By Gerry McMahon
There is much substance to the view that Protoje is one of the best things – if not the best thing – to have hit reggae since the sun set on the genre’s golden era way back in the early 1980s. As the author of a series of classic albums (incl. 2 No. 1s), despite his relative youth, Protoje already enjoys his well-deserved status amongst the legends. However, this latest album, In Search of Lost Time, which is his first with RCA Records – though it does serve to confirm that Protoje is not afraid to experiment and can successfully span many styles – does little to advance this legendary status.
The album opens with the less than inspiring ‘Switch It Up’ track, with rapid-fire delivery and a collection of celebrated choristers kicking in intermittently. However, the track makes less than the maximum use of the increasingly popular and talented Koffee. This is followed by ‘Deliverance’ which – despite the ominous title – offers more lyrically (that is if you can decipher the lyrics) than musically. Thereafter, ‘Still I Wonder’ offers some musical variety, but is unlikely to be on repeat on the Soundsystem. Then ‘Weed & Ting’ sees the pace slow momentarily before Protoje again lets rip on the lyrical express. Next up and touching on the same theme, Wiz Khalifa links for ‘A Vibe’, which is quite a pleasant track. However, it’s unlikely that either paean to the healing herb will compete with the likes of Peter Tosh’s ‘Legalise It’ on either musical, popularity, or longevity criteria.
‘Same So’ sees Protoje return to romantic themes, as ably addressed in his previous releases. Whilst it’s always good to see the sensitive side of this artist on display, the track is unlikely to evoke tears of emotion, mend broken hearts or lift spirits in these trying times. Then the Protoje-guided prodigy Lila Iké joins up for ‘In Bloom’, on a track that is well delivered – just as you’d expect from this pair of talented vocalists. However, it’s not a track that’s likely to provoke a stampede on the dance floor. This is followed by ‘Self Defence’, as Protoje’s timely condemnation of violence is delivered in a mainly monotone manner (with a classy close), before the penultimate track ‘Like Royalty’ (featuring Popcaan) enables Protoje to again have recourse to a monotone style delivery, albeit ably aided by an array of supporting background musical effects. However, like the album itself, this track is unlikely to live in the memory as Protoje’s finest work. The album closes with the smooth and pleasant ‘Strange Happenings’ track, based on a Papa San song that can be characterized as an oft acoustic type reflective rendition.
All in all, it’s a case of ‘well done’ to Protoje on a well-received new release. It confirms his capacity to experiment, stretch reggae’s range and deliver competently via his array of undoubted and abundant creative abilities. It also reflects well on his search for balance in life, as evident both in the lyrics and the delightful cover shot of Protoje in hot pursuit of his smiling daughter.
But if you’re looking for some reggae classics, then this album isn’t for you. But then again, Protoje and RCA probably weren’t aiming at you. Whomever they were aiming at – via slices of soul, RnB, hip hop, rap, and trap – despite its creditable chart showing, this album is unlikely to rival or surpass his previous No. 1s. However, having been released just in time to ensure its eligibility for the Grammy awards, it’s a case of – as Protoje himself might inquire – ‘Who Knows?’