March 8, 2006

As long as Curly Oxide doesn't turn out to be a Wiccan

matisyahu_kushner.jpg In the Times today, Kekefa Sanneh asks if Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu is just another white guy. But we get our Jew news from Canonist, where Steve Weiss has the better question of whether Matis is a Lubavitch Messianist who believes that Rebbe Schneerson is the moshiach. So what you ask? Well, there are a lot of people out there who believe some other guy is the messiah (his name escapes us at the moment — Aslan?). Some of them even claim to be Jews, and they ain't happy. Steve sought comment from one high profile Messianic Jew (it's not PC to call them Jews for Jesus, you know), parody rapper 50 Shekel, who unloads on Matisyahu like his namesake taking out The Game.

"I donít have a problem with anyone singing ĎLive moshiach,í because there is a moshiach, but itís Yeshua, and itís not Schneerson. I just hope he opens his eyes and ears to truth, and heís not gonna find it in Hasidism, I didnít find it in rabbinic Judaism, I found it in the scriptures.Ē Fiddy points out that Matis recorded a song with Christian rock superstars POD, which means "heís been witnessed to now, he knows that Jesus is the True Jew Messiah, Iím sure that POD has shared this with himÖIím sure that's working with him, theyíve made it clear."

Actually, I'm pretty confident that POD wouldn't be so crass as to hector anyone about Jesus — especially a person of strong faith. Yeah, they probably think and hope that just by living Christian lives they are witnessing to the world, but from what I know, they move in those circles of Christian culture where anything more intrusive is considered uncool.

Fortunately, 50 Shekel obviously does not, which means we've got the world's geekiest music beef ever going here.

Personally, I'm still hoping Matisyahu turns out to be an elaborate Purim joke. Where'd I put that grogger?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I knew I was square for not knowing the latest hippity-hoppers, and I'm fine with that, but at what point did I become square for not knowing anything about religious music? Pod? Matsiyahu? That's not okay. I hate this polycaliphate.

But aside from that I used to listen to Nachum Siegel every morning (after the '04 election I couldn't take NPR for a while) and he never played Whatsthisyahoo. So there's your interneccine feud.

And come to think of it, Jeff Sergeant never played him either.

QED: He does not exist.

Honestly, I never heard of the guy either before a few days ago (I'm still looking for the teenage girl Hasidic superstar), but apparently he's huge. Like, platinum record, MTV huge, not Jew program on your local college radio station huge.

But he's newish, so you can be forgiven for being a little behind. On the other hand, POD (Payable On Death) has been around for more than 10 years and had one of the most ubiquitous songs of the last five.

Oy. I saw Matis do his shtick live at BAM last year. It was a Friday night and the show started about 45 minutes late because he was davening in Crown Heights and traffic was bad.

There was some good stuff. He turns some Jewish prayers and tunes into reggae-ish songs and some of those are solid and soulful and really kind of work. But he wasn't able to carry a full set.

Musically, a lot of the tunes seemed to me to be only a step or two above the white kid reggae rap bands I saw playing frat parties in college. I haven't read the Times review yet, but I have a feeling I'm saying the same thing: Take off the beard, hat, black coat, tzit tzit and, I don't know, do we have to reverse his cirumcision as well? Nah, leave that. What you're mostly left with is standard white kid reggae.

I think that's a gross underestimation of Nachum's role in the New York Orthodox community.

But my point is primarily that Matisyahu is not an artist for the Orthodox community, and he is not an artist for the West Indian community, he is a pop gimmick for the mainstream. So his particular brand of Judaism is not really important. He is, it seems, actually Jewish, but his place in music and the media is secured only by his being visibly "Jew-ish."

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