Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Album Review | Matisyahu- Spark Seeker

For those of you writing music reviews for the Benjamin Rush Scholarship program, the themes discussed in this article are good things to consider writing about in your reviews. If you don't know what the Benjamin Rush Scholarship program is, click here!

When I started working at Generation Joshua, I found myself seated in a cubicle directly across the hall from Brady Kauk, our resident pop music junkie. His speakers blared a random concoction of Carly Rae Jepsen, Owl City and whatever other random pop music hits that managed to end up on his computer, and the ambience of the office quickly transmogrified into some sort of caustic fusion of Brady’s pop, Lucas’s…whatever Lucas listens to, and my favorite alt/indie music.

In the process of wading through the byproducts of such a reaction (which spawned such "gems" as the Call Me Maybe Remix EP and videos from the '90s of hippies dancing around in bright colors), I managed to stumble upon a real diamond in the rough, one of Brady’s favorite music videos, One Day by Hasidic Jewish rapper Matisyahu.

The video features an infectious hip-hop groove and a unique Middle Eastern stylistic flair, but what got me most was the message behind the music. Matisyahu is a Hasidic Jew, a branch of Orthodox Judaism that has a strong emphasis on the omnipresent, mystical presence of God (the song opens with the line “sometimes I lay / under the moon / and thank God I’m breathing”) and clings very strongly to the promise of the Messiah and the final deliverance of the children of Israel. It’s a song of hope, looking forward to the end of violence and strife in the world (“all my life I've been waiting for / I've been praying for / for the people to say / that we don't wanna fight no more / there'll be no more wars / and our children will play”), something that we as Christians can also look forward to with the second coming of our Messiah.

So when I was scanning the new release charts today, I was thrilled to find that Matisyahu’s new album Spark Seeker released yesterday, and, much to the annoyance of our resident country fan (Jill), I hopped on over to Spotify and cranked it up (that is, as loud as is permissible in a professional office setting, of course…).

Pardon me for bringing back a word that’s been dead for since the ‘70s, but the album is absolutely groovy. It’s got the most unique intersection of Jewish folk and hip-hop you’ll ever see. The album kicks off with a chant in what I’m guessing is Yiddish, quickly settles into a solid, no-nonsense hip-hop groove, and takes off from there. It’s got everything a hip-hop fan could want- "phat" beats (since we’re using obscure lingo already), a smooth flow, some well-placed electronica glisten (emphasis on the “well-placed,” as opposed to, say, Cascada), a uniquely Jewish flair, and even the occasional saxophone.

What impressed me most was the seamless integration of his faith into his music. Whether it’s the offhand reference to a mystical encounter with God (Crossroads), a reorientation of the typical “falling in love” theme towards the context of marriage (I Believe in Love), or an earnest prayer for God’s presence to descend (Breathe Easy), the listener gets a distinct feel that Matisyahu’s faith is a critical dynamic of his life. He has a message that he’s trying to communicate (we get his familiar theme of peace and love in Shine on You and Tel Aviv’n- “You can teach your children hatred, teach them how to fight, I’mma teach my children how to love, with all of their might, all of your soul, all of your heart, all of your mind”) and shows that the only way to truly grasp it is faith in God.

His spirituality is based in Hasidic Judaism, not Christianity, so the spiritual components emphasize an ethereal, mystical encounter with an all-present God rather than a personal encounter with the incarnate Christ. Strong language also makes a one-time appearance in Tel Aviv’n and I started to wonder whether his moral code ever came down from the fluffiness of “love” and “peace” to any concrete, practical application. But overall, it’s a really well-made album that is accessible to the average listener and contains a fair bit of truth to be gained by the Christian listener.

Posted by Nick Barden.

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