Matthew Paul Miller (born June 30, 1979), known by his Hebrew name and stage name Matisyahu ("Gift of God"), is an American reggae rapper and alternative rock musician.
Known for blending Orthodox Jewish themes with reggae, rock and hip hop beatboxing sounds, Matisyahu's 2005 single "King Without a Crown" was a Top 40 hit in the United States. Since 2004, he has released four studio albums as well as two live albums, two remix CDs and two DVDs featuring live concerts. In addition, Matisyahu played the role of Tzadok in The Possession, a supernatural horror film directed by Ole Bornedal and co-produced by Sam Raimi. Through his career, Matisyahu has worked with Bill Laswell reggae producers Sly & Robbie, and Kool Kojak.
Matisyahu was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. His family eventually settled in White Plains in Westchester County, New York. He was brought up a Reconstructionist Jew, and attended Hebrew school at Bet Am Shalom, a synagogue in White Plains. He spent much of his childhood barely learning the tenets of Judaism, but by the time he was a teenager, Matisyahu began to rebel against his lack of upbringing. He started taking drugs and dropped out of White Plains High School. He became a self-professed "Phish-head," taking hallucinogens and following the rock band Phish on tour. He finished high school at a wilderness program in Bend, Oregon.
In the fall of 1995, Matisyahu took part in a two-month 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. After he finished Muss, he returned to New York, where he subsequently dropped out of high school after the first day of his senior year and traveled around the country. A stint in a rehabilitation center in upstate New York followed, and he then went to Oregon on a wilderness expedition trip for teenagers. “It was not necessarily for drug rehabilitation, but that was part of the reason I was out there,” he explained to a journalist of The Jewish Daily Forward in 2008.
In Oregon, he identified himself as “Matt, the Jewish rapper kid from New York.” In Oregon (unlike in New York City), Matisyahu said, “I was suddenly the token Jew. This was now my search for my own identity, and part of Judaism feeling more important and relevant to me.” He moved back to New York and started developing his reggae, spending hours in his room, writing and practicing his style to the accompaniment of hip-hop tapes. Around that same time, he says, he started to become more interested in Judaism, taking classes on Jewish spirituality at The New School. Matisyahu approached Eli Cohen, a rabbi at New York University, about learning. He recounts that at the same time, he started praying, getting himself a siddur (prayer book) and tallit (prayer shawl). He learned of the Carlebach Shul (synagogue), located on the Upper West Side, and started going there every Sabbath, as well as wearing a yarmulke (head covering) and tzitzit (fringed undergarment). It was then that he met NYU’s Chabad rabbi, Dov Yonah Korn, someone he could relate to. Matisyahu began playing with the Jewish band Pey Dalid. At the age of 19, Matisyahu formally joined the Lubavitch movement and took Matisyahu as a Hebrew form of his name.
From 2001 through July 2007, Matisyahu was affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York. However, as of July 17, 2007, he told the Miami New Times in an interview that he no longer "necessarily" identifies with the Lubavitch movement. In the interview he stated that "...the more I'm learning about other types of Jews, I don't want to exclude myself. I felt boxed in." Additionally, in the fall of 2007, while on a family vacation spent primarily in Jerusalem's Nachlaot neighborhood, he expressed interest in another Hasidic sect, that of Karlin. As of November 2007 he has confirmed a preference to pray at the Karliner synagogue in Boro Park where the custom is to ecstatically scream prayers; however he continues to reside in Crown Heights because of his wife's affinity for the community.
Soon after his adoption of hasidism, Matisyahu began studying Torah at Hadar Hatorah, a yeshiva for returnees to Judaism where he wrote and recorded his first album. He counts Bob Marley, Phish,God Street Wine and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach among his musical inspirations and gives credit to Rabbi Simon Jacobson's book Toward a Meaningful Life for the lyrical inspiration to Youth's title track. As part of his faith, he strictly observes the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday; thus he does not perform in concert on Friday nights. An exception to this rule occurred at a 2007 concert in Fairbanks, Alaska; since the sun did not set until 2:00 a.m., performing in the late hours was not a violation of Jewish observance.
Miller performed for over a year as MC Truth in the Bend, Oregon band Soulfori. In 2004, Matisyahu, after having signed with JDub Records, a nonprofit record label that promotes Jewish musicians, released his first album, Shake Off the Dust...Arise. At Bonnaroo 2005, Trey Anastasio of the band Phish invited him for a guest spot on his set. His next album, "Live at Stubb's" was produced for Or Music by Bill Laswell, with minor contribution by pop producers Jimmy Douglass and the Ill Factor. It was distributed for Or Music by Sony/RED, and later upstreamed to Sony/Epic. Live at Stubb's, released in 2006, was recorded at a concert in Austin, Texas was followed by the studio album Youth.
In 2005 and 2006 he toured extensively in the United States, Canada and Europe; and made a number of stops in Israel, including a performance as the supporting act for Sting in June 2006. In late 2006, he released No Place to Be, a remix album featuring re-recordings and remixes of songs from all three of his earlier albums, as well as a cover of "Message in a Bottle" by The Police. The live version of the song King Without a Crown, broke into the Modern Rock Top 10 in 2006. The accompanying video and album, Youth, produced by Bill Laswell, was released on March 7, 2006. On March 16, Youth was Billboard magazine's number-one Digital Album. In 2006, he appeared once again at Bonnaroo, this time performing a solo set.
In spring 2006, right before the release of Youth, he cut ties with his managers at JDub Records. JDub managed his act, but was not his record label. Since his debut, Matisyahu has received positive reviews from both rock and reggae outlets. In 2006 he was named as Top Reggae Artist by Billboard as well as being named a spokesperson for Kenneth Cole. In 2006, Esquire magazine awarded Matisyahu the "Most Lovable Oddball" award in their "Esky" Music Awards, calling him "the most intriguing reggae artist in the world."
At the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival, the film Unsettled, in which Matisyahu appears, won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature. While attending the festival, he performed in an impromptu concert at the Park City Film Music Festival in Park City, Utah. In the summer of 2007 he joined 311 on their Summer Unity Tour. He also performed in the 2008 documentary Call + Response. His third studio album, Light, was released on August 25, 2009, along with the live EP Live at Twist & Shout. From July 10 to 30, 2010, Matisyahu (along with The Dirty Heads) supported Sublime with Rome (the new version of the band) on their US tour.
In November 2009, NBC used Matisyahu's song "One Day" as background music for their advertisement of the Olympic games. This stirred up speculation that "One Day" may become the theme song for the 2010 Olympics. However, it remained only NBC's top pick, and was not announced to be the theme song. On August 2, 2010, Matisyahu revealed to OC Weekly that he has been writing new songs for his next album, which was expected to be recorded within weeks of his statement. On November 26, 2010, Matisyahu released a special edition 7" vinyl called, for independent record stores. Matisyahu recorded the Sephardic music-influenced hip hop song "Two Child One Drop" for the Sephardic Music Festival, Vol. 1 compilation album released by Shemspeed, alongside artists such as Hasidic rapper Y-Love, Israeli hip-hop group Hadag Nahash, and psychedelic rock/Sephardic fusion group Pharaoh's Daughter.
On August 18, 2010, Matisyahu returned to Stubb's in Austin, Texas for another live recording for Live at Stubb's, Vol. 2. The album was released on February 1, 2011. In 2011, he embarked on a concert tour. In March 2011, Matisyahu took part in clip "Pure Soul". The song is of DeScribe, Hasidic Jewish singer. On May 8, 2012, Matisyahu released a new single featuring a new version of his song "Sunshine" as one of his singles of his new album Spark Seeker, which was released on July 17, 2012 in the United States.
Matisyahu has performed with Kenny Muhammad, a Muslim beatboxer. He also recorded the song "One Day" along with Akon, who is also Muslim. Matisyahu is featured on Trevor Hall's single "Unity" from his self-titled album. Matisyahu is also featured on "Roots in Stereo" and "Strength of My Life" from P.O.D.'s album Testify. Matisyahu collaborated with Shyne on the song "Buffalo Soldier" from his 2012 release, Spark Seeker.
Matisyahu collaborated with J. Ralph on the song "Crossroads feat. J. Ralph" from his 2012 release, Spark Seeker. Matisyahu collaborated with Infected Mushroom on the song "One Day", as well as during various live sets. Matisyahu collaborated with Moon Taxi on the song "Square Circles" off the band's 2012 release "Cabaret". He has also collaborated with The Crystal Method in their single "Drown in the Now." He is featured on The Dirty Heads's album Cabin by the Sea on the single "Dance All Night". Matisyahu also collaborated with Boston-based rapper Nosson Zand on his 2013 release, "Believers." Matisyahu is featured on the 19-track compilation album"Songs For a Healthier America", a collaborative project by the Partnership for a Healthier America, whose honorary chair First Lady Michelle Obama, and Hip Hop Public Health. His song "U R What You Eat" also features Travis Barker, Ariana Grande, and Salad Bar.
Matisyahu fuses the contemporary styles of reggae, rap, beatboxing, and hip-hop in general, with the more traditional vocal disciplines of jazz's scat singing and Judaism's hazzan style of songful prayer. 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." The Chicago Tribune's Kevin Pang described a Matisyahu performance as "soul-shaking brand of dancehall reggae, a show that captures both the jam band vibe of Phish and the ska-punk of Sublime." Coming from his Jewish beliefs and compounding his use of the hazzan style, Matisyahu's lyrics are mostly English with more than occasional use of Hebrew and Yiddish.
In 2006, Matisyahu stated that "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."
In 2009, he said about his recently released album Light, "I think the vast majority of people that respect what I do are willing to move with me. I think it's not so much about genres or styles of music as it is about expressing the emotion or the idea. ... Whatever allows you to do that, whatever style, as long as it's authentic." In 2010 he also confirmed his first speaking date at the University of Central Florida.
Matisyahu met NYU film student Talia when she interviewed him for a documentary about men and women not touching. Rabbi Korn set them up, and they married in August 2004. Together they have sons Laivy (2005), Shalom, and Menachem Mendel (2011).
Origin of his name
Matisyahu is an Ashkenazic Hebrew pronunciation of a Biblical Hebrew name (מתתיהו – Mattityahu; Greek: Mattathias), the name of the 2nd century BCE Jewish leader of the Maccabees' revolt. The English equivalent is Matthew.
In an interview in Kosher Spirit Magazine (a publication by OK Kosher Certification), Matisyahu explained the origin of his use of the name as follows: while he, like most Jewish boys, received a Hebrew name at his brit milah (circumcision ceremony), when he was eight days old, Miller's family lost track of the names given. In Hebrew school, it was assumed to be Matisyahu because of the connection between Matthew and Matisyahu. The original certificate of birth was later located and Miller discovered that the actual name given at the brit was the Yiddish name "Feivish Hershel". He was advised by his rabbis to continue using the Hebrew name that he had grown up with.
On December 13, 2011, Matisyahu posted a beardless picture of himself on Twitter, explaining on his website:
- 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."
In June 2012, Matisyahu appeared in an online video to promote his new single "Sunshine" with his hair dyed blonde and appeared to be without a yarmulke, causing a big stir within the Jewish blogosphere. Controversy also arose due to some confusion as to whether or not Matisyahu was still spiritually Jewish. He has confirmed several times including with vulture.com that he certainly is still spiritually Jewish.
Matisyahu is a vegan and a founding member of the Jewish vegan organization, the Shamayim V'Aretz Institute.
- Matisyahu – vocals (2000–present)
- Dub Trio
- Stu "Bassie" Brooks – bass guitar (2009–present)
- Joe Tomino – drums (2009–present)
- D.P. Holmes – guitar (2009–present)
- Borahm Lee – keyboards (2006–07)
- Skoota Warner – drums (2007–08)
- Jason Fraticelli – bass (2007–09)
- Rob Marscher – keyboards (2008–2012)
- Roots Tonic
- Aaron Dugan – guitar (2004–10)
- Jonah David – drums (2004–07)
- Josh Werner – bass (2004–07)
- Shake Off the Dust... Arise (2004)
- Live at Stubb's (2005)
- Youth (2006)
- Light (2009)
- Live at Stubb's, Vol. 2 (2011)
- Spark Seeker (2012)
- Akeda (2014)
- The Possession (2012) as Rabbi Tzadok
- A Buddy Story (2012) as Chassid
- Awake Zion – a documentary that compares Rastafarians and Jews