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June 30: Matisyahu

June 29, 2015

Matisyahuscreen shot 2013-01-24 at 11.18.53 amMatisyahu (Matthew Paul Miller), who emerged as a hasidic hip-hop and reggae sensation in 2004-2005, then shaved his beard, took off his yarmulke, and began performing on Friday nights, was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania on this date in 1979. He became a bar mitsve in the Reconstructionist-affiliated Congregation Bet Am Shalom in White Plains, experimented with psychedelic drugs, dropped out of high school, connected with the Carlebach Shul in New York, then hooked up with Chabad and lived during his years of music emergence in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Matisyahu sings mostly in English, with lots of Hebrew and Yiddish thrown in, and mixes elements of reggae, rap, and beatboxing with jazzy scat and cantorial styles of singing. His early success, and his rapping on religious themes, invested Lubavitcher hasidism with a very high hipness quotient for a time and brought a thrill to many young Orthodox Jews, both in the U.S. and in Israel. Matisyahu’s latter-day collaborators have included Kenny Muhammad, a Muslim beatboxer. To see him singing in hasidic regalia, look below.

“When there’s light shining on a tree, that tree takes on different meaning. If there’s no light at all it just looks dead. If you look at light as godly meaning, the world comes alive in a certain way.” —Matisyahu