Jewish Music Blog

March 8, 2006

Matisyahu Youth – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 9:08 pm

I had some qualms about reviewing Matisyahu on my blog: after all, my blog is geared toward mainstream “yeshivish” Jewish music and Matisyahu is far from yeshivish music. But, I decided to take a crack at it because of his impact and popularity.

Let me start off with a disclaimer: I don’t like reggae or rap. Reggae is inherently primal and simple (which could explain its widespread appeal), and I prefer music with some degree of complexity and solidity.

Having said that, I figured that the entire album couldn’t be just reggae, could it? Yes and no. Some songs such as “Time of Your Song” and “Indestructible” have a hip hop/R&B sound, but they digress from that due to Matisyahu’s one dimensional vocal style. Vocals are perhaps the most important factor of an album and Matisyahu’s vocals, sung in a fake Jamaican accent, are often out of tune and are “projected” more than they are sung.

The instrumentation is very simple, and lacks variety. Due to great mixing, everything is in time, but the musicians themselves don’t have micro-timing, which reflects in the lack of solidity of the music. But this is exactly what Matisyahu was going for.

It’s not difficult to see why Matisyahu has such wide appeal – this music is exactly right for dancing in a bar a little (a lot?) high. But for mainstream Jewish music, this album has no relevance.



  1. I am a Ba’al Teshuvah and I used to like Reggae. Now I can’t listen to the real thing anymore because thos guys believe Haile Selassie is–you don’t even want to know about it. So if you are interested in the reaction of someone with an appreciation for Reggae–I enjoyed Live at Stubbs and I think a few of the cuts on Youth would make a nice EP, if there still is such a thing as an EP. I wrote a bit more on my blog.

    Comment by Yitzchak Goodman — March 8, 2006 @ 11:27 pm

  2. That’s a great point – but is Matisyahu merely targeting the Ba’al Teshuvah market? – obviously not. I’m simply writing from a more mainstream “yeshivish” perspective.

    Comment by keyboardguy — March 8, 2006 @ 11:35 pm

  3. hey, keyboardguy what to learn more about Matisyahu?

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    Comment by Matisyahu youth — March 9, 2006 @ 7:46 am

  4. Aryeh, I don’t think your categorization of reggae as “primal and simple” is fair. I’m a yeshiva-educated FFB, and I discovered Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals, the Melodians, and Peter Tosh only a few years ago. The rhythms are infectious and invigorating, in my opinion. You should listen to “By the rivers of Babylon” from the Melodians before you write the whole genre off.

    Comment by Mincha Man — March 10, 2006 @ 9:46 am

  5. mincha man,

    I was basing this on I’m not saying that Reggae can’t sound great, I’m saying that at its core it’s simple and primal and Matisyahu implemented it that way.

    Comment by keyboardguy — March 10, 2006 @ 10:28 am

  6. Again, I respectfully disagree. When you use the word “primal,” you venture into the same dangerous territory as our esteemed pundits at Deiah V’Dibbur did when they quotes a 1950’s article blasting Rock music as being based on the “rhythms of darkest Africa.”

    When you say “primal,” you’re really saying, “primitive.” And you’re essentially saying, “People from Jamaica (read, Blacks) are primitives.”

    In short, using the word “primal” in the context of reggae is dangerously close to racism.

    I would criticize many artists for churning out simplistic and uninspired music (how about Yitzy Bald and Eli Gerstner, to name two of dozens?). Don’t pretend that Matisyahu’s brand of reggae/hip-hop is less worthy than the garbage produced in Brooklyn.

    And in addition, I would add that Matisyahu’s brand of reggae is hardly traditional – it’s a fusion of reggae with rap. Commonly called “dance hall,” for some reason. In my estimation, Matisyahu has more in common with Shaggy and Sean John (contemporary reggae/hip-hop artists) than Bob Marley and the Melodians (traditional reggae artists).

    A professional musician ought to know better, in my opinion.

    Comment by Mincha Man — March 10, 2006 @ 2:30 pm

  7. And now that I’ve checked that Wikipedia entry, you’re even worse off.

    The word “primal” doesn’t appear anywhere in that article! You’re letting your prejudices bleed into your musicianship.

    The article on Wikipedia clearly bears out what I said in my previous two posts.

    At the end of the day, this is simply a matter of taste. I like reggae; you don’t. But don’t throw around statements like “reggae is primal” without thinking carefully about what you’re really saying.

    Comment by Mincha Man — March 10, 2006 @ 2:36 pm

  8. I most certainly did not mean anything racist by the word primal – primal means “Being first in time; original; primeval” ( This fits with the next adjective I used: simple. Primal in the context I used it simply means unsophisticated and basic.

    Again, I said in my post that I’m not a fan of reggae or rap, but I have heard reggae that I like (and I’m not writing the whole genre off), and Matisyahu does not fall under that category.

    Comment by keyboardguy — March 10, 2006 @ 3:00 pm

  9. We have a Jamaican woman living in our house and she watched Matisyahu with us and she loved it. She didn’t feel that his accent sounded fake. Maybe you don’t care for his music but why call the accent fake. If you do it perfectly, it aint fake.

    Comment by Anonymous — April 9, 2006 @ 1:46 am

  10. Are y’all familiar with the “Fuck Matisyahu!” cultural meme?

    Comment by sholomanarchy — February 12, 2007 @ 5:48 pm

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