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Matisyahu talks tunes, traditions and his teens

Ayan Sheikh / Multimedia editor


At first glance, one might not guess Matisyahu is a reggae singer.

Sporting a long, unruly beard and a yarmulke, Matthew Paul Miller, better known by his stage name, Matisyahu, the reggae and alternative rock musician, stopped by Ohio State’s campus Thursday.

Miller, well-known for singles like “One Day” and “Jerusalem,” told The Lantern that people don’t usually expect him to be a reggae singer, but once they’ve heard him sing, they are often more “welcoming” and supportive.

“People usually didn’t expect it and there’s that element of surprise, and when people could hear that I could do the music, then usually there would be a certain (level of) respect I would get,” Miller said.

Born in West Chester, Pa., and later raised in White Plains, N.Y., Miller said he didn’t grow up in a “traditional” Jewish household. His love for reggae and hip-hop developed from the kind of music his parents listened to and from what was popular among his friends at the time.

“I grew up listening to all kinds of music,” Miller said. “Hip-hop music was really starting to come about then and that’s what most of my friends were listening to. But then my parents were listening to a lot of classic rock and classic music and Rickie Lee Jones and Tracy Chapman.”

And about that time, Miller developed a liking for reggae music and began to think of ways to create a new sound.

“I started to listen to different music from different genres and I would begin to envision a combination of these different styles and that’s how I started to hear my sound coming alive,” Miller said.

Aside from acquiring inspiration from artists such as Bob Marley, Sizzla and hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, Miller said there are several other factors that play a role in creating his music.

“Mainly I just write it from my life experience and I’m inspired by different people in my life,” Miller said. “I’m inspired by different books that I read and by different elements of Judaism.”

Miller describes his faith as a well from which he draws inspiration and lyrical content.

For instance, the song titled “Jerusalem,” released on his 2006 album “Youth,” carries a deep religious and cultural message with dancehall, reggae beats.

Regardless of religious affiliation, Miller’s music is celebrated and enjoyed by many.  

Odundo Sidigu, a first-year in computer science and engineering and Matisyahu fan, said he was surprised when he first heard that there was a Jewish reggae singer.

“I was watching ‘The Steve Harvey Show’ and I was surprised because Steve Harvey came out and introduced him, he said, ‘Here’s a Jewish reggae artist,'” Sidigu said. “And I thought it was a little unusual and I didn’t expect much but I was impressed.”

The event, titled “Matisyahu on Music and Meaning,” was organized by the Ohio Union Activities Board. Miller performed music and shared his life experiences in front of a full house at the Ohio Union’s Archie M. Griffin Ballroom.

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