(JTA) -- JDub, the innovative Jewish music and events promoter best known for launching the career of Chasidic reggae singer Matisyahu, is closing.
The decision was “entirely financial,” according to a statement released Tuesday by the 9-year-old nonprofit based in New York.
“The collapse of the music business in the decade that JDub has existed, combined with recessionary effects and aging out of the cohort of Jewish ‘start-ups,’ made securing the necessary operating support an insurmountable challenge,” the statement read.
In addition to launching Matisyahu into stardom and the Balkan Beat Box, a Jewish fusion group popular on the club circuit, JDub branched out beyond the music world in 2005, beginning with co-founding the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists. In 2009, JDub adopted jewcy.com, a youth-oriented Jewish website, and has consulted for nearly three dozen other Jewish organizations including Hillel International and Birthright Israel Next.
JDub, which has sold 1.6 million records, said it will wind down its operations slowly and try to find homes for its programs and assets.
With a declaration Tuesday morning that he was "reclaiming" himself, Jewish music star Matisyahu -- aka Matthew Miller -- shaved his signature beard and wrote, "No more Chassidic reggae superstar."
The musician posted two photos of his newly beardless face to the social networking site Twitter and added an explanation on his website a few hours later.
"When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process," he wrote. "I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules -- lots of them -- or else I would somehow fall apart. I am reclaiming myself."
Matisyahu's religious journey has long been an object of speculation and media fascination. Raised in a Reconstructionist family in White Plains, N.Y., he became affiliated with the Chabad movement only in 2000, after studying at one of its institutions in Israel.
Four years later, after his debut album "Shake Off the Dust ... Arise" was released by JDub Records, Matisyahu began a rise that ultimately would find him performing on national television as well as at Jewish events.
Here was a beat-boxing Chasid borrowing lyrics from Jewish liturgy on television while wearing the black fedora and long black coat typical of members of the Chabad sect. Matisyahu represented a major step forward in the visibility of traditional Judaism in the mainstream media.
Chasidic Judaism was always central his public persona. While on tour, promoters made special arrangements to accommodate Matisyahu's Sabbath observance.
As recently as last weekend, Matisyahu's status as a Chasidic cultural icon was on full display. An episode of the Bravo channel's "Chef Roble & Co." focused on a kosher Thai Vegan party held at the musician's home. The episode explored the intricacies of rules governing the preparation of kosher meals.
But Matisyahu's spiritual exploration didn't end with his rise to public attention. In 2007, he distanced himself the Chabad movement, a move that sparked another round of news stories.
“My initial ties were through the Lubavitch sect... At this point, I don’t necessarily identify with it any more,” Matisyahu told the Miami New Times in 2007. “I’m really religious, but the more I’m learning about other types of Jews, I don’t want to exclude myself.”
"Matisyahu was never a part of the movement's conventional line," a senior Chabad official told Haaretz later that year. "It's possible that he felt that his membership in Chabad caused him to be scrutinized."
Matisyahu went on to explore other schools of Chasidism -- including Karlin-Stoliners, a Chasidic group known for praying at full volume. It wasn't a matter of rejecting Chabad, the singer told JTA in 2008, but rather “not feeling bound to one way or one path, but open to many paths within Judaism.”
The singer's latest statement isn't definitive. It doesn't rule out belonging to Judaism or even a Chasidic movement. At most, the statement seems to indicate another stage of spiritual exploration.
"Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth," Matisyahu says in his statement. "And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry ... you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair."
A new YouTube video from late last week shows the Jewish rapper’s latest look – t-shirt, shades and blonde hair.
Matisyahu, who has been changing looks in a Lady Gaga-esque rate lately, stood next to songwriter and artist Allan Grigg, also known as “Kool Kojak” to promote Matisyahu’s new single “Sunshine” from his latest album “Spark Seeker.” In the video, Kojak is the one who rocks the beard a-la Zach Galifianakis whereas Matisyahu looks like a surfer dude from Huntington Beach.
The two sang “He’s staying for Shabbos.”
In an interview for Paste Magazine, Matisyahu said that much of the inspiration for “Spark Seeker” came from visits in Israel together with Kojak. The two ended up creating the album at a Tel Aviv studio (there is a track called “Tel Aviv’n”).
“This album has an emphasis on spirituality, as do many of my past records.” Matisyahu said, “It derives a lot of inspiration from Chassidut, Kabbalah, and my own process of the search for meaning. I guess it picks up where I left off. Splitting the sea, leaving slavery, journeying through the desert and entering the Promised Land.”
Watch the video here:
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