Matisyahu on Akeda, His Religious Evolution, Divorce, and "Dealing With a Lot of Rejection"
Photo by Mark Squires
The conversation didn't start well when I asked singer Matisyahu to comment on his new album, Akeda.
"Have you heard it?" he replied.
Since it's not out until June 3, I told him the truth, that I had not.
"Listen to these songs," he said, "and call me back."
He sent links to three of the songs. "Watch the Walls Melt Down" has an upbeat hip-hop vibe. "Confidence" is the sort of reggae hybrid from which he made his name, most famously with 2005's Top 40 hit "King Without a Crown." That song transformed Matisyahu into an unlikely celebrity as the Hasidic star who could kick a rhyme while donning a beard, sidelocks, and yarmulke.
Most interesting of the new songs is "Reservoir," a lonely piano ballad that seems more British than Jamaican, inspired by Jarvis Cocker or Damon Albarn rather than Bob Marley. Although featuring Biblical references and a Hebrew prayer, there is a real sense of hurt, which I asked him about.
"The song expresses how I feel more than any sentence I could give you about it. My relationship with God is very deep and complex and emotional. I try to express that in the songs, that things aren't so clear-cut or black and white."
If you aren't up to date on the personal and religious turmoil to which he's referring, check out the video for "Watch the Walls Melt Down," featuring a Matisyahu who looks very different from the man that the world had come to know. Driving down the sunny Pacific Coast Highway, there is no yarmulke, his beard is shorn, and his hair is now light and closely cropped. This change in appearance has brought criticism, confusion, and even hate from fans.
"It can be painful when you put yourself out there and open up your heart, and people don't get it. Or worse, they put out a lot of judgment. It's difficult when people think I betrayed the Jewish people or fell off the boat."