Rapper Matisyahu to play with full band at Belly Up Aspen
With his 2004 debut “Shake Off the Dust…Arise,” rapper Matisyahu broke onto the scene blending hip-hop, reggae and rock sounds in high-energy songs that explored Judaism and faith. But Matisyahu, who plays Belly Up on Thursday, Nov. 30, has evolved both musically and personally over the years since.
A Belly Up regular since 2006 and a one-time jazz Aspen Labor Day headliner, Matisyahu told the Aspen Times before a recent Belly Up show that he’s still only at the beginning of his creative journey.
“This is my life’s work,” he said. “Where I was 10 years ago was a very different place from where I am now, in terms of my vocal range and colors and styles and authenticity. There’s constant lessons you learn along the way. I have my work cut out for me for the rest of my life.”
His breakthrough hit, “King Without a Crown,” endeared him to hip-hop fans, while his appearance — including the traditional Hasidic dress and full beard — was unlike anything seen before on rap stages. Matisyahu has since dropped his yarmulke and shaved his beard, but faith is still very much a part of his work.
“It’s all about there being weight to the words and the sounds,” he says. “A lot of bands make a lot of noise, but the stuff that we love is something that really cuts through, and sometimes less is more.”
The singer is currently touring with a full band and supporting his most recent record, “Undercurrent,” which was released in May.
Early on, Matisyahu felt like he had to get dance floors moving and make waves as an outsider trying to break into the rap game. But as he’s matured and grown as a musician, the 38-year-old trusts audiences to follow him into some different artistic terrain.
“People say, ‘He doesn’t have the energy he used to have and he’s lost it,’ but others appreciate it,” he says. “I think when I started out I felt like I had something to prove to everyone, so my shows were really high energy and not that dynamic. At this point, I want to let the music breathe — the music and the show is a lot more like my personality than just saying, ‘Well, I’m going to go out there and kick ass for an hour and a half.’”
Playing with varied set-ups and styles, like the full band, help Matisyahu give his old songs new life.
“I go back and listen to old songs that I know fans want to hear, that I’ve been playing for like 10 years, and I’m not that excited about,” he explains. “So I’ll go back and give them a current vibe to what I’m feeling and what I’m listening to. They’re recognizable, but they’re altered.”
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Photographer Dede Reed discusses her solo exhibition “Reflections” at The Art Base in Basalt.