White Boy Reggae: Matisyahu

Matthew Miller was born in 1979 in Pennsylvania. He was raised a Reconstructionist Jew. That is a progressive sect of Judaism. When in his young teens Miller started using marijuana and psychedelic drugs and dropped out of school. A few years later his parents sent him on a two month retreat to Israel to study Jewish heritage. This rekindled his spirituality and when he returned to the States he attended a wilderness camp in Oregon for wayward teens. Around this time he started going by his Hebrew name, Matisyahu, and developed a love of reggae and hip hop. After the Oregon expedition he returned to New York City and moved to the Crown Heights district, an orthodox Jewish community. Here he spent much time learning about his faith and practiced his reggae singing style. He would replace the traditional Rastafarian themes of reggae with Jewish themes. The marriage worked wonderfully. Matisyahu would release his debut album in 2004 called Shake Off The Dust…and Arise

This was a raw mix of reggae, Jewish chants, and spoken word. A couple years later he would release Live At Stubbs. This album broke him into the mainstream with his hit King Without A Crown

Several other songs from his debut were played in the set with great results. There was a tremendous energy captured in the performance. But it would also get him in some hot water with his Jewish elders. Jewish men are strictly forbidden to have physical contact with any women you aren’t married to. Matisyahu had a penchant for stage diving.

Matisyahu would venture away from strictly reggae on his later albums. Mixing hip hop, world music and indie rock sounds. But his early work stands as a real strong example of White Boy Reggae. And as I heard them say on a Jamaican radio station when they introduced his song, if it’s reggae, we’ll play it.