On the this, the Jewish year 5,770, I ask: Do you think Sony would have picked up Matisyahu were he not a Hasidic Jew?
Not that Sony has a thing for the chosen people, but the novelty is undeniable. Dude wears the black jacket, long beard and wide-brimmed hat that says “I will judge you” whether worn by a Hasid or a Mennonite – hearing him lay down reggae-fringed hip hop will turn heads, if only out of curiosity.
But maybe there’s more than that. Matisyahu is a ba’al teshuvah - “master of return” in Hebrew, one who has turned from a life of sin to a life of god. I believe vague or uncertain times lend appeal to extreme viewpoints, some ideological terra firma for the existentially vexed to really dig into. In his hit “King Without a Crown,” Matisyahu all but makes a sales pitch for God:
“If you're drowning in the water's and you can't stay afloat
Ask Hashem for mercy, and he'll throw you a rope.”
Hey Matisyahu – if I ask Hashem within the next five minutes, do I get another rope free, plus shipping and handling?
I wouldn’t be so calloused, perhaps, if Matisyahu weren’t rapping at me from a highly-stylized music video, bankrolled by a major record label (props where props are due: he started off at JDub records, a not-for-profit label). Hashem forgive me, but when I hear Matisyahu, I hear a room full of suits capitalizing on mass insecurity and fashionable morality.
If you want a yawner, check out his new album, Light. It’s enough to make Citizen Cope sound edgy.