Matisyahu at a Crossroads

T-matisyahuCharlie Bertsch in Jewcy:

Publicity cuts both ways. With the help of a smart press pack and a persistent publicist, a musician who defies categorization can inspire the creation of a new category. But success of that sort can be heavy load to bear. Once your media profile is well established, it’s hard to modify. And that problem, faced by anyone who sustains a meaningful career, is greatly magnified when you have helped to construct the box into which critics eagerly put you.

Such is the fate of Matisyahu, born Matthew Miller, whose deft combination of different musical genres has made him one of the world’s most successful Jewish musicians. Although it has been half a decade since he first started to attract the attention of the mainstream press, he continues to be defined by the perception that it is strange for someone to practice his religion on tour.

A recent piece in The Idaho Statesman provides a good example. After labeling Matisyahu a “devout Jewish rapper,” the author Jordan Levin goes on to describe him making “the kind of journey he makes all the time between his music and his religion.” It sounds like a major undertaking. But the trip in question, later further embellished into a “dual spiritual and musical odyssey,” only turns out to take Matisyahu across Manhattan, from a voice lesson to the preparations for Shabbat, which the author finds it necessary to identify as “the Jewish holy day of rest.”