Pop Screen: Matisyahu



Dir. Marc Webb

Picture this exchange: “Have you ever heard Jay-Z?” “No, what’s he like?” “Jay-Z is a male, African-American, Brooklyn-born, rapper!” “Wow! That’s a hilarious and totally unlikely combi-nation! I’ll be sure to listen to him a lot now.”

This would be, of course, ridiculous, but the phrasing’s not that far from the reason why Matisyahu has managed to sell any records. His fame is spreading across the country in exactly the same way: “No way, a Hasidic, Jewish, reggae, rapper?!” I’ve never heard Matisyahu introduced without the use of all four of those words, usually in that sequence; you can’t describe him in terms of substance, only in terms of image.

You’d be hard pressed to come up with someone in music who owes more to the novelty of their existence and less to the quality of their music.

But hey, nobody likes a cynic, so let’s not dismiss Matisyahu just for being different—as long as he doesn’t try and cash in on his differences, right? Well, enter the video for the first single, “Youth,” off the upcoming album of the same name. It begins with ‘Yahu ludicrously un-wrapping his tefillin like a boxer taping up his gloves before a title fight. Don’t forget it kids: he’s the Jewish reggae rapper. He bum-rushes the stage, rocks the appropriately youthful and attractive crowd, and prances around in an Adidas track suit.

All of this takes place in the warmest, coziest ghetto you’ve ever seen. Our hero and his gaggle of troubled, but not too troubled, teens get empowered and mimic the “black power” salute.

The song’s lyrics, so deep that they’re meaningless, are written as by an invisible hand, graffiti-style, on the wall. Oy.

-Richard S. Beck