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Matisyahu Spaces Out

Hasidic MC hooks up with Laswell, avoids the ladies

November 8, 2005 12:00 AM ET

There's one thing Hasidic reggae man Matisyahu won't do on his new U.S. tour: stage dive.

"There's a law that no man and woman may touch unless they're married," says the twenty-six-year-old MC. "I was caught doing it. So I checked, and, no, can't do that anymore -- there's women touching you for sure. That, and I also I got dropped once. I took, like, six people down."

His religious beliefs also prohibit Matisyahu -- who dresses in the traditional bekishe (long black robe), gartel (prayer belt) and black hat -- from shaking a woman's hand, though he did look this interviewer in the eye.

Fresh off his acclaimed Live at Stubb's CD, the Brooklyn rapper is readying his second studio album, Youth, due January 31st, with help from famed world-music producer Bill Laswell (Mick Jagger, Motorhead, Herbie Hancock). Backed by his band -- guitarist Aaron Dugan, bassist Josh Werner and drummer Jonah David -- Matisyahu has been laying down tracks in Laswell's New Jersey recording studio.

"I think we go into uncharted territory on this album," says Matisyahu, who freestyles, toasts and sings. "Bill is genius with dub reggae, which is like techno but more spacey."

The album features two songs from Live at Stubb's -- "Warrior" and "King Without a Crown" -- but the remaining tracks are new, including the title track which also serves as the first single. "It's a song that has a stepper beat and a phat bass line -- kind of like the Police," Matisyahu explains. "The chorus goes into a hip-hop thing, and there's a hard-rock solo in it."

Matisyahu, who sometimes extracts or reinterprets lines from the Torah in his songs, looked to his own troubled youth for the single's lyrics: "Fire with the flame of the youth/Got the freedom to choose/You better make the right move." Born Matthew Miller, he skipped school and smoked pot while growing up in a reformed household in White Plains, New York, before becoming frum (devout) and moving to the nearby Hasidic community of Crown Heights.

"It's the idea of a teenager not just rebelling for the sake of acting out," Matisyahu, now married with children, says of the song, "but really becoming an adult and taking charge of the situation."

Speaking of youthful indiscretions, a Matisyahu stage dive is captured in the video for "Youth," but he says all isn't as reckless as it appears. "We made sure [the audience] was all men."

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