NEW YORK – A chapter in one of the most unusual spiritual journeys ended in, of all places, a Supercuts.
It was in one of the chains salons on Manhattans Upper West Side that Matisyahus life as the worlds first Hasidic reggae superstar came to a swift end in a pile of hair.
He walked in with a decades worth of uncut dark beard, the result of his devotion to orthodox Judaism, and walked out clean-shaven. What he is now isnt always clear – and thats fine with Matisyahu.
I think that things grow and people move in different directions, he says. Im just continuing and trying just to make the decisions that feel right and go after, intuitively, the things that I know to be right.
The 33-year-old Matisyahu is far from the one who lived for years in a modest apartment in Crown Heights, the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Hes moved his wife and three sons to Los Angeles, favors pastels over dark suits, ditched the yarmulke, changed his management team and is self-releasing his music.
The last decade of my life has been immersed in Judaism and Jewish culture and Jewish religion and Jewish spirituality, and I really took that trip as far as I could take it. And then I started to find other things resonating, he says.
On Tuesday, he released his fourth studio CD, Spark Seeker, a fresh sound produced by Kool Kojak with reggae, hip-hop and electronica layered over Middle Eastern instruments and rhythms. It is as hard to pigeonhole as the artist who made it.
Matisyahu was initially seen as a musical oddity when he emerged 10 years ago – a Lubavitch sect member in a flat-brim black hat and bushy beard who loved hip-hop beats and sang dancehall reggae in a Jamaican accent. He was a former Deadhead who grew up nonreligious as Matthew Miller in White Plains, N.Y.
His 2004 debut Shake Off The Dust ... Arise, and the subsequent CDs Live at Stubbs and Youth – all featuring versions of his King Without a Crown, became a crossover hit.
His 13-song CD Light in 2009 borrowed from dance and electronica and he provided the voice for Drown in the Now, a hit for the electronic duo The Crystal Method. He went back to Stubbs in 2010 for Live At Stubbs Vol. 2.
But while the music was evolving, life in Brooklyn was getting harder. Matisyahu had rebelled at becoming the poster boy for orthodox Jewish cool and an uneasy stand-off had developed between the artist and a community that both embraced and feared his unpredictability.
I went through a lot, he says. At a certain point, things just arent working, theyre not meshing together. There was moment where I definitely just felt, I think I can do whatever I want with my life. People will understand or they wont understand.
Once hed made the decision in mid-December to shave off his beard, Matisyahu faced the next question: How should he handle it?
The thought crossed my mind, Well, how am I going to do it? Am I just going to show up onstage? People are going to wonder who this is, he says.
I really didnt plan to say anything to anyone. I dont even know if I called my wife or told anybody. I just walked into a Supercuts on the Upper West Side after a couple of days of agonizing over the decision. Then I realized that I had to do it. I realized I was making it into too big of a deal.
Why a Supercuts? Matisyahu explains: I didnt own a razor.