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“King Without A Crown (Live at Stubbs)” – Matisyahu

Matthew Paul Miller (born June 30, 1979), known by his Hebrew name and stage name Matisyahu (“Gift of God”), is an American reggae and alternative rock musician.

Matisyahu grew up in White Plains in Westchester County, New York, was brought up a Reconstructionist Jew and attended Hebrew school at Bet Am Shalom, a synagogue in White Plains.  However by the time he was a teenager Matisyahu was beginning to rebel against his faith and his parents, began experimenting with hallucinogens and became a “Phish-Head,” following the band Phish around the country for concerts.

In 1995 Matisyahu took part in a a two month-long program at the Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon, Israel, a program which offers students first-hand exploration of Jewish heritage as a way of solidifying Jewish identity.  His experiences there led to his decision to adopt Orthodox Judaism. Initially he found his way to the Carlebach Shul on the West Side of Manhattan. Matisyahu then sought out Chabad of Washington Square, a branch of the large Hasidic movement also often called Lubavitch. At the age of 19, Miller formally joined the Lubavitch movement and took a Hebrew form of his name: Matisyahu.

Matisyahu has carved an interesting genre out for himself, blending reggae, beatboxing, and hip-hop while speaking about political and Jewish themes.  The New York Times‘ Kelefa Sanneh wrote that “His sound owes a lot to early dancehall reggae stars like Barrington Levy and Eek-a-Mouse.”  However, Judaism is a major source of Inspiration and most of his songs refer to Jewish tenets:

All of my songs are influenced and inspired by the teachings that inspire me. I want my music to have meaning, to be able to touch people and make them think. Chasidism teaches that music is ‘the quill of the soul.’ Music taps into a very deep place and speaks to us in a way that regular words can’t.

Matisyahu was an oddity in the world of music with his Hasidic attire, but recently he decided to cut his hair and stop wearing a yarmulka.  This lead to confusion and outcry amongst some of his Jewish followers, but the artist had an answer to these criticsisms:

No more Chassidic reggae superstar.  Sorry folks, all you get is me…no alias.  When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process.  It was my choice.  My journey: to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality—not through books but through real life.  At a certain point I felt the need to submit to a higher level of religiosity… to move away from my intuition and to accept an ultimate truth.  I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules—lots of them—or else I would somehow fall apart.  I am reclaiming myself.  Trusting my goodness and my divine mission.  Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth.  And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry…you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair.

Sounds like a great reason to me.  With 3 studio albums hitting # 1 on the reggae charts, one live album at #1 on the reggae charts, and 3 albums in the top 20 on the US Billboard it doesn’t seem like Matisyahu is going anywhere.  Hopefully he’ll have plenty of time to regrow that beard!

Lyrics here.

More about Matisyahu here.

King Without a Crown (Live) - Live At Stubb's

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