My favorite Matisyahu album has always been and will always be the Live at Stubbs album. When a musician explodes into the public eye and people start listening, they become attached to that sound because that's what they fell in love with. When an artist puts out something new and ventures from that beloved sound, people automatically dismiss the new record. We all do it, especially with artists we love.
Light is different, there is no denying it. It's less reggae and much more rock and hip hop. Smash Lies is a stark contrast to what most people are used to from Matisyahu. It's a very layered song, littered with piano, hip hop beats and just about everything else but the reggae sound most Matisyahu fans are accustomed to. But it's not a bad song just because it's different.
The first four songs are some of the best songs I've heard in a long time. When Matisyahu puts out a greatest hits album, I expect Smash Lies, We Will Walk, One Day and Escape to be on there.
We Will Walk and One Day are very radio friendly, very rock and roll/pop and very uplifting and catchy. It's almost as if they were put out by a different artist. Perhaps they were. Perhaps Matisyahu is growing and changing. People change. Musical styles and tastes change. Just about everything changes. It's a natural part of progression. Stagnation exists when progression is absent. The reggae isn't gone. Listen to the last half of the album, especially Motivate, Darkness Into Light, On Nature and Thunder. That initial sound that most of us fell in love with isn't gone, it's just been built upon, the way a house is built upon a foundation. What's missing isn't as important as what is present in this record.
Light may not be as good as his other records, it may not have the same sound, but it's still a fabulous record full of spirit, heart and enjoyable music, something that seems to be an anomaly these days. All good artists grow and change, Matisyahu is no exception.
Matisyahu said in an article published a few months ago that he was tired of being known as the Jewish rapper. That's how people came to know him, that's how I first discovered him. I play Live at Stubbs for people and tell them about how I saw Matisyahu in Louisville, KY back in December and that it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. They ask me who Matisyahu is and I respond, "that Jewish rapper that has a reggae rock band" and they go "oh yeah, that guy."
He said in the article that he would rather be known as a human being. As fans, we put labels on artists. He became that Jewish rapper. There is no room for growth when you are a Jewish rapper. Eventually, you're going to run out of Old Testament and Torah to rap about. Then what? A human being is allowed to grow. There is room for growth and change as a human being. Light is different from Live at Stubbs and Youth and Shake off the Dust for a reason. Matisyahu is growing and changing, breaking out of the mold that had encased him over the years.