By the age of 14, Matthew Miller slid comfortably into the laid-back lifestyle of a teenage hippie. Having fallen in with the "Deadhead" crowd, he grew dreadlocks and wore his Birkenstocks all winter long. He played his bongos in the lunchroom and learned how to beat-box in the back of class. By 11th grade, despite his carefree days, Matisyahu couldn't ignore the void in his life. After nearly burning down his chemistry class, he knew his mission must begin immediately. He decided to set off on a camping trip in Colorado. Away from his suburban life in White Plains, Matisyahu had the opportunity to take an introspective look at himself and contemplate his environment. It was there in the awe-inspiring landscape of the Rocky Mountains that Matisyahu had an eye-opening realization: there is a G-d.
After Colorado, his spiritual curiosity piqued and Matisyahu took his first trip to Israel. There, for the first time in his life, he felt a connection to the G-d he discovered in Colorado. Israel was a major turning point; Matisyahu relished the time he spent there, praying, exploring, and dancing in Jerusalem. In every nook he encountered, his dormant Jewish identity stirred into consciousness.
Leaving Israel proved to be a difficult transition. Once back in White Plains, Matisyahu didn't know how to maintain his new connection with Judaism. Feeling dejected, he fatefully dropped out of high school and began following Phish on a national tour. On the road, Matisyahu thought seriously about his life, his music, and his thirst for Judaism.
After a few months, burnt out and broke, he returned home. By this time his parents insisted that Matisyahu go and "straighten" himself out at a wilderness school in Bend, Oregon. The school encouraged artistic pursuits and Matisyahu took advantage of this time to delve further into his music. He studied up on reggae and hip-hop. He attended a weekly open-mic where he rapped, sang, beat-boxed, and did almost anything he could to stay creatively charged. It was then that he started to develop the unique reggae-hip hop sound for which he would one day become known.
After 2 years in the "wilderness," the 19-year old Matisyahu returned to New York a changed man. He moved to the city to attend The New School where he continued honing his musical craft, and also dabbled in the theater. During this time, he happened on the Carlebach Shul, a synagogue on the Upper West Side, well known for its hippie-friendly vibe and exuberant singing. This encounter further fueled his soul-fire, turning him on to the mystical power of song in Hasidic Judaism. Now, instead of beat boxing in the back of the classroom, he was leaving the classroom to pray on the school's roof. (Religious or not, this guy ain't made for the classrooms.)
While studying at New School, Matisyahu wrote a play entitled "Echad" (One). The play was about a boy who meets a Hasidic rabbi in Washington Square Park and through him becomes religious. Shortly after the play's performance, Matisyahu's life strangely imitated his art. Indeed, years after the initial sparks were lit, Matisyahu met a Lubavitch rabbi in the park, spurring his transformation from Matthew to Matisyahu.