Posts Tagged ‘Matisyahu’

Hasidic Hip Hop: Ta-Shma’s Come Listen: A Review

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

I'm not sure what's in the water in Williamsburg,
Brooklyn these days, but something is making
those Hasids produce doped out, modern pop music.  I'm not talking about some klezmer-infused,
folkie music with Yiddish lyrics that nobody but my Grandma would understand
(with due respect to the awesome Klezmatics). 
We're talking about music that could easily appear on MTV's Total
Request Live (one of the last places on MTV where music videos are actually

Matisyahu was the first (at least to me): the Hasidic Reggae
Superstar.  While you wouldn't
necessarily think of Reggae as MTV friendly, Matisyahu had several popular
videos appear and his latest record, Youth, was #1 on iTunes for a period of
time. Clearly not my (grand)parents Hasidic music star.  

Ta-Shma is the next: Hasidic Hip Hop.  Yeah, you heard it right: Ta-Shma, composed
of the duo Chuna Silverman and Menachem Shapiro, are two black-hatted Hasids from
Brooklyn who look like the Amish but sound like Public Enemy (also from
Brooklyn, Yo). 

I have to admit that I still have a hard time with this
Hasid music crossover stuff.  See, I am a
secular Jew born and raised in Brooklyn
(Canarsie, Yo!) and Hasids seemed like they were from another planet.   I used to pass them on drives to The City
(on Shabbos no less, oy!) and stare. 
Raised as a Conservative Jew (which in Jewdom means that I'm pretty
liberal – go figure), I knew that the black hats, coats, beards and peyoat (the
long sideburns) were a means of self-expression transforming themselves back to
the hey-day of religious Jews many centuries ago.  It's a transformation that I didn't get: why
would anyone want to go back in the past when the future had so much cool stuff
(did they even know of Atari)?  In my
Jewish world, black hats and robes were just weird and had nothing to do with
being Jewish.

So, now that there Hasidic Rappers, I can't help but ask: Wassup?  Sure, there have been some clear signs of
modernity such as the Chabad-Lubavitch Telethon, and Hasids in movies such as Guy
Ritchie's Snatch (about diamond
thiefs).  But how did this seemingly
insulated sub-group of Judaism even know that was a thing called Hip Hop?

The answer lies in the waves of
secular Jews who have been "converting" to Hasidism in
recent years. 
Seeking clarity and
stability that the modern world lacks, devout study of Judaism can give people a
grounding that is intoxicating and, even, enlightening.  It's very attractive in an uncertain world
and hordes of young "secular" Jews have been moving over the religious
side in recent years. 

And with this movement,
"secular" traditions are moving with it. 
Matisyahu (aka Matthew Miller) is one example.  He was a NSJB (Nice Secular Jewish Boy) that
was a Phish/Deadhead for much of his life when he finally took the Hasid
acid.  So, even though he adorned the
black hat, he still loved the Jam band. 
And with that, the Hasidic Reggae Supertstar was born.

So, it was only a matter of time before the Rap/Hip Hop genre
was explored.  And why not?  Rap/Hip Hop is a medium whose purpose is to
convey messages with passion and spirit in a way few other genres do?  With its deep bass lines, high hats and other
tribal rhythms, Rap deftly guides listeners through its message through a hypnotic
trance that can't help but intoxicate its audience.  So, if LL Cool J can rap about the plight of
African Americans, why shouldn't Hasids be able to rap about the Mosiach (the
savior), Torah (the bible) and Ha-Shem?

So, now the big question how's the album?  It's just okay, but it has a lot promise.

Come Listen, is a great attempt to define a Hasid infused
bass line (is there such a ting).  It
isn't your West Coast, East Coast Hip-Hop thing.  It's a klezmer-infused rant about all things
Torah. Not Weird-Al with like, but Mos Def with a yarmulke.  This is serious Rap, with a big dollop of

Some tracks of Come Listen are fantastic.  Good
and Grey
, for example, has a simple klezmer violin lick morphed and
scratched over a funky bass drum that is extremely danceable (the author did
the head nod thang).  The message of the
track, too, is unique: Life is full of confusing choices making nothing really
black or white.  You know what? That's
okay – it's what life is about.

Journeys (featuring
Y-Love, another orthodox hip-hopper) is also a treat.  With a deep funky bass line, Journeys is a
deeply personal song that discusses each rappers experience with Judaism and
how they came to where they are now.  Where
have you heard pop music explore these dimensions?

Woman of Valor
(featuring Andy Statman) is also good with a kick ass great reggae/dub beat to

That being said, other tracks are just a mess.  Revloution,
Ups and Downs, Return Home, Jacob's Ladder
just seem to miss the mark.  They sound
like they were cut in a garage with some cheap mixer.  I just couldn't get past the poor sound
quality to give them their fair shot.   Even Rachamana,
featuring my fave Matisyahu, also lacks some punch and direction.

Still, Come Listen is a great first effort.  It shows the deep rooted passion of its core
members: Chuna Silverman and Menachem Shapiro and that this Hasidic Hip Hop
thang actually has more legs and isn't a gimmick.

Maybe it will make a Hasid out me?

Purchase Ta-Shma from 

P.S.: Even better
than the album, check them out live. 
Their myspace site has some cool videos of a live show they played
earlier this year
.  The audience was
really into it: Like being in an orthodox Shul on the High-Holy days.  Go…you might even find your self davening like
a Hasid.

This secular Jew did..


Matisyahu’s Youth: A New Jew’s Review

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

Matisyahu’s third album, Youth, while weaker than revolutionary Shake Off the Dust…Arise and the electric Live at Stubb’s, still firmly establishes the genre of Hassidic Reggae and Matisyahu and his band as one of the most exciting musicians today.


Matisyahu at the Paramount Theater, 2/28/06

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

Matisyahu played the Paramount Theater in Denver this past Tuesday.  He was fantastic.

The Paramount is a 2000+ person venue, possibly the largest indoor venue in Denver next to Pepsi Center (where the Denver Nuggets/Avalanche play).

He sold it out at least three weeks ago.

Hi set included many perennial (don’t know if you can call anything a guy who has played for a few years "perrenial") favorites, King without a Crown, Exaltation, and Warrior.  He even included a few tracks from his new album Youth (due out on March 7th).  All were performed with a passion and energy that is intoxicating.

 Matis channels the spirit of Bob Marley and infuses with a cantorial style (cantors are the people in synagogues who lead a Jewish congregation in prayer).  It is unquestionably unique and shows how the spirituallity that is the underpinnings of Reggae music can be used to express religions other than Rastfarianism.

It is awesome.  As a secular Jew who went to Yeshiva but finds the most spirituality in modern music, I feel as if this music has been inside of me for a long time.

Now it’s time for it to get out!

Definitely check him out. 


Yahoo! Music: A Great Music Value

Friday, February 3rd, 2006
I’m obssessed with music.
About a year ago, I digitized all of my (and Marni’s) music.  We had enough music to play songs continuously for over 25 days!  It’s amazing what one can acquire over time.
While most homoapiens would be satisfied with that, I, of course, am not: I need more.  Marni and I installed speakers into our ceiling so we listen to radio constantly.  We’re NPR junkies listening to news programs, talk shows (Fresh Air), and music programs.  We find that it’s a great backdrop for our home.
Because of this exposure, we get introduced to tons of interesting music that intrigues us to explore more.  For example,  earlier in January, we heard a great interview on Burt Bacharach about how, at 77, he’s completely outraged on the state of affairs in our countries.  So, after writing tons of love songs, he decided to write politically charged songs.  We heard a few tracks during the interview but wanted to explore more.
Enter, Yahoo! Music to satiate our thirst.  Yahoo! Music is one the Internet’s latest forays into online music (Napster, MusicMatch, iTunes being others).  For, literally, $5 a month, you can play, as many times as you want, any song that is on their system.  You can even download it to a computer and play it without connecting to the internet (if you want to download it to an audio player, it costs $10 month).  There are over a million songs on Yahoo! Music. 
Does it have everything?  No, not even close.  And, with eclectic tastes like ours, there’s a lot that isn’t there. 
Still, it has a ton.  For example, I’ve recently been obsessed with Verve Records Remix albums Unmixed//Remixed series where they take some gems from  their amazing catalog and let some of the world’s best electronic musicians modernize them.  Yahoo! Music has the whole series on there.  Marni and I could have saved a Hanukkah gift each: Matisyahu’s Live at Stubb’s and Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor were both on the service.
The other great part of the experience is that it is immediate.  With Burt Bacharach, we didn’t have to run out and get the CD.  We were able to listen to the album over dinner right after hearing the interview.  (BTW – We decided we didn’t to like it) 
What’s the downside?  You don’t own the music.  So, once you stop the subscription,  you can’t listen to the music.  Still, for $5 a month, it’s practically free.
Convinced? Try it out for yourself.  They even have a free 7 day trial. 

Yahoo! Music Unlimited


Matisyahu on Letterman 1/16

Monday, January 16th, 2006

Matisyahu is going to be on David Letterman tonight (1/16).  If you haven’t checked him out, you should.  He’s one of the most interesting acts in music today.  Channeling Bob Marley with cantorial singing.

Try him out.  You won’t be disappointed. 

If you really want to get into him, definitely check out his cds. They are fantastic!

Update: Here is a link to the performance on Letterman.