Jewish rapper sheds his beat for his guitar in first acoustic tour

Jewish rapper sheds his beat for his guitar in first acoustic tour


(Editor’s note: This is a corrected version of the story that appeared in the Feb. 7 Chronicle. The correct venue for the PIttsburgh performance is the Carnegie Music Hall in Homestead, not Oakland.)

Matisyahu is returning to Pittsburgh, but not as a rapper.

Stop the presses.

Seriously, the iconic Jewish performer who made a name for himself with his powerful lyrics and Chasidic lifestyle is on the road to promote the Jan. 29 release of an acoustic version of his latest album, “Spark Seeker.” The tour just began out west and is meeting with good reviews and enthusiastic crowds, the artist says, and will roll into the Burgh Sunday, Feb. 10, where Matisyahu will perform at Carnegie Music Hall in Homestead (see capsule below for details).

Still, for Matisyahu, who has since shed his Chasidic garb, shaved his beard, but still embraces Chasidic themes in much of his music, this is his first acoustic tour. And let’s face it, when Matisyahu fans think of their rap idol, they don’t think of him unplugged.

The Chronicle caught up with Matisyahu in Tucson, Ariz., following another concert stop. He gave us this phone interview.

Jewish Chronicle: This is your first acoustic project?

Matisyahu: I’ve been doing acoustic shows and making music for quite some time. We just decided we would put together a tour of acoustic music and see how it would do.

JC: We’ve listened to both albums. Even though the songs are the same the music is different. How does going acoustic change the music?

M: The songs are the same songs, typically with the same melodies but the music is obviously different; there are no drums, and the instrumentation changes.

JC: As a performer, are you trying to express anything different [on stage]?

M: It (the music) is being played different, so there are definitely different feelings, styles and emotions, and that brings out a different performance from me … you’re using different styles and different emotions.

In “Cross Roads,” for instance [the lead track on both albums] on the original version, it’s really a rap song; it has a very prevalent beat and vibe. The song has a rap feel and that’s how I present it. Whereas acoustically we’re stretching it  out, and it’s more melodic — a lot more singing and emotion.

JC: And how about “Baal Shem Tov” [another track on both albums]?

M: The acoustic version has different instrumentation.  It’s acoustic, no drums and no keyboards — just guitars, cello and vocals.

JC: How is Judaism influencing your music these days?

M: Judaism is such a big part of my outlook and spiritual practice; it is at the core of my being, so it is hard to separate between Judaism and my music.  The two are connected.

JC: Personally, where are you on your Jewish journey these days, and how do your fans respond to your evolution?

M: It’s hard to say where I am.  There is no compass or map for one’s life journey.  It is just a continuous evolution. No judgment.  The fans who are supportive are the ones who are listening to my words.

JC: The Jewish world is concerned about how to keep young people connected to Judaism, how we get them to marry in the faith and come into synagogues. You’re someone who connects with [young] Jews; do you think we’re asking the right questions?

M: The point is not to get them into shul ’cause what happens then?  It is to have something to offer. It’s not about “getting” them but about giving.  If there is something authentic to receive then they will want to receive it.  The focus should be more on the older generation digging deep to find out what they are actually practicing and how to go further, to continue to open and to give real spirituality to themselves. Then the kids will come running to shul.

Want to go?

For more information on Matisyahu’s concert and to purchase tickets, visit

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at

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