A Hasidic State of Mind

There's a strong push within mainstream music to categorize recording artists and stick them in a box. Case in point — take a look at New York-based reggae chanter Matisyahu, and he seems easy enough to classify. With a big religious beard, Hasidic attire, and pale skin, the fact that he gravitates toward reggae as a profession feels like a skit that's ready-made for a Saturday Night Live parody. But if you delve into his music and embrace the solid songwriting and instrumentation attached to it, you'll discover that Matisyahu (born Matthew Miller) is more serious about his craft than most people give him credit for.

He's currently out on the road with a new band, trying out a new sound and gearing up to release a new album, his fourth, in early 2009.

New Times: What's the past year been like for you since the last time you were in South Florida?

Matisyahu: The year has been great, man. I've basically been at my home in Brooklyn and spent most of the year working on my new album. We've got some amazing producers and writers on the record. Musically, it's all going in a really cool direction. We should have some new music to put up on MySpace around September.

When I interviewed you a year ago, you were considering giving up on the Chabbad-Lubovitch sect of Judaism. What did you decide?

A lot of times, you get pigeonholed in life. I had beliefs, and I was at a point where I was reevaluating them. Life is a constant reevaluation of what's important to you and what's real. I'm just trying to continue on that process. I live in a Lubovitch neighborhood in Brooklyn — Crown Heights. Most of my friends are Lubovitch. All of those people have been good friends, good neighbors, and that's where I want to keep it. But that doesn't mean it's where my belief system is. Religiously, I'm still maturing. I started this whole thing, with music and all, as a kid. You just have to leave room to grow, ya know?

Have you decided who you plan to vote for in the upcoming elections?

I haven't fully investigated it yet. All the artists and young people in the industry are behind [Obama]. I don't really run in circles where people are going the opposite way.

What kind of vibe do you get playing shows in South Florida?

It's the best. We don't play down there very often. [pauses for a moment] We'll be at Revolution again. I remember kids were dancing in the streets at the last show. There's a great vibe there. When you have kids just rocking out and partying and having a good time, it's the best.

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Jonathan Cunningham