Hasidic Judaism reggae star Matisyahu’s Phish phoner foul
It’s kind of weird that I have a beef with a man of Rastafarian unity, Matisyahu. But his personality, reminiscent of a snarky 16-year-old skater bro from the upscale suburbs, irks. And when he finally called for his SN&R phone interview, it was more than two hours late and he was eating a gefilte fish, or falafel, or burrito, or whatever the hell you might imagine Matisyahu eating.
And then he hung up on me.
I was almost relieved to be phone-dissed because, frankly, the dude was boring. I couldn’t stand how he spoke—and smacked—as if there was peanut butter stuck to his mouth’s roof. (OK, I’m not being fair. I’m just a little disgruntled.)
Trash talking aside: Matisyahu is the American Hasidic Jew musician who gained notoriety for getting “Jewish” and “reggae” to mingle comfortably as a compound modifier. This was seen as ironic, because Orthodox Judaism is a religion where drugs are strictly prohibited, yet Rastafarians tend to think otherwise about such things as smoking enormous blunts.
Musically, Matisyahu is known for a stage persona and songs that incorporate everything, including electronica, reggae and rock. On top of that, his live performances have been described as being life-changing and spiritually transcending. As per one of my good friends: “The best show I’ve ever been to. It was beautifully spiritual. I didn’t need those drugs after all!”
The Jewish-reggae star hit it big with the 2005 single “King Without a Crown,” but has been relatively low-key since that major success—up until recently. His pop-tinged “One Day” was selected as the anthem for the Winter Olympics, bringing a man whose novelty was seemingly wearing off back to life.
Our interview was short and not so sweet. Nonetheless, I’m still glad he gave me seven minutes of his time. I would be grouchy, too, if I had to deal with crazy writers asking weird questions.
Have you ever been to Sacramento?
No. I’ve been to Frisco. … That’s kinda close to Sacramento, right?
Yeah. Are you looking forward to seeing any of the sights here or anything like that?
What is there to see in Sacramento? Tell me.
Well, we are the capital of California. Tom Hanks went to school here, and we have nice rivers.
That’s great, I love rivers. I have rivers in Oregon. I don’t need to go to Sacramento for that. Do you guys swim in it?
I personally don’t, but, yeah, some people do.
So it’s a river to look at?
We also have the oldest synagogue west of the Mississippi. That’s pretty cool, right?
I guess you’ll have to tell me more about it.
Well, it’s called B’nai Israel, and it’s the oldest syna—
No! No! Not now. Next question, next question.
Is it harder to bust rhymes in Yiddish or English?
I speak English. I sing in English. Everything is done in English. I don’t rap.
But in some of your songs, there are Yidd—
I don’t bust rhymes, I sing. And I only have Yiddish rhymes in four of my songs.
Ever meet the Beastie Boys?
Mike D did a remix of my song “King Without a Crown,” and I met them at Sundance and a few other places.
So I hear you were a Phish fan.
My favorite part was the really exasperated deep breath Matisyahu exhaled before hanging up. I didn’t even get a chance to ask him about negiah, his sex life or his experiences with LSD.