.

Matisyahu Revels in Anonymity Without Signature Beard

Shedding facial hair divisive among some fans, singer says

Matisyahu relaxes on his tour bus at the Catalpa Music Festival in New York.
Griffin Lotz for RollingStone.com
August 1, 2012 5:00 PM ET

Matisyahu is hard to pick out in a crowd these days. He's tall, with cropped hair and a hint of stubble – the thick, prominent beard that marked him as the world's first Hasidic reggae star is long gone. Sitting down on the bed at the back of his tour bus, parked backstage Sunday at New York's Catalpa Festival, he explains that anonymity has its benefits.

"Friday I woke up in Blacksburg, Virginia, and rode my motorcycle into the Blue Ridge Mountains" for Floyd Fest, he says, speaking so softly that the air conditioner threatens to drown him out. "It was gorgeous, hippies everywhere, hacky sacks, grilled cheese sandwiches, and I got to hang there for a day. No one recognizes me, so I can kind of be incognito and just walk around the festival and just chill with people."

His previous look made him a poster boy for the Hasidic Jewish community after he burst onto the scene with his bombastic reggae-rap in the mid-2000s. This past December, he parted ways with his beard, which was his most obvious calling card. He told Rolling Stone at the time that shaving wasn't about shedding his religion, but rather was a way of being able to trust himself, and perhaps to find a bit of the anonymity he had lost over the years.

In the intervening eight months, he's seen a sort of schism develop in his fan base between those who supported him for his music and those who supported him because they felt he was the first mainstream star to represent their culture. "Some fans have been accepting and have shown me a lot of love," he says, "and others have been very hurt, and therefore very judgmental."

Matisyahu has put much of that behind him on his first post-beard album, July's Spark Seeker, which he credits to working with Kool Kojak, who produced the album and quickly became a friend. "It's like going back and making beats with your best friend from high school in the bedroom and joking around and having fun, except that dude is fucking seriously talented, not just some kid," Matisyahu says.

They recorded in Los Angeles, with stops in New York and Israel, which brought a more varied cultural feel to the album. "We made the whole thing into a trip, a project," Matisyahu says. "As opposed to me and Kojak in L.A. in the hills looking out at the freeway or whatever, it created a whole world vibe, a whole new voice into the record."

Matisyahu isn't the only Catalpa performer who's altered his identity: headliner Snoop Dogg recently declared himself Snoop Lion, marking the latest foray into reggae-rap for a hip-hop icon (after Nas' Distant Relatives EP with Damian Marley in 2010). Matisyahu says he's not surprised.

"It's been happening for a while," he says of the fusion. "As time has gone on, reggae culture and music gets more infused in the mainstream."

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

prev
Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
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