travel. They signed me up
for this three-month program . . .and that's how I
got to the Alexander
Muss High School in in Hod Hasharon.” Matisyahu
credits his trip on the Alexander Muss program as the
catalyst to living a more actively Jewish life.
most spiritual moment on the Israel program came during
his first visit to Jerusalem, where he saw the city
for the first time from the heights of Mount
people who take you there know very well why they are
doing it. It has a
big effect on a person to go up to this place, to overlook
Jerusalem from above. You
stand up there, overlooking this incredible city, and
you sing Jerusalem of Gold and something big
moves inside your heart. It was the first time
I felt my soul, that I really felt it. I felt G-d.”
Matisyahu found his way to the Carlebach Synagogue
in New York City. In 2001, he became a baal teshuva and
turned to Orthodox
Judaism while playing some shows
in the area. He began serious Torah study in Yeshiva
Hadar HaTorah, a yeshiva for baalei
teshuvah located in the Hasidic center in Crown
Heights, Brooklyn. He wrote and recorded his first
album while he was a student at the yeshiva.
His popularity began to rise by word
of mouth, and then through his early television appearances.
After releasing his first album Shake Off the Dust...Arise on
JDub Records in 2004, he began to get some mainstream
recognition. He appeared on the late night talk show Last Call with Carson Daly in 2004, where
Daly introduced him as “the most exciting thing
happening in music today.”
It wasn’t until
his second release, a concert album recorded in Austin, Texas entitled Live
at Stubbs, did Matisyahu
and his band (known as Roots Tonic) begin to achieve
commerical success. To date, the album has been certified
Gold by the US RIAA, meaning it has sold over 500,000
units, and peaked at #30 on the Billboard Charts.
The live version of the single “King Without
a Crown” has broken into the Modern Rock Top
10 and peaked at #7. His
most recent album, Youth,
released in March 2006 by Epic Records, is a smash
hit and has also been certified Gold. Youth peaked
#4 on the Billboard Charts. On March 16, Youth was
the #1 “Digital Album” according to Billboard.
The band that plays with Matisyahu,
Roots Tonic, consists of Aaron Dugan on guitar, Josh
Werner on bass and keyboards, and Jonah David on drums.
Roots Tonic’s musicianship and energy has been
hugely important to Matisyahu’s personal success.
Bassist Josh Werner is credited with co-writing many
of Matisyahu’s songs. Guest musicians and rappers
also have made appearances on his albums, and Matisyahu
himself has made a guest appearance with the rock band
P.O.D. on their album Testify.
Among his many accolades, Matisyahu
was named one of the top 5 Jews in the American
Jewish community by The Forward.
In 2006, Esquire gave him the “Esky Award for Most Lovable
Oddball,” and called him the “the
most intriguing reggae artist in the world.” In
June 2006, he was named the XBox Live Artist of the
Month, and XBox made a video of the song “Youth” available
When asked about what universal message
he wants to convey to his listeners, he says he says
his goal is to “bring a message of humility and
holiness to the world. I want to help others recognize
their potential within and their ability to break out
of their boundaries, their constraints.”
Matisyahu was married to his wife,
Thalia, in August 2004. They have three sons: Laivy, Shalom and Menachem Mendel.
In December 2011 posted a beardless picture of himself on Twitter explaining that he was no more a "Chassidic reggae superstar." In June 2012, Matisyahu appeared in an online video to promote his new single "Sunshine" with his hair dyed blonde and without a yarmulke. Controversy also arose due to some confusion as to whether or not Matisyahu was still spiritually Jewish, though he confirmed several times that he certainly is still spiritually Jewish. Matisyahu is also a vegan and a founding member of the Jewish vegan organization, the Shamayim V'Aretz Institute.
In 2015, Matisyahu was set to play at the Rototom festival outside of Valencia, Spain. The Valencia BDS movement had pressured Matisyahu to release a statement expressing support for a Palestinian state, which he ignored. Although Rototom initially expressed support for Matisyahu, two days after - following pressure from the Valencia BDS branch - Rototom had cancelled Matisyahu's performance over a failure to clarify his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following an international outrage and the possibility that the festival could be tried under Spain's anti-discrimination law, Rototom reinvited Matisyahu. For their role in the debacle, Valencia's BDS branch has stood by their original position in claiming that Matisyahu has "repeated defense of Israeli war crimes and gross violations of human rights, incitement of racial hatred, and connections to extremist and violent fundamentalist groups in Israel..."