First things first. Like you, I’m biased. It’s the human condition. Hence, given his track record, it was with eager anticipation that I hit the ‘play’ button on Protoje’s new album A Matter Of Time, (mainly) recorded at the legendary Tuff Gong studio in Kingston, Jamaica. Since he first emerged on the scene around 2010, this reviewer has been hugely impressed by Protoje’s musical prowess and witty wordplay, ranking him well ahead of all his contemporaries. However, like many before him – including the great Burning Spear – it can be hard to reach the dizzy heights set by one’s initial releases.
By Gerry McMahon
The album’s first track (featuring Chronixx), entitled ‘Flames’, opens proceedings with unexpected classical orchestral overtones, before taking off at a hot rapper style pace. Whilst it’s a nice deviation from the standard reggae formula, it trails the pairs’ previous ‘Who Knows’ classic collaboration. Thereafter ‘Blood Money’ (the album’s first single) eases the delivery via well-paced percussion, as the police, the politicians and the criminal fraternity take a hit in Protoje’s cutting lyrics that claim: ‘Police cancel operation, cause nuh real bad man nah go station. Now if you check the situation a blood money run the nation.’ Here’s hoping that such frankness doesn’t rebound on the artist in a manner experienced by his late great predecessor Peter Tosh. Either way, the good news is that this track is getting clubbers around the world in a groove.
Next up, ‘Mind Of A King’ sets you skanking, as vocal combinations are linked to an uptempo beat in one of the album’s better tracks, that prioritises personal empowerment. Then ‘Like This’ kicks in, as Protoje revisits the love theme, opening with the woman’s complaints about his unavailability, before straying into his relationship problems and preferences. The track also expands to explain that: ‘I have no idea what you facing, but on some plane we all go through the same things, so I’m a send these thoughts to you with nothing but love.’ Nice one.
This theme persists in ‘Bout Noon’ (the album’s second single), as the artist shows his soft side, via romantic lyrics delivered in a hip-hop style that promise ‘I’ll be on my way to you soon’. As he subsequently explains: ‘when I am on tour for two months and I am going home, I’m not thinking about political corruption, I am thinking about seeing my girl, and taking her away from her work for a few days.’ Good to see (but no surprise) that this man has some perspective in life!
The album’s title track ‘A Matter Of Time’ also enables Protoje to reflect on various aspects of life, as he promises to ‘get what’s mine’ in ‘only a matter of time’, whilst varying the pace and the instrumental effects (including some vivacious violin). The already well aired ‘No Guarantee’ follows and is ably aided with the irrepressible Chronixx lending his considerable vocal range to proceedings.
‘Lessons’ then takes the album in a somewhat deeper direction, in the face of ‘all these questions ‘bout this thing called life’, prompting the artist to advise listeners to ‘look into yourself’. ‘Truths & Rights’ (featuring Mortimer) then takes off on a righteous route at a lively pace, before the compilation closes with ‘Camera Show’ – a track that spans a range of themes related to the demise of civilisation, set to an aurally appealing melody.
Overall this is an accomplished album from the great Protoje, fusing slices of reggae, dancehall, dub, hip hop, jazz and even elements of rock, delivered via rapid-fire rhymes, as he appropriately plots to extend his already formidable fan base. Hence, it’s no surprise that he should explain that: “It’s not as traditional as my last album, but it’s still authentic … it’s more innovative, more global and more experimental. I want to elevate reggae culture and the world’s perception of it”. Here’s hoping he succeeds. However, ‘who knows’ whether it will, serving to enhance his already formidable (and well deserved) musical reputation? As the late great Bob Marley once explained: ‘What is is what leads to your expectations’. In Protoje’s case, the standard set in his earlier releases is so high that it was always going to be hard to surpass them. Related thereto, it will also be interesting to see whether he relies upon his classics, this compilation or a combination thereof on his imminent U.S. and European tours. Either way, I’m waiting with bated breath. Bring on the Protoje I say.
1. ‘Flames’ feat. Chronixx
2. ‘Blood Money’
3. ‘Mind Of A King’
4. ‘Like This’
5. ‘Bout Noon’
6. ‘A Matter Of Time’
7. ‘No Guarantee’ feat. Chronixx
9. ‘Truths & Rights’ feat. Mortimer
9. ‘Camera Show’
Mr Bongo Records
June 29th: CD, download and stream
August 3rd: Vinyl