In this episode of Writer's Block, we caught up with reggae/hip hop artist Matisyahu, who is a force to be reckoned with. This was evident when he came to Baeble HQ to perform a couple of songs, "Carry Me," "Shade From The Sun," "Surrender," and "Sick For So Long." With nothing but his voice and a somber electric guitar, the songs themselves were strong enough to shake the room. "Your eyes, they sparkle / my love, it glistens," he sings in the last song of the session, before diving into a seriously impressive and powerful beatbox outro.
After how well the session went, Matisyahu invited us to join him at City Winery in Manhattan the following week before his show. We met up with the singer a few hours before he took the stage and the mood definitely lightened up (in comparison to the melancholic session) when I admitted that I knew nothing about beatboxing. However I was interested - determined - to learn, so I asked Matisyahu if he could teach me the basics; if he could give me a little "beatboxing starter kit" that I can effectively use after I left the venue and tried on my own. His response? "You're gonna be able to do it. I feel like your lips are juicy enough." Oooomg, Matisyahu just called my lips juicy. Stay calm, Kirsten. STAY. CALM.
Of course, because this is Writer's Block, we also went into the details behind his songwriting and spirituality and how the two connect, and how even though he technically left Orthodox Judaism, it will always be with him. "It's like a relative," he explained. "It's a part of me. It's something that will hopefully, throughout my life, be something I'll dip in and out of. I don't really have a tendency to stay in any one place for too long and I like to explore different things."
I'm the Managing Editor at Baeble. When I'm not writing about music, I'm making my own music in New York City. Baeble covers a lot of great artists. I love to take the opportunity to pick their brains about gear, song writing, and more. So, join me as we talk artist to artist,right here on The Writer's Block. In this episode, I'm meeting up with Matisyahu at the City Winery in Soho. Not only did I catch his electrifying performance, but I got to meet up with him first and talk about inspiration and spirituality. Oh, and I may have received a beatboxing lesson from the beatbox king himself. What's the order? It's... Okay. - He also drops by Baeble headquarters for a session, and wowed us with a sublime stripped-down set. - I'm Matisyahu. This is Aaron Dugan. We're just watching videos here from 2009 and the two of us have been doing this together for a while. This is a new song off a new EP. Don't let it phase you nor weigh you An astronaut in your spaceship Sky walking to the moon With your spaceship and your laser Touching darkness like Darth Vader With the strength of your creator Angels all around you surround you with good nature Godlike, yeah, Godlike so bright Slice through the equator Ancient fathers before you Continue their adventure The lower you get helps you understand your neighbor 'Till you shred through all these layers And after that And you step into your prayer You're a knight in shining armor With the kingdom at your back Your despair gives you power That's a fact When you climb these lonely towers And you've found your way back Won't you carry me? Won't you carry me? Dead sea Won't you carry me? Won't you carry me? Oh, oh-oh. Oh-oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, oh-oh You said run, run, run until the time is right When the time is right Got, got no light When you're lost at sea Ain't got no light And the song won't sing Look into the stars Know you're one of them Shining in the darkness All the children Remind them of a day When the star go away When the sun will shine all day When one day will be today When the king will find his crown And the light will be put down You've been searching all around You've been searching, now you found Now you, won't you follow me? Won't you follow me? Won't you follow me? Won't you follow me? Won't you carry me? Won't you carry me? Oh, oh-oh. Won't you carry me? Yeah - Are you excited to play at City Winery tonight? - I am. - Yeah? - Thrilled. - On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you? - Ten. - Ten? Wow. - Yeah. Layers of charcoal sprayed through hallways Praise relays off the wall echoing all ways Dirt covered earth lays beneath my rib cage Give birth to overgrowth invading on a pathway - Sometimes, some venues and some places have just more of like a vibe. Fans are more lively in certain places, so. We played the other night, like, a private event for, like, an orthodox rabbi. And everyone was like in suits, and stuff like that. And then by the end of the night, we were just hitting them over the head with, like, the dirtiest hip-hop. And everyone was up, like, dancing in their suits and it was out of control. It's kind of like what we do when we perform. We try kind of bring people in to our world that we create and then it doesn't...the cool thing is it doesn't matter where it is or who you are. There's always the potential for it to just turn into like some insane kind of party. - Yeah. Speaking of shows, you also visited our office last week to play some stripped-down versions of your songs. You played Shade from the Sun, which I feel like really is the newest song that really goes back to your roots the most. - The dance hall music that I've been listening to a lot lately, it has that kind of drop on the one where it's like... You know what I mean? The emphasis is on the one. So, that's where I started. Give me shade from the sun While I'm on my way Because I'm burning up hotter and hotter Soul is melting away Take the shoes off my feet So I can feel the ground below me Then I will be complete Connection to my surroundings Feel my flow Catch my feel Like raindrops on a windowsill Because I know Run for the hill Plunge in a river because I cleanse myself Spill like ink from out the pen quill Music make my heart stand still That's no bull Cost no bill That's not pills But it makes me chill Shade from the sun Shade from the sun Shade from the sun Shade from the sun Give me shade from the sun While I'm on my way Let the raindrops fall Quench my soul always I know that I've come A long, long way When the guitar starts to strum All the suffering fades away Give me keys Unlock doors To the places never been before Because I know Can't ignore All these feelings and what they're for I ignore all the folklore From the top of the sea to the bottom of the floor Drill deep 'till I reach the core After that be back for more Shade from the sun Shade from the sun Shade from the sun, yeah Shade from the... - Oh, I had a silly question. - Sure. - When you started beatboxing, we were all really impressed and I wanted to know if you could teach me how to beatbox. But not just beatbox, like a starter kit for beatboxing, something I can actually use... - To, like, build on? - ...when I walk out of here. - Yeah, like, a kick and a snare, like, however you start. - Okay. I feel like you're going to be able to do it. - Thank you. - At least the kick drum, I feel like your lips are juicy enough. I can just tell. - Matisyahu just called my lips juicy. Sick. - Ready? - Yeah. - So, the kick drum is like... I was wrong. - You were so wrong. Okay. - So, yeah. Okay, we'll work on that later. And then there's... That's easy one. - Okay. - And then there's... There's no way...you probably won't be able to get this. - It's, like, in the back of your throat. - Yeah, it's, like, the back of your tongue and you're sucking in. You know, and then you put them together. Well, so, there you go. Be like... You messed up the order. - What's the order? It's... Okay. Okay. - Good, and then try this. - It sounds so ladylike. People usually do boots and cats for that. Have you heard? - That's right, they do do that. - Boots and cats and...it's like... - Yeah, there you go. - That's what I do. Oh, wait. Okay. So, this is, like, the real thing now. Wait, so it's like... - Shit. - And then you practice putting them together in different ways, and you get...and then you can do fancy. - You make it sound so natural. - And then you can add, like, melody, like... - I feel like you need to drop the mic after you do that. You can't just be modest about it. - I feel like you've gotten the tools that you need to... - I could totally go alpha yeezus now. - ...take this home with you. Yeah. - You should work on it... - We'll do a follow-up video. - ...in the shower. Surrender - It's like an experience that I had when I was in Tel Aviv one day. Premise for it is that, I was in my hotel looking out at the beach and stuff, and people, and I didn't want to... I wouldn't leave my room. I like stuck in there looking through the glass, at the world around you, but like unaffected by it and that...even as an emotional state of being or a spiritual state. And then that day, then I decided at a certain point, I was going to go out and leave. And I went down, I like jumped in the ocean. Like touring for a long time, traveling, you would think a lot of times you're very involved in the world but in some way, you're removed going through it all. So, that song is about like surrender. Oh, you know, and then I saw this like sailboat. That's what made me leave my room was I saw a sailboat with this white sail, and it was the white flag...and it was surrender. I was like, "This guy is in a freaking sailboat, like, in the middle of the ocean..." - "I'm in a room. " - "...That's not very safe." You know, like, I can go down to the street, like, get a Snickers. Eh, eh, eh-eh, eh, eh Go figure pull the trigger while I simmer in the sun Tell my lady I'll be with her when the summer's come and gone You are the moon on the rise, you are my tide, you are the one Sing the song of creation and an anthem for the young In my next life Could I take another turn? Surrender, my vision Surrender, my vision Two eyes make the prize, live the life I know why Dove cries, stars shine as I fly through the night My sights set on the next bet, my life is not set yet I got no regrets because to get where I'm going I got to take another turn, burn another day Move like a prince, slay the dragons in my way I'll be dancing in the wilderness 'till my dying day I'll be dancing on the grave of the brave I have slayed In my next life Could I take another turn? Surrender, my vision Surrender, my vision Surrender, my vision Glory to the king of creation Run for the mountains, run for our lives Say you are a nation of slaves with no sight I surrender my vision to your glory It's the story of a silent sky Ancient eye, new baby blues, and old brown horizon I surrender to your glory Surrender, my vision My vision - You've mentioned in the past that after saying goodbye to Orthodox Judaism, you still felt very connected to the religion. - I may have said that, but I shouldn't have said it that way, like, because I wouldn't really say goodbye. It's like a relative. You know what I mean? Like it's a part of me, so. And I also see it as like something that will...hopefully throughout my life, is something that I'll dip in and out of. I don't really have a tendency to stay in any one place for too long, and I like to kind of explore different things, you know. And sometimes when you come back to something later after you've had different experiences, you know, you have a different understanding of it. So, I think it was more I needed to just... I did need to let go and really just unwind a little bit. - Do you think that journey kind of fits into your songs over the years? - Absolutely. I mean, my music is...like, I kind of put all that into my music. I mean, music and spirituality, God and, you know, all those things have always been intertwined for me since the beginning, since I started, like, really getting into music. Oh, oh Sick for so long I forgot this feeling When you wake up in the morning With your heart still bleeding With the wolves at your heels And your spark is buried, buried deeply Burning from the bottom Open and weeping That's how you singing softly Brooms be on the street now Sweeping up the broken crowns Glass in your feet now Remove it from your, remove it from your feet now Back of the sidewalk Like fire and water Sun rays on the ocean waves Fathers and daughters, yeah Sun rays on the ocean waves Hey kid, what it is, yeah I know what it is, yeah When you got melodies and a heart disease Ingredients won't let you be You just wanna sing 'em Air 'em out, let 'em breathe Words dripping like honey from the heavens That ain't mine What's this welling up on the inside, baby? I'm about to come with it Gettin' higher than a... But you know like from the dentist It's time we go the distance My vision is the sickest Your eyes, they sparkle My love it glistens Like fire and water Sun rays on the ocean waves Fathers and daughters Like fire and water Sun rays on the ocean waves
When Matisyahu emerged in 2004 with his debut album, Shake Off the Dust...Arise, his musical persona seemed to some a novelty. Here was a Hasidic Jew -- dressed in a black suit with a broad-brimmed black hat worn over a yarmulke, and sporting a full, untrimmed beard -- who nevertheless performed toasting raps about the glories of traditional Judaism over reggae beats in a dancehall style directly from Jamaica. Moreover, he punctuated his performances with stage diving. It may have seemed like a joke at first, but Matisyahu was serious about his craft, and his diverse style soon garnered Grammy nominations, gold record certifications, and a broad audience.
Matisyahu was born Matthew Miller on June 30, 1979, in West Chester, PA. His family moved to Berkeley, CA, which they eventually ditched for White Plains, NY. Miller initially rebelled against his traditional Jewish upbringing, considering himself a Deadhead and a hippie by his early teens. But at the age of 14, during a camping trip in Colorado, he reconciled himself to Judaism and visited Israel shortly thereafter. After returning to White Plains, he dropped out of high school and traveled the country to attend Phish concerts. Back at home again, he agreed to let his parents send him to a wilderness school in Bend, OR, where he became enamored of reggae and hip-hop, and began rapping at open-mic competitions. He returned to New York at 19 to attend the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, but also joined the Carlebach Shul, a synagogue where his musical interests were encouraged. Meeting a Lubavitch rabbi, he became interested in the strict Lubavitch Hasidic sect of Judaism and renamed himself Matisyahu.
Continuing to perform, Matisyahu assembled a backing band consisting of guitarist Aaron Dugan, bassist Josh Werner, and drummer Jonah David. The group recorded Shake Off the Dust...Arise, which was released by JDub Records in 2004. While touring in support of the album, Matisyahu recorded one of his February 2005 concerts and released the material as Live at Stubb's, which was issued in April courtesy of Or Music before getting picked up for national distribution by Epic Records. Epic reissued it on August 23, 2005, as Matisyahu toured around the country and prepared a second studio album with producer Bill Laswell. The final product, Youth, appeared in March 2006 and was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Reggae Album. A simultaneously released dub version of the album was made available to mail-order customers.
Meanwhile, Matisyahu's backing musicians chose to release additional on their own, adopting the name Roots Tonic for the side project. Roots Tonic Meets Bill Laswell marked the group's debut in May 2006, and by the end of the year the EP/DVD combo No Place to Be was also released. Jonah David dropped out of the band in June 2007, however, and Roots Tonic effectively disbanded despite the enlistment of replacement drummer Skoota Warner. The entire group (sans David) turned its focus back to Matisyahu instead, and Lights marked the singer's third LP upon its release in August 2009. - all music guide