Go ahead: name another Jewish reggae singer from suburban New York who’s had a busier couple years than Matisyahu. In 2010, his anthemic single “One Day”, featuring Akon, was picked as NBC’s official song of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. The following December, however, the singer shocked his twitter followers by sending out a picture of himself after shaving off his signature beard and forelocks. “No more Chassidic reggae superstar,” he later wrote in a blog post. He’s now decamped from the traditional Hasidic community in Brooklyn where he’s spent the past decade and moved his family to Los Angeles. He’s also recorded a new album, Spark Seeker, produced by Kool Kojak (Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj) — a sleek, pop-influenced collection of tracks that marks a natural progression after his earthy, jam band-influenced live shows and the crossover success of “One Day”. “I think my music has always been a mixture,” Matisyahu tells TIME in an interview. “This record has definitely more of a pop, urban hip-hop kind of feel, mixed with a world music vibe because we recorded in Israel and got a lot of Middle Eastern sounds from over there.”
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The new track “Crossroads”, which you can hear exclusively on TIME.com above, is a departure for Matis as well. His hyperactive dancehall flow from earlier songs like “King Without a Crown” and “Youth” has been slowed down and juiced up, courtesy of Kool Kojak, into something that sounds like the deep roar of a Flo Rida chorus — a lot more South Beach than Trench Town. Perhaps to remind listeners that this is the same guy who performed with Phish in a black frock coat and fedora, however, the song features plenty of spiritual touches, like the religious chants that open the track. “Working with Kojak, his feel for rhythm and groove and just the drum sounds in particular, it’s just the kind of stuff I listened to in the ’90s — growing up and listening to hip-hop and that whole vibe. We come from a similar place, taste-wise,” Matisyahu says.
Spark Seeker comes out July 17; Matisyahu is currently on world tour, with upcoming dates in Los Angeles, Providence, Rhode Island and New York City. And don’t forget to check back on TIME.com next week for the rest of our exclusive interview with Matisyahu, where he’ll discuss the album, his faith and how his life has changed.