He may not have topped the charts, but hassidic reggae star Matisyahu proved once and for all last week that he's not just a passing fad. Youth, the black-hatted musician's second studio album, debuted at number four on Billboard's latest ranking of the best-selling albums in the US, losing the top spot to rap star Juvenile but outselling a new recording by "Brown Eyed Girl" crooner Van Morrison and overtaking the number one album on last week's chart, "In My Own Words" by rap newcomer Ne-Yo.
With 120,000 copies sold in its first week, Youth conclusively catapulted Matisyahu into the reggae elite, becoming the highest-selling reggae debut in the 15 years that Billboard has tracked the genre. The achievement also places Matisyahu on a list of just six previous reggae performers with albums that debuted in the top 10, according to the Billboard Web site. Others on the list include Bob Marley, UB40 and current Jamaican dancehall king Sean Paul.
With easily the best opening of any Matisyahu record so far, Youth features songs including "Shalom/Salaam" and a dance-ready number entitled "Jerusalem," in which the 26-year-old performer offers his take on Psalm 137 with the line, "If I forget you, then my right hand forgets what it's supposed to do." The album's closing song, "King Without a Crown," describes awaiting the "Moshiach" (messiah) and flew 33 spots up the Billboard singles chart from a week ago, landing at number 28.
Though Youth is his first top 10 release, the album is Matisyahu's second currently listed among the Billboard top 50, with 2005 recording Live at Stubb's falling to thirty-sixth place on the most recent chart after peaking at number 30 last week. Live at Stubb's has sold over 500,000 copies after 18 weeks on the charts.
Born Matthew Miller in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Matisyahu attended Hebrew school several times weekly before dropping out of school altogether as a teenager. A devotee of rock band Phish, Matisyahu followed the group on an American tour before studying music himself at New York City's New School. It was during that period that he met a Lubavitcher rabbi and adopted the hassidic lifestyle - a personal transformation alluded to repeatedly on his albums.
A darling of the American media and a fan favorite on MTV, Matisyahu last traveled to Israel in early December, performing a total of four shows in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.