Matthew Paul Miller (born: June 30, 1979), known by his Hebrew and stage name Matisyahu (/ˌmɑːtɪsˈjɑːhuː/; מתּתיהו, "Gift of Yahu", a Hebrew name of God), is an American Jewish reggae singer, rapper, beatboxer, 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 five 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.
Matthew Paul Miller was born on June 30, 1979, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. His family eventually settled in White Plains, 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 learning the tenets of Judaism, but by the time he was a teenager, Matisyahu began to rebel against his rigid upbringing. He started taking drugs and dropped out of White Plains Senior High School. He became a self-professed "Phish-head" (also known as Phish "Phans"), taking hallucinogens, and following the rock band Phish on tour.
In autumn 1995, Matisyahu attended a two-month program at the Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon, Israel. The program 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 left high school after the first day of his senior year to travel throughout the US. A stint in a rehabilitation center in upstate New York followed.
Miller then attended a wilderness expedition trip in Oregon 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. He finished high school at a wilderness program in Bend, Oregon. In Oregon, he identified himself as "Matt, the Jewish rapper kid from New York." Matisyahu has contrasted this time in Oregon to his life in New York City. "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 returned 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. He recounts that at the same time, he started praying, getting himself a prayer book and prayer shawl. He learned of the Orthodox Jewish Carlebach Shul synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, and he began attending religious services every Sabbath, as well as wearing a yarmulke (head covering) and tzitzit (a fringed undergarment). It was then that he met NYU's Chabad rabbi, Dov Yonah Korn.
From 2001 through July 2007, Matisyahu was affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York, whose rabbi officiated at his wedding in 2004. 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 group, that of Karlin. As of November 2007 he had confirmed a preference to pray at the Karliner synagogue in Borough Park, Brooklyn where the custom is to ecstatically scream prayers; however he continued 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 observed the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday; thus he did 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. In 2014, he appears to have performed on at least one Friday night.
Miller performed for over a year as MC Truth in Bend, Oregon. In 2004, after having signed with JDub Records, he 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. He also opened for a few Dave Matthews Band shows during their Summer 2006 tour, including guesting on the song Everyday at the 06.14.2006 Darien Lake show. His next album, Live at Stubb's was produced for Or Music by Angelo Montrone. It was distributed to Or Music by Sony/RED, and later up streamed 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 which was produced by Bill Laswell, with minor contribution by pop producers Jimmy Douglass and the Ill Factor.
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.
On March 1, 2006, right before the release of Youth, he informed JDub that he no longer needed its management services. He has since been represented by former Capitol Records president Gary Gersh. JDub claims the artist has three years remaining on a four-year management contract. 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 10–30, 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" might 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 3, 2010, he performed his music accompanied by a single acoustic guitarist, recited poetry and answered questions at the University of Central Florida. On November 26, 2010, Matisyahu released "Two", a special edition Record Store Day Black Friday 7" vinyl record, for independent record stores. He recorded a Sephardic music-influenced hip hop song "Two Child One Drop" for Sephardic Music Festival, Vol. 1, a compilation album released by Shemspeed, alongside artists such as formerly-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. He released the album 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.
On June 3, 2014, Matisyahu released Akeda, which is slightly different from his previous work. Matisyahu himself described it as a "stripped back sound" and in a style as he describes as "less is more." Akeda was in the iTunes Top 10 a week later, ranking at No. 6 which was the same week he began his new tour. The tour started at Kakaako Waterfront Park in Honolulu, Hawaii, as part of the Repulik Music Festival 4.
On August 17, 2015, the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Spain canceled Matisyahu's scheduled appearance, at the request of the BDS Movement, due to his refusing to sign a letter stating he supports a Palestinian state, and would not bring up Israeli politics on stage. This led to many organizations around the world criticizing the organization of showing racism toward Jews. Two days later the Spanish government condemned the decision to cancel his appearance. On August 19, the festival apologized to Matisyahu and re-invited him to perform as original scheduled, following outrage around the world. The organizers released a statement saying they "made a mistake, due to the boycott and the campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed by the BDS." Matisyahu's performance went through peacefully with some Palestinian flags waved by the audience, however Matisyahu later said the racism he experienced was worse than anything else before.
On October 10, 2015, Matisyahu performed in Israel at the Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem against the backdrop of escalating stabbing attacks in the city. Matisyahu stated that it is important for "American Jews like [him]self to come to Israel no matter what's happening here." Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat, thanked Matisyahu and spoke before the performance and said that "Everyone who came here today and is maintaining their regular routine is a partner in fighting terror." Before singing "Jerusalem (Out of Darkness Comes Light)" (his ode to the city), Matisyahu said, "Jerusalem, I’m home."
In 2016, Matisyahu went on a tour of 12 US college campuses as a response to being disinvited from the Rototom Sunsplash festival in 2015. The tour was co-sponsored by various Hillel chapters.
On November 18, 2016, Matisyahu released Release the Bound, a five-song digital EP featuring brand new music. The EP includes collaborative efforts with relative mainstay Stu Brooks as well as The Polish Ambassador and Salt Cathedral.
Matisyahu released his sixth studio album, Undercurrent on May 19, 2017.
Matisyahu's "One Day' was featured in the MacGillivray Freeman Film, "Dream Big" playing in IMAX theaters beginning in February, 2018.
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