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Marking time with Protoje

Observer writer

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Timing could never be more perfect for Protoje's fourth album, A Matter of Time . In just 40 minutes, the set explores themes of societal injustice, politics and corruption, while striking a balance with commentary on youth, relationships, resilience, and empowerment.

This is not your traditional reggae album.

What cannot go unnoticed is how Protoje, a man regarded as a founding voice of 'revival reggae', is exploring a new sound on this 10-track album. At a listening session held at Anchor Studios in Kingston on Monday, Protoje described this as his way of “moving the sound forward”. The album is set for release on June 29 by In.Digg.Nation Collective/Overstand Entertainment and Easy Star Records.

The set, produced by long-time collaborator Phillip “Winta” James, opens with unassuming, sombre violins courtesy of the American Matt Jones string orchestra with horns. The intro builds and strengthens as instruments join in, and a militant track, Flames featuring Chronixx, emerges. The anthem carries classical, pop, rock, hip hop and reggae influences, and sees the two reggae stars speaking out against various ills in society. The two collaborated on Who Knows in 2015, which was featured on Protoje's last album A ncient Future. That album was produced by James, of whom he spoke highly.

“I work with him because I can just be an artiste; I want to be produced by somebody who can hear the finest of notes that may be a little off. Ninety-five per cent of people won't hear, but him ago hear,” Protoje told the Jamaica Observer.

“The artistes who are at the forefront of the music decide what the genre sounds like; you can't say what reggae sounds like. Every music update dem sound…we nah go play di same beats and music if we want the music to go forward,” he added.

Protoje's musical timeline continues with Blood Money, another of James' production which was released last year. Chants of empowerment and self-awareness are engraved in the third track, Mind of a King, followed by Like This, a laid-back reggae track highlighting issues faced in a romantic union.

In sensible sequence, the sexy hip hop, dub-flavoured single Bout Noon is next. This single was released earlier this year. The Jay Will-directed video debuted last week and shows different groups of people in society toiling through the night with the desire of going home to be with their loved ones.

The thought-provoking title track follows, which is predominantly hip hop but has an element of surprise as Protoje switches gear midstream to a one drop beat. Chronixx is back on No Guarantee, a track released last month which has already gained close to a million views online. Protoje admitted that Chronixx was not originally on the project, but the collaborations were birthed after the two met following Chronixx's Chronology tour in December.

Protoje shows gratitude and shares wisdom in Lessons, the eighth track, before taking a stand for righteousness and equality in Truths & Rights, featuring Mortimer.

Saxophonist Dean Fraser can be heard on the final track, Camera Show. The song sees Protoje returning to traditional roots reggae, as he assesses factors which have diminished humanity and reinforces his message of being militant in defending what is good and true. Although the 40 minutes may come to an end too soon, the music and messages linger. This coincides with Protoje's aim, which excludes getting awards like a Grammy.

“Mi a pree reaching the people, reaching as many people as mi can reach — that's my commitment,” he said. “Mi have like 5,000 free copies of A Matter of Time on it's way to Jamaica. Mi waan give the people some music and mi want it reach the global people. Yuh see awards, you can't get caught up in all of that 'cause at the end of the day is the people you want to feel the music…” he continued.

Despite his modesty, Ancient Future peaked at number one on the Billboard Reggae Album Chart in 2015. It was preceded by 8 Year Affair (2013) which featured This is Not A Marijuana Song and Kingston Be Wise, which was used for the video game Grand Theft Auto.

Protoje's debut album, The Seven Year Itch (2010), featured the popular track Rasta Love, a collaboration with Ky-Mani Marley.