.

Matisyahu Brings Kosher Vibration

Hasidic reggae sensation goes Top Forty

February 14, 2006 3:09 PM ET

At 3:41 p.m. on a recent Friday, dusk is fast approaching. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Matisyahu Miller is racing against the clock to finish this interview before sundown, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath.

It's an occupational hazard for the twenty-six-year-old reggae up-and-comer, whose single "King Without a Crown" is an MTV hit -- and who also happens to be a Hasidic Jew. In accordance with Jewish law, the performer -- who began practicing Orthodox Judaism when he was twenty -- has had to stop stage-diving at shows so as to avoid the risk of physical contact with women who aren't in his family. By the Talmud's decree, he can't even shake hands with his female fans.

"It's hard to sign CDs and tell every other person that comes over to you some form of 'no,'" says Matisyahu. "And you don't have time to get into a discussion as to why you can't. It can come off as disrespectful."

Despite his restrictions, Matisyahu's Live at Stubb's, released in April, has become an unlikely hit -- climbing to Number Thirty-two on the album chart last week.

"With Matis, thirty seconds in, you're shocked," says VP of Sony A&R Michael Caplan, who signed Matisyahu to Epic. The label will release his Bill Laswell-produced studio album next month. "Ninety seconds in, you're like, 'Wow. This is really good.' He's not Snow."

Most of the recent hype is tied to "King Without a Crown," a Brooklyn-meets-Kingston jam with beatific lyrics that showcase Matisyahu's Luciano-like flow. "The song's got a Sublime-ish, Southern California vibe to it, which appeals to our listeners," says Lisa Worden, music director at L.A.'s tastemaking modern-rock station KROQ. "And lyrically, it's uplifting and positive."

Since the video went into rotation on MTV in January, sales of the album have averaged 20,000 per week. "Once Top Forty radio play took off, we really started moving units," says Carlos Adams, urban product manager for Virgin Megastores. "He's been the Number One reggae artist for twelve weeks."

Matisyahu has even got cred in the reggae community. "When I first heard him I was blown away," says D'Niscio Brooks, producer of New York's Carifest, where Matisyahu headlined alongside Buju Banton and Elephant Man last summer. "He sings truth and he sings it from his heart."

So what do his own people think? "One of the tenets of Hasidism is lowering oneself in order to raise oneself," says Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn of New York's West Side Institutional Synagogue. "If someone is accomplished artistically and can glorify God, it serves everybody."

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

prev
Music Main Next
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.

X

We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Stillness Is the Move”

Dirty Projectors | 2009

A Wim Wenders film and a rapper inspired the Dirty Projectors duo David Longstreth and Amber Coffmanto write "sort of a love song." "We rented the movie Wings of Desire from Dave's brother's recommendation, and he had me go through it and just write down some things that I found interesting, and they made it into the song," Coffman said. As for the hip-hop connection, Longstreth explained, "The beat is based on T-Pain. We commissioned a radio mix of the song by the guy who mixes all of Timbaland's records, but the mix we made sounded way better, so we didn't use it."

More Song Stories entries »
 
www.expandtheroom.com