Idol Chatter

This week’s revelation that Hasidic reggae artist Matisyahu makes a guest appearance on Christian band P.O.D.’s new album is not news in itself. Collaborations between Christians and Jews are increasingly common–Rabbi Lawrence Kushner and Gary Schmidt of Calvin College have even made a nice children’s book together. And artists from Willie Nelson to Sinead O’Connor have worked the reggae sound on recent releases. In their messages, P.O.D. and Matsiyahu aren’t so different, either: the lyric, “You got to give yourself up then you become whole” could be the work of either the Hasid or the Christians. (It’s Matsiyahu’s.)

But the fraternizing between P.O.D. and Matsiyahu does provide a hi-res snapshot of this moment in religious pop. Christian rockers, even metal bands like inner-city L.A.’s P.O.D. have long since lost their novelty and are reviving themselves by allying with a rising star. And Matisyahu is that. “Matisyahu is on the cusp on bonafide stardom,” wrote the New Jersey Jewish Standard last summer. That much is evident in Matisyahu’s newly released 2006 tour dates: You won’t find him performing in Borough Park, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Hasidim, if not his reggae artists, are mainstream. Instead, he’s hitting places like Indianapolis, Houston and a host of college venues such as Colby in Maine and Cambridge, Mass. He was even featured recently on MTV.

Some of this is due to the novelty of Matisyahu’s sound, and odd looks. The former Matthew Miller, a convert to one of Judaism’s most conservative Orthodox branches, performs his Near-Eastern-tinged form of rap/reggae in Adidas sneakers and a black coat, hat, and beard straight outta 19th-century Minsk. But he also is part of a larger phenomenon. Wrote the Standard, “His success has placed him as the face of a new kind of Jewish renewal based on organizations and projects that make Judaism relevant and palatable to young people.” That revelance is something P.O.D. would like to get a cut of.

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