In Brooklyn, Hasidic Jews and Rastafarians share a taste for certain things: hats, unusual hairstyles, the Old Testament. You might add to that list Matisyahu, a 27-year-old reggae singer/rapper rooted in New York City's Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community.
The guy is an oddity, to be sure. A formerly dreadlocked Phish fanatic named Matthew Miller, Matisyahu found his calling after a random meeting with a rabbi in Washington Square Park — which would be merely a curious story if his music weren't so powerful. Matisyahu has a commanding voice that slides gracefully between Bob Marley-style declamatory singing, the singing/rhyming style of dancehall acts like Sizzla and old-school Brooklyn street raps, spiced with bursts of rabbinical incantations, scatting and beatboxing. The delivery feels authentic and original (if sometimes a bit vague), with lyrics that generally praise God, riff on spirtual seeking and chant down Babylon.
What's even more remarkable, in an era when reggae is largely about electronic dancehall burps and pro-forma covers of "Get Up, Stand Up," Matisyahu's band makes shape-shifting, reverb-rich music, colored with melodica, trumpet and bursts of guitar noodling that point to the singer's jazzy, jam-band roots without getting too abstract. It's melting-pot music in the best sense.