Thanks to the fact that his first hit was arguably one of the most beautiful ballads written this century, Matisyahu avoided facing a deep pigeonhole as a gimmick out of the gate. “King Without a Crown” established the then-Lubavitch Jew (he has since distanced himself from associating solely with the sect) as a brilliant songwriter with a surprisingly diverse hip-hop and reggae vocabulary, and he has retained both street and spiritual cred since. Here, he talks about writing a song with a boy dying of cancer and balancing faith, fame and family.
French Davis: The beauty of the story behind “Elijah’s Song” is rivaled only by the song itself. What has that experience meant to you? How it has informed your music since?
Matisyahu: That was an incredibly wonderful experience. It was almost like it was bigger than me, you know? I mean I get to do what I do and I love it, but then it comes full circle. I get to reach out and impact someone else’s life and they do the same. It is like you are doing something important and you reach out through the music. I try to tell a story and I hope that people get something out of it. And everyone gets something different out of it. Music means something different to everyone and you just hope you are giving them something.
FD: It’s interesting that the boy’s name was that of one of the most famed prophets. Did that carry any additional weight or inspiration for you?
M: It honestly didn’t matter what the name was, it was more about him. The boy was so inspirational. Of course his name is too, but it was about him.
FD: That your religious beliefs and faith have informed your music is obvious; but how has your musical career impacted your spiritual life, (both positive and negative influences)?
M: That is one of the wonderful things about music. I believe that music is spiritual. Listening to music, creating music, is a spiritual undertaking. The process of creating is spiritual and you connect with different things…and it is for an audience too, as they connect with the music or connect with God. It lets everyone connect on a different level and you create something with a certain energy.
FD: How else has your life changed since you found stardom?
M: When I first started about six years ago, I was going through a big transition point. I was in the Lubavitch community, but I was ready to branch out. I started working with music and I got married and had children, and that’s when I started touring. I remember at the time everything started changing and my career started taking off. I got an agent and I got a manager, and I started traveling and doing shows pretty much non-stop at that point. It was like that for several years, and I would go where the music would take me. I would come home and spend time with my wife, and then go back out.
FD: That must have been difficult with a new family.
M: Yes, at first it was. But then as I started earning more money, I would also be able to take my wife and my kids. Of course it all depends on the type of show I was doing, but I would take them when I could.
FD: If you could plan a dream project with any collaborators alive, what would that project be and who would you work with?
M: Rihanna would be one or Beyonce. But If it was anyone alive or dead I’d have to say Bob Marley.
Deb Flomberg contributed to this story