Artists either seem to receive praise or criticism for pushing the creative envelope and producing a sound that strays away from the genre they’re associated with. Reggae/alternative hip hop musician Matisyahu is one of the artists I tend to think is consistently inconsistent. However, with his fifth studio album Akeda, I lean more towards the end of praise in regards to taking a somewhat different direction compared to past albums.
Like all other genres, reggae has different sub-genres and components within it that differ from the genre as a whole. Within reggae, there’s dancehall music and roots music. Dancehall is essentially exactly how it sounds – much more upbeat with not as much thought put into the lyrics, and more emphasis on the rhythm and melody. Roots music, however, is much more thought out and reflective, often bringing personal problems within the artist to the surface. Akeda mainly contains components of the latter, touching on a wide range of struggles that Matisyahu has gone through over the years. However, the album also contains hints of dancehall to keep listeners interested and swaying to the melody.
It’s interesting for someone to view the hypothetical walls of their life falling down as something positive. Within the third track “Watch the Walls Melt Down”, sprinkles of dancehall come into this song with the horns in the background to almost act as if the crumbling of these walls is a celebration for rebuilding and starting anew. Matisyahu also conveys the message well with the lyrics, “I watch the walls melt down/ watch them fade away/ I took my freedom back/ I packed up the knapsack/ I’m not cracked yet.”
On a pure melodic standpoint, “Ayeka (Teach Me to Love)” is among my favorites on the album. The rhythm within the intro is instantly infectious and draws the listener’s attention. This is yet another track with hints of dancehall in it, but I believe the lyrics to be relatively thought out and reflective, which is consistent with the rest of the album. Matisyahu does a good job of finding a balance between dancehall, roots and other genres of music, and this track is another example of that skill.
The heavily reggae/hip hop-influenced track “Confidence” features guest vocals from reggae artist Collie Buddz, and is another song that demonstrates inner reflection. Matisyahu has been tackling many of his demons through the medium of his music. That much can be felt through the powerful words in the closing of “Confidence” that state “I need some confidence/ How can I walk tall/ with the critics in my head?”
On a lyrical standpoint, “Obstacles” is among the strongest on Akeda. The song has a melancholy yet down-to-earth and reflective feel to it. Everyone has obstacles in life, so the track is relatable to anyone facing their demons and dealing with hardships. It conveys the concept of dealing with obstacles quite nicely with the lines, “Can’t give back the time you stole, path unravels, the day unfolds, this/ life can’t be bought nor sold, just play your cards.”
Matisyahu put a lot of thought into his fifth studio album Akeda. In Jewish tradition, akeda is a reference to the binding of Isaac on the rock of sacrifice from his father Abraham. Religious references are not uncommon within Matisyahu’s music, and this is just another clever parallel drawn between his faith and his experiences. The tracks generally have a much more melancholy and reflective feel than his earlier songs like “King Without a Crown”, but I embrace this stylistic shift to a more root-style reggae with open arms.