• Matisyahu: Big-Time Reggae

    I’m still fumbling for an explanation of why this man’s music made it on my local alternative rock radio station. I got this photo from Rolling Stone Magazine! What?!?! How the hell did he become so spectacular so fast?

    #1 He doesn’t have an in-studio produced record yet.

    #2 Nobody around here had ever heard of the guy before. He has no street cred.

    #3 A song from his live album suddenly gets premium play time repeatedly.

    4# He’s a practicing Hasidic Jew.

    5# He no doubt now has a bullseye on his chest because he’s an unashamed Jew making big bucks in the capitalist American culture.

    6# I listened to the lyrics of his hit song – it’s just like a dozen other Christian bands’ lyrics I heard ten years ago at Family Christian Bookstores or Mardel. His song didn’t sound any more original than Christian Reggae I’ve heard.

    7# The lyrics of his music have to do with God, living life according to a moral code, etc. Very “positive” lyrics, sure, but since when was that a selling point in the secular music industry?

    I have no problem with Matisyahu Miller personally or professionally. I liked the song well enough that I might even purchase his first studio record which is scheduled to be released by Epic in March 2006. I have no problem with him. It’s the industry big whigs that drive me up the wall.

    Think about it. If my assessment is accurate, there are some Christian reggae artists who are as talented and sound similar to Matisyahu but never get a chance in mainstream music. I can tell you of two Christian bands who have succeeded recently in the secular music industry – and ONLY two. They are P.O.D. and Switchfoot. Both have a large Christian following, but were accepted into the mainstream despite their faith, not because of it.

    Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Maybe. When I see every other religion given special favors and consideration while Christianity is treated as the oppressive white man in the midst of the suffering minorities, I get a little ticked off.

    What I want to know is, does Matisyahu deserve the instant fame and accolades? Is he really so good and special, or is he someone’s pet project because no one will feel oppressed by a Hasidic Jew in the industry. No one’s even heard of a Hasidic Jew in the industry. What concerns me is that someone felt like his other-than-average religion would be a selling point, like when minorities are chosen for scholarships. A person may be intelligent or talented, but I just don’t like people talking about this guy like he’s something other than he really is.

    What he is is a talented musician who blew up onto the scene because his faith is unique in the industry, it is a non-threatening minority, and it adds charm in the eyes of people looking to own music they can brag about as “culturally diverse.”

    I’ll still buy his album. I like reggae. But he doesn’t deserve Dave Matthews’ status or praise just yet.

    photo borrowed from rollingstone.com