On the surface, it’s hard to believe a Hasidic Jewish rapper can create one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Then again, Matisyahu’s been turning heads since first debuting five years ago with Shake Off the Dust… Arise. In our latest Internal Debate – our series where we ask our Staff Writers for multiple opinions on the same album – we thought it’d be an interesting exercise to tackle, Light, the latest from the positive hip-hop act.
Our own findings were mixed as to whether Matisyahu has stepped up his game or lost himself in his own creativity. Check it out for yourself:
I don’t blame Matisyahu for no longer wanting to be pigeonholed as guy who makes reggae with a Hassidic twist; I just wish he hadn’t thrown out the twist with the reggae. His latest, simply called Light, isn’t a facelift so much as a neutering, re-imagining Matisyahu as a purveyor of gaudy boom-bap rap and generic, overpolished pop. I guess he pulls it off okay, but why did he ever want to? With generically spiritual lyrics in tow, these tracks will be coming to a ringtone near you. [Josh Hurst]
Although Matisyahu hit the scene as an angry young Jewish Rasta man, it is love – and not his anger – that energizes the new disc, Light. He even conjures up fond memories of Bob Marley with the hopeful “One Day”, and there’s no greater compliment for a reggae singer than that comparison. With “Darkness into Light”, he simply demands positive social change, which is just the sort of stimulus package we can all get behind. [Dan MacIntosh]
With Light, Matisyahu’s third studio album and first since 2006’s Youth, he veers away from your basic rasta-hop prototype. “One Day” is perhaps the perfect straightforward pop single, while “Escape” takes the opportunity to continue experimenting, becoming his closest attempt at matching the sound of modern hip-hop without dropping any of his ideals. With further standouts in “On Nature,” an exceptional environmental tune, and “Motivate,” which may be the album’s most straightforward rocker, it becomes evident after just a few listens that Matisyahu’s efforts to reinvigorate his style have been a complete success. In the world of hip-hop you’re going to struggle to find a more interesting artist, and Light is his best album yet, hands down. [Jonathan Sanders]
Matisyahu, presumably growing weary of the “Hasidic Reggae Guy” label, seeks to expand his sound on Light by downplaying his God-given reggae skills in favor of a bewildering blend of radio pop and bland hip-hop. I admire Matisyahu’s apparent desire to push himself artistically, but the songs here simply lack the color, beauty, and personality of his earlier records. Light is a disappointment only because I know its creator is capable of so much more. [Gavin Breeden]
In 2004, the music world was taken by storm by Matisyahu: a Hasidic Jew with a serious reggae groove. But with his third true album, Light, the frat-boy favorite shuts down any lingering ideas of gimmickry. From club ready opener “Smash Lies” to the dreamy “One Day” and onward, Matisyahu rolls with a positive message, but no track here suffers for it. So forget about the yarmulke and just crank the stereo. [Natalie B. David]