"Youth" lacks originality, but still pretty bopppppppin'

In high school, Matthew Miller wore Birkenstocks in January and learned to beat-box in the back row of his math class, bearing no outward sign of his religion. Now at age 25, under the name of Matisyahu (the Hebrew version of his birth name) he has made a name for himself in the music world, both as a master of beat-boxing and “the Hassidic Jew on the radio.” While Matisyahu had always been drawn to music, it was after his religious awakening that his art truly began to take shape. Fusing together hip-hop and reggae roots with his Jewish beliefs, Matisyahu recently released his second studio album, Youth. Youth stays true to the distinct Matisyahu sound—his heavy reggae influences come through with a synthesized twist, and not a song goes by without the insertion of a traditional Yiddish-sounding melody. However, such a distinct sound is limiting, as the tracks begin to sound the same. Portions of various songs use identical bass rhythms or instrumental riffs as those on his previous two albums, Shake Off the Dust…Arise and Live at Stubb’s. This lack of originality is perhaps one of Youth’s greatest faults. Songs such as “Fire of Heaven / Altar of Earth” and “Time of Your Song” convey messages are that are relatively general for Matisyahu, but it is tracks like “Jerusalem” and “Unique is My Dove” that show the greatest religious influence. “Jerusalem” opens with a slight variation on the famous Old Testament passage: “Jerusalem, if I forget you / fire not gonna come from me tongue / Jerusalem, if I forget you / let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.” The lyrics that follow are an expansion on this idea, in which he expresses his duty to his moral code and love for his religion. The passion that comes through in Matisyahu’s religion-based music is no doubt one of his biggest advantages. The strong messages in his songs are not simply ideas– they are his lifestyle, while far too many popular artists in today’s music scene sing of events that never happened, feelings they have never felt, and ideas they have never believed. He performs to sold-out crowds in traditional Hassidic outfit, scheduling concerts around the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays. Perhaps it is this genuineness behind the words that makes Matisyahu as appealing as he is. Putting aside the sometimes dryness of his lyrics, the repeated metaphors, he is a reminder to us all. He brings together dreadlocks and Kippahs, free-style rap and ancient melodies. He brings to light the link between two worlds that are too often thought to be polar opposites. In that sense, Youth defies the misconception that leading a religious life places one outside of mainstream society; it is proof that none of us are bound to a single identity or a single way of traditional thought.