“I’ve always made it clear”…so begins the opening song…what unfolds, word for word, sound for sound, as a passionate soul searching confession by singer, songwriter, MC and I would also add poet, Protoje. It is a daring acoustic start to his sophomore release “The 8 Year Affair”. Second albums, after successful first one’s can be tricky mountains to climb. Many artists have emerged literally from nowhere, with huge first releases, and then somehow that second one becomes somehow unattainable – a non-item. The critics come out, baying like wolves, saying ‘I told you so’. Perhaps too many people tend to follow their own shadow by repeating or building on the success of their first release as a kind of blue print, a formula, a template to eternal success. It rarely works like that, especially these days when so much pop music and pop stars are so dispensable/here today gone tomorrow.
Protoje had a huge first release with the “7 year Itch” largely due to the tear away success of the collab tune with Ky-Mani Marley “Rasta Love” whose clip has over 10,000,000 hits!!! And what a tune, musically, thematically, sonically. Protoje’s flow and Ky-Mani’s gritty timbre over a mellow yet huge hip hop beat on the subject of a well to do young woman ‘falling in love with a rastaman’ It’s reminiscent of a contemporized version of the Reggae revival classic, “Curly Locks” by Junior Byles. Although these tunes are so apart production wise, thematically the way in which division based on wealth, ‘uptown’ versus ‘downtown’ is so simply yet powerfully dealt with. But I am diverging, lets get back to the matter at hand.
Looking at things semiotically the cover of “7 Year Itch” has a certain resonance with “8 Year Love Affair” Yes the locks are longer, the font and colours differ but the artist remains framed, with dark phat shades on and that’s Protoje’s iconic image.
The similarities however end there….Protoje could have simply done the same formula, instead he decided to start with a thought provoking acoustic song, which on the surface could be a love song, a plea to a partner after 8 years of being together, with all the ups and downs. Then you check the lyric, ‘the spirit of Marley’ ‘the spirit of Hugh’ ‘ the spirit of Jacob’ all flooding from the artist’s memory like a train of thoughts, a history lesson of sorts on so much that came before him. It is such a soul searching song and I repeat a brave and innovative way to start what is an excellent release. Protoje is the songwriter Reggae has birthed, from the same Jamaican root as Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Hugh Mundell and Bob Andy. The last name I mention as one of the most under rated song writers of all time. Added to the craft of writing songs Protoje has a unique rap flow. On ‘I&I’ he manifests a wicked abstractness which has some echoes of Q-tip. Indeed Protoje is simply that 90’s hip hop Jamaican generation that has come of age but he is also that rootsical Reggae sound dating back to classic works by Sly and Robbie, that weighty Black Uhuru era combined with an innovative link to Ini Kamoze. I could really go on and on about this release, this “8 year Love Affair”, tune by tune. I have heard it non stop in my car since February. It’s a rare thing these days to put on a release and feel it so complete, wholesome, and over and over again.
The cycle is complete with the last song, ‘Music From My Heart’ with all horns blazing, making the perfect close. Protoje is like a Picasso, he plans and experiments on his craft meticulously. Imagine how many small sketches were needed for the making of a great work like ‘Guernica’. Protoje has a timeless quality rare in many artists and that comes from the gift of songwriting which he has been blessed with. It’s not so much about long may he reign or how many Grammys will he win, it’s just about the creation, and perhaps sleeping at night knowing that another boom tune has been birthed….So long may he create I say…and carry on ….itinually….Check the full interview with Protoje on ‘Outernational Radio Show’ by clicking here
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