Comments: From the moment I first laid eyes on Matisyahu, I knew he and I would cross paths whether I liked it or not. My hope is that he would remain an underground college act, and he would never actually be popular enough that he would warrent my attention. I remember watching his video for "King Without a Crown", hoping I would never have to buy his album as he beatboxed and bounced around in full religious garb.
Why the concern? I was worried because when I saw him, I immediatly made three asumptions about his music. First, I was concerned that he was nothing more than a gimick or a schtick, no better than William Hung and just as disposable (Jesus, what a bad idea William Hung was. I didn't even pay for it and I want my money back). My second concern was that he wouldn't play actual reggae, but some sick twisted version that would make Bob Marley roll about in his weed covered grave. I assumed it would be something like Sean Paul and 311 mixed with a big spoonful of awful. Once I learned about Matisyahu's strong religious tones, my third concern was that all the god talk would be a distraction.
Judging a book by its cover is never a good idea, and Youth is proof of that. What could have been nothing more than a gimmicky one tirck pony release turns out to be an album with substance and general passion in it. Matisyahu is not some joke, he is an actual MC, and proves it on tracks like "Fire of Heaven/Alter of Earth" where he spits his rhyms with a quickness and authority that dares you to follow him without getting lost. If words aren't enough, he even drops some respectible, if not incredible beat boxes on a few tracks, most notibly "Shalom/Saalam".
The unstrumentation on the album is not reggae in the strictest sense of the genre, but succeeds none the less, as it builds and adds to the sound, making something new but still familiar. Surprisingly, Matisyahu sounds his best not when he is rocking out and ripping rhyms at fast pase, but when he and his band calm down and get more intimate. Songs like "Late Night in Zion" and "What I'm Fighting For" not only slow the album down, but also bring the listener closer to the music and the message, and lets the listener choose to accept it or not. But either way, it sounds nice.
The big problem on this album is similarity. While the standout tracks do stand out, the rest of the album has the tendency to run together, making hard to tell some songs apart. Also, the overall relgious message of the album can be a deturent for some people. The entire album is about faith and god, save for one song about his wife and one song about drugs. And while the single "King Without a Crown" is full of pop and energy, the rest of the album doesn't really deliever on that particular promise. I also have a problem with the band itself; at times the musicians seem to try to play outside of their range. The make a good reggae band, but not a good rock band at times.
Overall, this album took me completly by surprize. I am happy to report that Matisyahu is not a gimmick, but an actual artist with substance, and if Youth is any indication he plans to stay around for a while. I hope so, because the best part about Matisyahu is his passion for what he is saying. Whether or not you agree with his message, you have to respect his sincerity. In a time when losing a girlfriend is sold as deep and meaningful music (cough VICTORY RECORDS cough) anytime something with feeling behind it is put out, I'm on board.
OVERALL RATING: 8 out of 10
WORTH THE MONEY: Yeah, unless you don't like reggae even a little bit, then don't bother
KEY TRACKS: "Dispatch the Troops" "Late Night in Zion" "King Without a Crown"