Matisyahu is best known for being the Orthodox Hasidic Jewish rapper. But now he has a new look, and he’s playing at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts tomorrow.
“Sunshine” is a track off the 2012 album, Soul Seeker by Matisyahu. It’s a song about life’s transformations, which is something he’s familiar with. He’s gone from finding his faith to expressing his beliefs through his music. Now, on his latest tour, riding his bus across the country, he thinks back to a religious journey that he says began in his teenage years when he took a wilderness trip to Colorado.
“I think that was when I first remember really thinking about God,” he says. “Thinking about spirituality as a transformation was starting around that time.”
A transformation into Judaism. Growing up in the suburbs of New York, he says it was his first time outside of civilization.
“We have these comfort zones that we’re in our lives and when you take yourself out of it, that’s when you get in touch with some deeper things that are going on,” he says. “Going out into the woods, into no man’s land is one way of getting out of your comfort zone for sure.”
In college, Matisyahu says he found a similar solitude climbing up a fire escape to his school’s rooftop in New York City.
“So I got a prayer book from my father and his father. I wanted to be outdoors but I felt sort of embarrassed, so I would climb up to the roof of this school and that’s where I began saying my prayers,” he says. “It was usually right around sunset. It was beautiful. It was the same feeling that I’ve had for most of my life that’s kept me searching. That feeling of loneliness. For whatever reason as a result of that, a desire to reach out to the Creator of this world.”
He became more serious about Judaism, taking on a Hasidic look, wearing a full beard with a black suit and hat. He explored his religion through music, falling into the same sounds and styles he was brought up on.
“I grew up in the suburb of New York City basically in the 90’s in the golden era of hip hop so, everybody was listening to hip hop,” he says. “And even if you weren’t listening to hip hop, you were listening to it. Cause all your friends were. That was probably when I was in high school, probably around the same time I was introduced to reggae music and fell in love with that.”
“What drew you to reggae?” I ask.
“It was Bob Marley and it was spiritual music, it was direct quotes from the bible, from the Old Testament. That’s really what I learned to do that and that was the music that was meaningful to me,” he says.”
Performing reggae-rock, infused with spiritual lyrics, Matisyahu became a Hasidic superstar, singing, rapping and beat-boxing on stages across the world.
But last year, he drastically changed his look. He Tweeted a photo to his 1.6 million followers: an image of himself with short hair, a shaved beard and a scraggly shirt. It sparked confusion and controversy with some fans, but he says his new image is just part of keeping true to himself.
“A person can change in their life. A person can believe something and they can change their beliefs. They can represent something and they can always change what they represent, they can always grow. A person should live their life from the inside out and not from the outside in,” he says.
Matisyahu plays at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts tomorrow night at 7:30 with one of his biggest changes yet: stripping down his loud, energetic live show into an intimate, acoustic session, sharing with audiences his ongoing spiritual journey.