Matisyahu - Shake Off the Dust...Arise reviewBy Andrew Kotick.
If you have ever walked the streets of Jerusalem, particularly Old Jerusalem, you will notice that the majority of the population of Jewish people are Hasidic. Hasidic Jews are the orthodox Jews that you see walking to and from synagogue, wearing mostly black, with rimmed hats and curly sideburns, wearing a Talis, or prayer shawl. Matthew Miller, or as he is known in the world of Hip Hop, Matisyahu, is a Hasidic Jew. It may strike you as a little bit more than shocking to see a religious Hasidic Jew to be singing hip hop like reggae with a fiery attack that would be considered to be sacrilege if it weren?t an American born Jew. As bizarre as it may seem to see a man of such strong Jewish faith attacking a microphone as if he were a rap prodigy, or Bob Marley?s prot駩, Matisyahu?s music is anything but typical of hip hop, or reggae. Both genres are predominantly African American led types of music, yet Matisyahu melds both of them into one sound which blows you away. He spits fire with his voice. His tongue rolls are faster than anyone I?ve ever heard, to the point where you really question if he is really making this music. But there is something that sets Matisyahu?s music apart from a lot of other hip hop artists out there today- He actually uses real musicians to provide the backing track to his incendiary vocals. His debut album, Shake Off the Dust?Arise, appeared in 2004 and just may be the most innovative reggae album of the past six years.
Matisyahu is not your everyday reggae artist. Well, no ***. The man is a machine when it comes to hip hop vocal mastery. His mouth runs faster than Secretariat, to the point where it is disturbing that this man is actually an orthodox in faith.
But Matisyahu is not just faster or wittier than every other rapper out there- he actually puts melody and meaning into his music. Instead of rhyming about boning random chicks in dirty positions, or how filthy rich he is, or how he?s got diamond fronts and in his grill, nucka, he uses his music as a form of motivation. It seems to be aimed at overcoming the hardships of life in the cleanest, non drug associated inspirational method. His music and message are uplifting, and his lyrics are clever enough to not be about his bitches and hoes. It?s nice to see hip hop music that isn?t related to sloppy seconds and dirty fornication. What I like even more about Matisyahu is that he just doesn?t use his religious status as a controversial gimmick. He includes frequent interludes of prayers in Hebrew and Yiddish (for those of you who don?t know what Yiddish is- it?s a language that combines Russian and Hebrew?most famous for the phrase ?oy vey?). At one point, he even recites the Hebrew national anthem, known as the Shemah. His faith really does make him out to be the musician that he is. It?s a big part of who he is as a performer.
As I have already stated, Matisyahu differs from other hip hop artists in the fact that his lyrical content has rhyme AND reason, but the best part is that he uses backing musicians, rather than samplers, synthesizers and drum machines to make his music. And even better is that the backing musicians are TALENTED. It?s not always about Matisyahu every second of every song.
In fact, the drummer can actually get very imaginative with the beats, and his guitarist plays some interesting chord progressions typical of reggae guitar. He?ll take a solo here and there, and play the chords very high up on the neck, and completely staying clear of power chords. Damn power chords. Keith Levine in the making, but with a man of hip hop, not dub. The bass playing on Shake off the Dust?Arise is thick, pounding, and danceable- Just what you want from reggae bass. It?s deep, and it grooves. But every once in a while, Matisyahu will leave some room between his fiery spits of rhymes, and that space is filled with some very melodic bass playing. Every member of his backing band provides more talent and credibility for his musical style, because this is real music, not sampled beats and rhythms.
You really cannot believe that Matisyahu is a Hasidic Jew for his line of work. Most people cannot fathom the fact that a man who is more accustomed to praying is spitting out rhymes faster than any other mainstream rap artist in the scene today. His music has a positive, reinforcing memorandum that shows his courage to make hip hop music based on topics that rappers today are scared to mention, because they prefer street credibility and the ?ghetto?, tough guy factor over sending the right message to their listeners. Rap is a screwed up community, my friends. But Matisyahu is the real deal. He?s talented, not afraid to speak his mind, does not get hung up on fame or fortune, yet includes his orthodox, conservative faith into his music, instead of using it as a shocking gimmick. The young man has talent. And his debut album shows just how fast this guy really can rap. Matthew Miller is the future of reggae/hip hop music. And no one really even knows his real name. Matisyahu is something great.
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