By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jun 27, 2007 at 10:00 AM

When a friend told me that Matisyahu, a Jewish reggae rapper who kicks it Old-Testament style, was performing at The Pabst Theater, I knew I had to check it out.

It's not that Matisyahu is the first to break the Jewish-rap barrier; the Beastie Boys did that two decades ago. But Matisyahu is quite possibly the first to combine dancehall reggae -- a la Eek-A-Mouse or Yellowman  -- with human beatbox, rap and Hebrew prayer.

It would be easy to dismiss Matisyahu as shtick, especially considering the 27-year-old Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn wears a long beard and brimmed hat on stage. Plus, some purist reggae fans are unenthused about a privileged white kid from New York drawing larger crowds than his Jamaican counterparts.

But Matisyahu, love him or hate him, is not gimmick; he's the real deal.

Although he doesn't break new ground musically, Matisyahu has a beautiful voice and a completely unique presence that combines confidence, friendliness and signature stage movement that is both groovy and slightly stiff. Everything about him is incongruent, but it works, and while other show biz Jews like Rob Tannenbaum and Sarah Silverman make a conscious effort to redefine Jews as cool, Matisyahu just is.

During Tuesday night's nearly sold-out performance at The Pabst, fans reached for him -- mostly women -- attracted to his style. (On a side note, I learned at Matisyahu's merchandise table that women's T-shirts were not available due to the same spiritual rules of his religion that prevent him from performing on Friday nights.)

The Pabst crowd was a fascinating mix of average music fans, bearded men with their wives and slews of yarmulke-wearing young boys, a half dozen of whom Matisyahu pulled on stage at the height of the show for a pogo-stick version of "Ring Around the Rosie" and the chance to sing a long while pounding their fists towards the ceiling. It was undoubtedly the most skin-tingling moment of Jewish pride I have ever witnessed.

Along with Matisyahu's rap and reggae comes a psychedelic light show -- a definite nod to his years as a teenager named Matthew Miller who searched for purpose while on Phish tour. (Later, it was Phish's Trey Anastasio that launched Matisyahu's career by letting him sit in during a set at Bonaroo music festival.) After a series of revelatory experiences, including psychedelic drug trips and a trip to Israel, Matisyahu had an awakening that eventually led him to Orthodox Judaism and music making.

Regardless of criticism, Matisyahu is noteworthy: He's a good singer, a talented speed rapper and impressive beatboxer. He also has an incredible band in tow, including two mind-blowing drummers -- like the Grateful Dead. But even more importantly, Matisyahu blends his passion for an esoteric mystic tradition with accessible music that spouts a message of unity. Best of all, I left the show feeling higher and happier than I had in a long time. And that deserves an irie "Amen."


Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.