NYTimes - Hasidic Reggae Singer Surprises His Managers
Hasidic Reggae Singer Surprises His Managers
When Aaron Bisman met Matthew Miller about five years ago, they were music-obsessed college students in New York who had an unusual goal: to make innovative music that was proudly Jewish. Mr. Bisman, at New York University, started a nonprofit record label, JDub, and his friend at the New School, who called himself Matisyahu, worked on his reggae toasting skills.
"He was still wearing track suits," Mr. Bisman said, "and just growing out his beard."
As Matisyahu's love for hip-hop and his dedication to Orthodox Judaism grew, he hit the clubs in a black suit, hat and full beard, and with JDub behind him made one of the most unlikely rises in pop music history. He is surely the only Hasidic reggae singer to sell out 2,000-to-3,000-seat concert halls regularly around the country, and last week he released "Youth" (JDub/Or/Epic), his major label debut, which is widely expected to make it high in the Top 10 when the charts are compiled later this week.
But a few days before "Youth" was released, Mr. Bisman and his partner, Jacob Harris, received an unexpected phone call from their prize talent, telling them their management services were no longer required. "He was in Kansas," Mr. Bisman said. "He said, 'I don't know if you guys are old enough or have enough experience.' "
For Mr. Bisman, 25, and Mr. Harris, 26, it was a shock from an old friend and a potential blow to their business. They had shepherded Matisyahu through his early career, setting up gigs and handing out fliers and the like — with the added duty of defining just what a pro-Jewish act would do. "He was the embodiment of what we thought was possible," Mr. Harris said. "Proud, authentic Jewish artists."
And while JDub has not been Matisyahu's record label for two years, Mr. Bisman and Mr. Harris had remained his managers, and Matisyahu's engagements bring in a substantial part of the company's revenue.
The two men said they still have nearly three years left on a four-year management contract, and are consulting with their lawyers on how to proceed. "There has to be some sort of legal action," Mr. Bisman said in an interview at the JDub offices at the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University.
Matisyahu's lawyer, Valerie Marcus, declined to comment.
JDub has an annual budget of nearly $1 million, about half of which comes from grants and the rest from the label's revenues. It has a handful of other acts and promotes concerts around the country, but Matisyahu was central to the company's finances. "We really thought of this as an endowment to do this for a long time," Mr. Harris said.
Both men said that JDub's finances were strong enough to continue but that the loss would be painful.
"This is the music business, I guess," Mr. Bisman said.
(taken from NYTimes)