Beyond hop-hop: The power of positivity

It has been two short years since Matisyahu married Hassidic Judaism and reggae. But with the March release of “Youth,” the rapper-singer crashed alternative rock’s barrier and connected with an audience that has rarely heard the spiritual message from either party Matisyahu represents.

“Youth is the engine of the world,” Matisyahu shouts on the JDub/Epic album’s title track, a song inspired by his studies with Chabad Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.

“I’m wary to say there is one message,” Matisyahu says during the sound check for a Santa Barbara show. “I believe there are a lot of little messages. I try to depend on the music mainly, to try to get into a certain space where we can bring happiness and hope for positivity. I’m trying to eliminate unwanted fears — and (explore) things I’m dealing with in my own life.”

Born Matthew Miller and raised in White Plains, N.Y., he followed a spiritual calling as a young adult. He turned to music and after a year and half recorded “Live at Stubb’s” in Austin, Texas. “We got in the van in 2005 and played six nights a week,” he notes. “It took awhile to explain the sound I wanted.”

Selling out 6,000-seat venues this summer, he figures he’ll be on the road for almost all of 2007. After playing such alternative showcases as Coachella, Bonnaroo and the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, Matsiyahu’s headlining tour finds him connecting with an audience beyond the jam band crowds that first flocked to see him as a bit of novelty. He has managed to not be discounted by the reggae world and now even includes reggae superstar Luciano among his key supporters.

“Reggae musicians really believe in the universal (nature) of reggae,” he says. “I’m doing it my way, bringing out my culture. Some (musicians) have said it’s refreshing to see someone bringing their own culture to reggae. They’re into it. They see how the music has crossed over.”

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