rabbimusicDebate is more Jewish that bagels and knishes. It is the fountain that we drink from. So it is as no surprise that Jews disagree on the new Reb Matis album. Some are elated and some feel betrayed. Some agree with the flat-worlders in New York [some people were hurt by that, sorry, it is meant as a joke. They just think the world ends in Jersey. No really, folks, JK, please its meant as a friendly jibe…] that feel that the Youth album should have sounded just like the last one. Some out here in the West understand that musicians can only grow and diversify their audience, by constantly reinventing their sound and being creative.

But we are talking about a young Chasidic Yid, with a brilliance and creativity unlike any Jewish musician in decades. Think Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and not The Chevre. No offense meant to any Jewish musicians, a group I sometimes fall into. But Reb Matis is something far larger and universal.

So here is the Official West Coast Long Beach Jewish Campus Rabbi Review of the new album, that regardless of what we all think, is going to be the number one album in the country very soon. Yup, you heard it here. Youth will be number one, so it really doesn’t matter much what us heebs think. Reb Matis has put together, with the help of creative group of musicians and producers, one of the most listenable albums in years.

YOUTH! Is not a Jewish album in the way that Avraham Fried is Jewish. Matis said it himself, if one was listening at Jewlicious@TheBeach, during the Shabbat Afternoon Panel discussion, Jewish Music in the Age of Matisyahu. Allow me to paraphrase Reb Matis because we couldn’t record on Shabbat. He said “I make music. The Jewish themes are an extension of who I am, but my music is not Jewish music.” And in a recent interview he said “I never aimed for the Jewish community. I aimed for a mainstream audience, because that’s the world that I come out of.” He said it. Then everyone gets all their knickers in a twist that its not Jewish enough. Reb Matis has wanted to become a major superstar his whole life.

There are music purists out there that feel betrayed because it doesn’t have that “this was mixed by a seventh grader at Emerson Middle School sound.” It is very popular oriented. He brought in Ill Factor, a hit generator who knows how to bring some serious sound. He used a major producer, who has produced big movers and shakers of music. So of course, his album won’t sound like it was mixed on someone’s laptop. We all loved Shake of the Dust. That was cool. This is cool too, just in a different way.

I love the song Jerusalem. So catchy, so about what is right now the most contested city. Reb Matis, sing it brother, and sing it loud.! As for each other song, well, I will spare you my notes. Enough to say, it was worth the 14.99 I paid at Virgin Megastore in Orange. Well Well worth the money. And his fans in California love it. Now here are some more sophisticated reviews from people who actually do this for a living….

From the Dailynews.com: With his band’s third album, the Brooklyn-based singer revisits his bread-and-butter themes of spirituality, fidelity and the search for fulfillment with a clean, studio-produced sound. The disc certainly offers variety. There are moments of pure Bob Marley (“What I’m Fighting For”), hip-hop (“Jerusalem”) and Phil Collins-esque moral solitude (“Late Night in Zion”)….. You don’t come to Matisyahu for nuance, but in some ways he is a welcome relief from the oiled honeys and faux punk bands on MTV.

Matisyahu does not reinvent the wheel, but he connects the dots with virtuoso skill on his first major studio album following the still-hot “Live at Stubb’s.” The Hasidic reggae singer/rapper is from Crown Heights, a dense square mile of Brooklyn, N.Y., shared by thousands of orthodox Jews, West Indians and more than a few reggae-loving Rastafarians. It is easy to hear the give-and-take between Jewish vocal tradition, scripture and Rasta iconography in Matisyahu’s words and music: Opener “Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth” is replete with widely, though perhaps differently, understood references to Zion and Babylon. Themes of exile, hope and redemption suffuse this musically varied collection. Permeating the songs is the search for life’s meaning in a dangerous, material world. Matisyahu’s vehicle for exploration is classic reggae, dub and toasting, elevated by his Roots Tonic band and his own authoritative, richly nuanced delivery. —Wayne Robins

by Jim Harrington
liveDaily Contributor
The recent success of Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley’s Grammy-winning “Welcome to Jamrock” has certainly piqued the mainstream’s curiosity in reggae music. Matisyahu (music)’s “Youth” is the CD that should take that interest to the next level.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Matisyahu provides an intriguing storyline. There aren’t many–if any–other Hasidic Jews out there toasting about the joys of Judaism over hot semi-traditional reggae and dancehall grooves. But the novelty aspect of Matisyahu’s shtick is growing less significant. What matters more is just how amazingly talented he is a vocalist.

“Youth” is solid from start to finish, and it’s diverse enough to appeal to several different groups of music fans. Slick tracks like “Time of Your Song” have definite Top-40 potential. Hip-hop heads will appreciate the beatboxing and the rap-like delivery found on tunes like “Dispatch the Troups.” The opener, “Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth,” possesses a jam-band-friendly vibe that should draw fans of Phish, a band that Matisyahu once followed. And just about everything on the disc sounds like it would work in the dance club.

Learn how to pronounce this artist’s name–“Mah-tis-yah-who”–you’ll be reading it often in 2006.
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Barnes & Noble
The most unusual breakout artist of 2005, Matisyahu capitalizes on the heat generated by “King Without a Crown” — the MTV hit spawned by his Live at Stubb’s disc — with Youth, an album that expands his sound and roundly dismisses the novelty of an Orthodox Jewish reggae DJ. Based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the spiritual headquarters of the Lubavitch sect of Hasidism he extols, Matis and his band saw most of the rest of the world through incessant touring, gaining more and more fans and pushing “King” further and further up the charts. The Matisyahu sound incorporates rock-solid reggae riddim, beatboxing, Hasidic chant, and heavy guitar, but it’s his deeply spiritual message that seems to draw folks: In an era when everything’s up for questioning, Matt Miller’s unapologetic orthodoxy is bracingly radical. The title track quotes the Rabbi Menachem Schneersohn (regarded by Lubavitchers as the Messiah): “Youth is the engine of the world,” and Matisyahu counsels those lost in a soulless society to seize power and “make the right move.” The sentiment could come from Linkin Park, but Miller is free of self-pity and angst. Like any Jew, he doubts: On “Late Night in Zion” he wonders “I’m dried up like the desert earth / How could these seeds give birth?” But he always finds his way back to his mission, to open eyes (and ears) to make the world a better place. Youth offers an olive branch with “Shalom / Salaam,” featuring rapper Youssou, and prominently features African instruments and rhythms alongside its dubwise flow. Producer Bill Laswell lays back, punching up the bass and allowing these young zealots room to breathe — at the same time, you can expect radio-ready tracks such as “Time of Your Song,” “Youth,” and “Jerusalem” to connect with an audience hungry for clarity. Mark Schwartz
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All Music Guide
An orthodox Jew who kicks it dancehall style, Matisyahu may seem a gimmick, but he’s the real deal. Unfortunately, he’s struggling with the sophomore jinx on Youth, an album that expands upon his debut, 2004’s Shake Off the Dust… Arise, without capturing its immediacy or excitement, thanks in large part to producer Bill Laswell. No stranger to genre-combining — he’s remixed Bob Marley and Miles Davis and is always up for any world music versus electronica excursion he’s offered — Laswell treats Matisyahu like so many of his previous subjects. He can’t resist adding a sound effect swoop and other studio trickery to most tracks, and he often makes Matisyahu’s band sound gigantic and polished when they’re really tight and free. While the whole affair is great for showing off bass-heavy speakers, the live and exciting Matisyahu that makes the jam band crowd go crazy is hard to find and the tasteful studio touches of his home-brewed debut are absent. His material is also going through some growing pains, but there is growth and for every song that wanders a bit too much, there’s a revelation that fleshes out the artist. The spiritual message was always bigger than the man before, but the sparse “What I’m Fighting For” is a surprisingly intimate track while “Dispatch the Troops” flippantly quotes the Police, an unexpected twist from a man who always seemed stately to a fault, even when he was doing the human beatbox thing. At the time of Youth’s release, Shake Off the Dust… Arise was out of print and one has to wonder if Matisyahu’s new label, Sony, was behind it. Arise’s great “King Without a Crown” appears again here and Sony decides to push the single as if this is Matisyahu’s grand entrance. That’s a total misrepresentation of Youth, which is really more about a talented artist struggling with the pressures of topping his brilliant first album. Even if he didn’t, and even if he or the label chose the wrong producer for the undertaking, Youth is meaty enough to suggest this man is no gimmick but an artist with his eye on the long haul. David Jeffries

About the author

Rabbi Yonah

17 Comments

  • Yeah, those fucking music purists. What a bunch of lamewads, you know, liking music for music’s sake.

    And I continue to not understand this argument that musicians always need to “grow and diversify” to remain good (by the way, I’m not from New York). Seems to me like an excuse for shoddy product, or a euphemism for “adding synths, inoffensive world music effects and major producers with an eye on the Britney market.”

    But hey, sure, who cares how watered down or uninteresting the music is, as long as it “gets out there.” I mean, whatever keeps “Reb Matis” at the top of the mountain he rode his beard and Chasidic garb to. As long as basic Chabad doctrine is pumping out of every radio in America, who cares what it sounds like?

  • There always seems to be a solid number of people who will hate popular music no matter what it sounds like–pop music is bought, sold and processed in a way that Lloyd Dobler would have loathed.

    How is Matisyahu’s music like the movie Munich? Well, I have experience with neither as a product and my awareness of both is mostly osmotic from pop culture at this point. So I feel that it’s odd for me to tell you which album is better because I haven’t experienced them. True, I hear Matis’ music on like every Jewlicious @ the Beach kid’s myspace profile, and also on the radio, but it’s all the same song. (I do love that “Roots in Stereo” song he did with P.O.D.) So I know two Matisyahu songs, neither of which is from the new album, and therefore, I’m not doing a review here. (Just like I’m not commenting on Munich until I see it.)

    With all due respect to the reviews Rabbi Yonah compiled above, I read a lot of magazines, and I’ve seen more negative reviews than positive ones. And I also take some exception to the painting of NY’ers as “flat-worlders” (I mean, come on!) and West Coast music fans as the only ones with any sense of musical enlightenment…

    And of course, all such discussion of whether the new album matches the quality of the debut album should be completely separate from the impact that he had on the students who interacted with him at the Jewlicious conference. Those students had an amazing time, and Matisyahu was a part of that, and lukewarm reviews from magazines, people in the music industry, or Jewish music fans (or dissenting Jewlicious posts) do not take away from that experience.

  • Amen to that Esther! He had a great impact on the students, and was not—as Michael and another blogger from Jtown—trying to make anyone a chabadnik. His Dvar Torah was from Rebbi Nachman For Gosh Sakes 🙂

  • Yeah, man. Way to respond. When did I say I thought Matisyahu was trying to turn people to Chabadniks? I know Chabad theology. Turning people into Chabadniks isn’t the goal, it’s making them “be Jewish,” or at least Jewish as defined by a certain small subsection of Ashkenazi Jews. Chabadniks would rave and sing the praises of Metal Machine Music or Glenn Miller’s Orchestra if they were convinced it would pack in the kids to the Chabad Houses for a good dose of chicken-fat-flavored Yiddishkeit. Hey, as long as it’s “listenable” who cares if it’s good music?

    But in a deeper way, reggae music, and in many ways Judaism itself, is all about burning down Babylon. What Youth, and his recent abandonment of J-Dub, represents is that Matisyahu has put down the torch and wholeheartedly embraced the Babylon System. Because, hey, it’s not about Jews, or Zion, or Babylon, or any of those nice words that make the kids think you’re authentic. It’s about spreading his own fame as far as possible. He said it. And you approved it, as if a blatant desire for superstardom at the expense of friends and associates is something to be lauded.

    To quote a true prophet, Babylon System is the vampire.

  • RY, you must be joking, is it still Purim over there? It’s not going to happen, no one is interested in crappy, cliched, dopey lyrics in the way you would like.
    RY you want to get aboard for the ride and free publicity & parties and all, you can, don’t expect people who listen to music their whole lives, who play in bands, to be impressed w/ the tepid output.

    I didn’t trust his lame act from the get go, and this latest album does nothing to change my view.

    You love the song Jerusalem? I couldn’t listen to it.

    And by the way, I would take the Chevra over him 10 million times. Even Blue Fringe at least they are conveying a Jewish feeling and mood.

    Tell him I have been working on lyrics for him, he will be interested. I wrote some songs in the past and played for a female singer. I know the kind of lyrics he needs. And please stop w/ yer name dropping, here on Jewlicious no one is impressed.

  • M-
    Leaving aside the issue of JDUB for a moment, before we depart into loshon hora territory which I am very seriously not considering, lets talk the album. You claim he is a sell out. When did he tell you his life plans and goals? Bob Marley today sells still gazillion records, and not to the kids in the slums of Jamaica.

    I fail to see your point coherently, just that you are upset that it is not Jewish enough. Interesting critique, but hardly a reason to dismiss him in the way you did.

    Authentic… that is what you are upset about? All you have to do is look at him and know, he is not a rasta. he never CLAIMED to be a rasta.

    He is a authentic Jew. And that is good enough.

  • No, no, you misunderstand. The Jewishness really has nothing to do with why I disliked the album. I disliked the album because I disliked it musically. 99.9% of the music I listen to isn’t Jewish.

    I also don’t expect him to be Rasta. I’m not Rasta. A lot of reggae musicians aren’t Rasta. What I meant about the Babylon thing is that, irrespective of his music, I feel that he’s betrayed his image as a pious Jew, which was a huge part of his appeal to a lot of people, even me back when I was more religious. I feel that his recent actions reek of hypocrisy. I feel that he’s traded very heavily on the Jew image but failed to live up to it in real life. Not that I’m in any way a perfect guy myself, but then again, I don’t build an image, or allow an image to be built for me, based on my devoutness and sincerity.

    But whatever, if you want to avoid lashon ha-ra, that’s fine with me, don’t want to make you uncomfortable. The bottom line is, no matter what I may have thought of him as a person in the past or now, the reason I didn’t like the album boils down to the fact that in my eyes it didn’t live up to the promise of his debut musically. Which is why I didn’t really touch on the issue of his character in my review. If the album was good, I would have said so. I just didn’t think so, and that holds true whether he had stayed on JDub or not.

  • RY why do you skip over the Mashiach thing also, is he or isn’t he? Why would he have the Yichi lyrics on one of his songs then? Rabbi Hershel Shechter paskened if you are in a shule and they start singing Yechi, you are to walk out. Pashut.
    That is not a trivial psak by someone arguably the Posek for the American community except for Chassidish and Lakewood, and I am sure they would agree w/ this.
    What I said many times already, is that by his garb that he wears in very Treifeh places, btw, does he ask a shaila if he can be in places where soft and hard drugs are sold and comsumed? Where sex occurs openly? That by his publicly wearing this garb he is officially representing us, the little Jews. There fore for the sake of respect we have a right to ask this of him, someone whose knowledge of Judaism cannot be that vast to begin w/.

    I understand that you want him to do well, we all do, we would like to see him really Return, and don’t trivialize this desire by bring up the pop happy Chevra boys, not real world class musicians, yeah we know that.

    We want him to be a Reb Shlomo, to take what talent he does have and bring it for us. Let him be fierce Shteiging in learning, let him bring utopia and uplift us, yes us.

    I have seen snippets of this greatness, here and there in his music, but not fully and coherently.

    I played many months as a busker in Israel and Europe, travelling w/ a female friend who would sing to my guitar playing. So I know the feeling of connecting w/ an audience and individuals, and keeping the flow. He had it maybe at one time, but now he becoming, chalilla, arrogant almost, aloof, full of himself. that is what we fear will happen.

    I have lyrics from that period as well a

  • M
    His leaving jdub is between him and jdub, not between anyone else. If JDUB were wronged, they should do the Jewish thing, its called beis din, and I am sorry that is the truth. I never heard him say a bad word about them.

    If you don’t like the music, I can understand your disappointment. However, I fail to see how that justifies your previous, albeit drunken, review of his music. That was just plain offensive, for offensive sake. I mean we have real enemies in the world. Peple who want to do us harm. We need to focus our positive flow in any way we can. You latched on the the very negative, hence my strident defense.

    I disagree that your ire is towards his music entirely when you write . As long as basic Chabad doctrine is pumping out of every radio in America, who cares what it sounds like?

    That seems to me that you have a basic issue of his spiritual path, that you have taken a judgement on. Or that worse, he doesn’t care about music, just that he cares about Chabad and its message. Well this runs totally counter to the facts.

    The sinas chinam was very strong, the anti-Chabad very strong, and frankly that has nothing to do with music but everything to do with our inability to be happy for the man.

    So lets take a line from Bob, “Lets get together and feel alright.”

  • Jobber,
    To help another Jew who is stuck in the mire, a person must be willing to “immerse himself in mud up to the neck” in order to drag him out. (Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin)

    You cannot stay in the palace while the people are dying in the streets.

  • I could argue that RY, that his presence their gives justification but I will leave it. Again you skip the Moshiach thing, OK we’ll ignore that also.

    First you said it’s not Jewish music anymore, this 3rd album. If it’s not, why are we interested in him? If it is, we have opinions on it. Maybe he is pushing some envelope. OK if you the listener feel something spiritual and good from his music, cool. I don’t that is all. I want to, but I have barriers w/ his music, and not bec. of the genre.

    I listen to alot of Bob Marley and others myself, and I hang out in Double Rasta Baby coffeeshops when in the area.

    I happen not to ‘dig’ his music. So then I go for the lyrics. I am an emotional type person. When I was single and lonely lyrics did a lot for me, to help ‘get me through the night’. I listen to the lack of originality and creativity that he has on his songs.

    I want him to do better that is all, this is not a hostile review.

    I still prefer the groups you put down to him, bec. of the above reasons.

    Let him win us over is my message. It is not just me, if you check JMintheAm.org this is likely the most listened to Jewish Radio program, they are hardly playing him, they are not going gaga over him. Why is that?

  • I don’t know if anyone will read this at this point, but I heard this past Shabbos from someone who was chilling with Jonah (the drummer from Matisyahu’s band) during Purim, that they were only given three weeks to produce the new CD. So if the music connoisseurs out there have a problem with it, it’s not because of lack of creativity, it was a lack of time.

  • This is probably beating a dead horse and I know that this is really offensive but Rabbi Yonah’s posts remind me of why the Vilan Gaon put all chasids in cherem. Oh and speaking of personally offensive attacks (lashon harah):
    I fail to see how that justifies your previous, albeit drunken, review of his music. That was just plain offensive, for offensive sake. I mean we have real enemies in the world. Peple who want to do us harm. We need to focus our positive flow in any way we can. You latched on the the very negative, hence my strident defense.

  • I am really happy that no one has yet commented on what I said. I definitely went over the line and would like to totally retract what I said about the Vilna Gaon and Chasidism. Not only is it out of context and wrong but itis also personally offensive and I have prevent myself rom doing this in the future.

  • I think Rabbi Yonah has been very honorable in defending Matisyahu and also has been upfront about enjoying the music. Lots of people enjoy the music as well as Matisyahu’s live performances. There are far more important issues, I think, that warrant hostility and anger and as I know Rabbi Yonah, he is certainly not on the deserving end of some of the attacks he has received since joining Jewlicious as a poster.

    On the other hand, Rabbi, welcome to the club! 😆

  • Well he has been a bit forceful in describing how we must dig Matisyahu’s music.
    The Rabbi has been a bit over the top imo.

    Like he is demanding that we love Matisyahu, just because, he is so popular.

    I have tried to, but don’t find much inspriration from the songs, musically, (some have their moments), or lyrically. I stand by my offer to assist him w/ the lyrics, I have been working on 3 songs for him, new and important areas where he could really make a diff.

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