When a man decides to shave off his mustache or beard, it's rarely a big deal. Maybe a significant other has something to say, and it goes no further. But when Matthew Miller, better known as the Jewish reggae rapper Matisyahu, removed his signature beard Dec. 13, he tweeted about it, included photo evidence, and made it the shave heard 'round the world.
Dag, Matisyahu - couldn't you have gone more slowly? Maybe trim down to a Vandyke or goatee? A soul patch, perhaps?
"At the break of day, I look for you at sunrise. When the tide comes in, I lose my disguise," wrote Matisyahu in the tweet, quoting from his own song "Thunder." In a blog on his website, the West Chester, Pa., native wrote, "No more Chassidic reggae superstar," then explained that his famed religious way, started 10-plus years ago, was born as an organic, natural process:
It was my choice. My journey to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality - not through books, but through real life. . . . I felt that in order to become a good person, I needed rules - lots of them - or else I would somehow fall apart.
He wrote he was reclaiming himself and trusting in his own goodness as his own divine mission: "Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth. And for those concerned with my naked face, don't worry . . . you haven't seen the last of my facial hair."
From an artist who usually speaks poetic truths bathed in reference to Judaism (he forged a union with the Chabad movement in 2000, but famously moved on in 2007 to other paths), this announcement seemed odd, even if he did follow up with another tweet that read, "For all those who are confused: Today I went to the Mikva and Shul, just like yesterday."
Matisyahu and his band, Dub Trio, are set to release Akedah: Teaching to Love in 2012. It's based on the biblical story in which Abraham offers his son Isaac to God as a sacrifice. Matisyahu has stated he's also planning a poppier, somewhat secular, hip-hop album.
Could there be some contradiction for Matisyahu in this nonreligious music? Will he eventually perform on Friday nights? Will his annual Festival of Light appearances, like the one Saturday, hold different messages? Who knows?
A surer guess is that Matisyahu will stay the steadfast, smart, and passionate lyricist he has been since the days of JDub releases such as Shake Off the Dust . . . Arise. He and Dub Trio will continue to play music that embraces all manner of soul, sacred, and secular. Another bet: His face won't look so darn naked to audiences once the shock of the new wears off.