By: James Di Fiore
Last year’s Winter Music Conference in Miami proved to be a first for many people. There was certainly a young contingent of 21 year olds finally old enough to get into events featuring their favourite DJs; a plethora of new musical technological products featured at the presentation hall; and one non-electronic music act making his WMC debut. His name is Matisyahu.
For those who are still unfamiliar with the name, Matisyahu is the Orthodox Jew who has come into his own with a style of music normally associated with Rastafarian culture, not the New York suburbs where young Matthew Paul Miller grew up. The up and coming reggae star has turned heads with his roots inspired flow and Hasidic attire, all while performing at some of the continent’s funkiest venues. So when I was given the opportunity to act as his liaison for the week during the 2009 WMC, I packed my bags, left my L.A. apartment and headed down to South Beach.
As a Canadian, L.A. proved to be a breeding ground for celebrities who had too much dust in their eyes, so to speak. To hang with Matisyahu was more than just an opportunity, it was a chance to sit down with a performer who has the reputation of being humble and down to earth – a rarity in my experience interviewing well known acts.
I knocked on the door, room 318, at The Riviera South Beach Hotel. Answering the door was Matisyahu’s manager, Don VanCleave, who has also managed the illustrious career of none other than Lenny Kravitz, making the young reggae artist in very capable hands. Upon entering the room I immediately took in a whiff of what most would associate as the main pastime of any performer in this particular genre; and while it wasn’t much of a surprise to know that Matis smoked weed, I was at least taken aback that his first motion towards me was not a handshake, but an offering of a bowl stuffed with high grade gear. Yes, I did oblige, and the gesture seemed to set the tone for a relaxing first encounter with the man that has literally surprised the bulk of the music industry.
“I just make what comes naturally,” he said while sifting through his unreleased material. “People always ask what inspires me, who my influences are. Those kinds of questions are redundant, because we are all inspired by everything we have ever heard…and continue to be influenced.”
It was clear the young performer has begun to come into his own, typified by his obvious need to broaden the horizons both musically and during interviews. I took my cue and asked him about his upcoming release with Crystal Method, the Grammy nominated electronic music duo who pioneered a commercially viable brand of hyper produced beats in North America. ‘Drown in the Now’ appeared on Crystal Method’s album back in May, and Matisyahu was honored to be a featured artist.
“They are such a tight unit. Working with them was really easy and we plan on making more music together sometime down the road,” he said with a smile.
Crystal method feels the same way.
“We met Matisyahu at a festival in British Columbia last July,” Scott Kirkland mused in his online blog. “His tour manager (Green) approached us about him joining us onstage for a song and we thought it was a cool idea. He came by our trailer and we played him ‘High Roller’ off ‘Vegas,’ and he thought it was great. He came out with us about an hour later and his performance was magical.”
This seems to be the avenue that is working for Matisyahu. On the third day of his arrival he teamed up with beat boxing pro Komikaze and lit up the stage at Dolce Ultralounge in South Beach. The two have performed together before and sat down in the penthouse of the Riviera to talk with me in our first on camera interview since he landed in Florida. Matis is a fierce proponent of technology and how it can benefit musicians in their need for universal promotions, so when I asked him about the significance of the major labels in today’s industry, he was both quick to embrace the digital world and careful not to tread on Epic, the major label who backs him.
“They give me a lot of freedom,” he points out, “which is good because I don’t know what I would do without my own persistence online and through all my gadgets.”
Matisyahu loves Twitter, and through his site (www.matisyahuworld.com) he frequently posts impromptu vids and journal style blogs for his fans. He also is fond of jamming on the spot and surprised me (a hip hop emcee) when he asked if I wanted to cipher with him and Komikaze at the end of the interview. The jam was refreshing and a rarity – a blossoming performer willing to throw down with an unknown artist, and gave me yet another layer to this already multi-faceted young singer.