Childhood & Early Life
Matisyahu was born Matthew Paul Miller, on June 30, 1979, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. His family moved to California and eventually settled in White Plains, New York. His was a family of Reconstructionist Jews.
Matisyahu was raised according to orthodox Jewish traditions. He attended Hebrew school, where he was required to learn the doctrines of Judaism. Later, he joined the ‘White Plains Senior High School.’ In his teenage years, Matisyahu started rebelling against the rigid teachings and dropped out of school. During this period, he became addicted to drugs.
Matisyahu was an ardent admirer of the rock band ‘Phish,’ during his teenage days. At the age of 14, he attended a wilderness expedition trip for teenagers. There, he realized the value of his Jewish background. Soon, Matisyahu came to be known as the “Jewish rapper kid.”
From 2001 to 2007, Matisyahu was associated with Hasidic Judaism. He developed a deep interest in spirituality. He gave up his name and adopted the stage name “Matisyahu,” which means “Gift of God.”
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Matisyahu started his singing career as a rapper, while he was in Bend, Oregon. For over a year, he performed on stage as “MC Truth.” In 2004, Matisyahu signed a contract with the Jewish music company ‘JDub Records.’ He released his first album, ‘Shake Off the Dust...Arise,’ in October 2004.
Matisyahu released his official single ‘King Without a Crown’ in 2005.The song was part of his debut album, and the single was a shorter version of the actual song. It was one of the biggest hits of his career. It reached the 28th spot on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ and number seven on the ‘Modern Rock Tracks’ chart.
At the 2005 ‘Bonnaroo Music Festival,’ Matisyahu was invited by Trey Anastasio, a member of the band ‘Phish,’ to join him on stage. He earned the applause of the crowd through improvisational beatboxing and lyrical gymnastics. In 2006, Matisyahu recorded his live album, ‘Live at Stubb’s.’ It was recorded at a concert in Austin, through the label ‘Or Music.’ This album debuted at number five on the ‘Billboard Reggae Albums Chart.’ The CD had the music video of the song ‘King Without a Crown.’
In 2006, Matisyahu released his second studio album, ‘Youth.’ The album was about promoting the voice of the youth. The lyrics of the songs had references to Jewish beliefs. ‘Youth’ debuted at number four on the ‘Billboard 200’ chart. It was ranked third overall on the 2006 Reggae album charts.
In 2005 and 2006, Matisyahu toured across the US and Europe, giving live performances. In 2006, he was named the ‘Top Reggae Artist’ by ‘Billboard.’ In 2006, the American magazine ‘Esquire’ awarded him with the title of the ‘Most Lovable Oddball’ at the ‘Esky Music Awards.’
At the 2007 ‘Slamdance Film Festival,’ the documentary film ‘Unsettled,’ starring Matisyahu, won the ‘Grand Jury Prize’ for the ‘Best Documentary Feature.’ The film was about the life and experiences of six Israeli youngsters. In 2009, ‘NBC’ used Matisyahu’s song ‘One Day’ as the background music for their advertisement for the ‘Olympics.’
In 2009, Matisyahu released his third album, ‘Light.’ This album also became highly popular. It retained the top spot on the ‘Billboard’ Reggae albums chart for 34 weeks.
In 2010, Matisyahu made his movie debut. He played ‘Chassid’ in the movie ‘A Buddy Story.’ In 2012, he played ‘Tzadok,’ a Jewish priest, in the movie ‘The Possession.’ It was a supernatural horror movie that depicted ‘Tzadok’ as a priest trying to rescue a family possessed by evil.
In 2012, Matisyahu released his album ‘Spark Seeker.’ It debuted at number 19 on the ‘Billboard 200’chart. In 2014, he released ‘Akeda,’ which was his fifth studio album. The title of the album had references to the biblical story of the ‘Binding of Isaac.’
In 2016, Matisyahu released ‘Release the Bound,’ a digital EP featuring new music. He released his sixth album, ‘Undercurrent,’ in 2017. Matisyahu has collaborated with several renowned musicians. He has performed beatboxing with Kenny Muhammad. He has also worked with J Ralph, Akon, and Shyne.
Matisyahu married ‘New York University’ film student Tahlia in August 2004. Together, they have three sons: Laivy, Shalom, and Menachem Mendel. The couple divorced when Matisyahu started drifting away from Hasidic Judaism. They remain on good terms and share their parental responsibilities.
Matisyahu has a daughter, Sasha Lillian, from his relationship with his former girlfriend, Toma Danley, whom he had met while attending the wilderness program in Oregon. In 2015, Sasha underwent a heart surgery. Matisyahu appealed to his fans to pray for her health, and many of his fans were surprised to know that he had a daughter.
When he was associated with Hasidic Judaism, Matisyahu strictly observed the ‘Jewish Sabbath,’ which begins at sundown on Fridays. He never performed at concerts on Friday nights. When he performed in Alaska, there was a departure from this norm, as in Alaska, the Sun did not set until 12 am.
In 2011, Matisyahu experimented with his look by taking off his beard. In 2012, he appeared in an online video without wearing the “yarmulke,” the customary Jewish cap. It led to criticism from the Jewish blogging community.
Matisyahu is vegan. He is a board member of the Jewish vegan association, ‘Shamayim V’Aretz Institute.’