Friday, January 28, 2011

'The Family That Vibes Together . . . ': A Review of "7 Year Itch" by Protoje

Despite the fact that, for the most part, Reggae music runs the entire world at this point, in every single aspect of daily life (or at least it should anyway), I do so enjoy the phenomenon of the music retaining a bit of its ’regional’ charms and identity. Of course, that’s kind of difficult to say because unless we’re regarding the world as a “region” (of itself) then, as I said, Reggae has seen no barrier, in regards to spreading out, which it couldn’t overcome, however, in some aspects it does differentiate itself from some of its more ‘mainstream’ peer genres by holding onto certain displays which they do not as fully these days. One of the very interesting, and the one we’re going to talk about today, is the situation of how our music, in many ways, can be regarded as a ‘family business’ of sorts. I’m not the biggest of fans of any other genre of music (so I may not know what the hell I’m talking about), but off the top of my head nothing jumps out at me as being ‘the first family’ of a genre such as Hip-Hop. Meanwhile, in Reggae music if I asked you such a question, the word ‘Marley’ would come flying out of your face before I even finished. After that it wouldn’t take you too long to mention a name like the Morgans either before you began to turn your attention to even more current names. If you look at the hierarchy of Reggae music right now, some of the biggest names we have are second (or maybe even third) generation Reggae artists. Tarrus Riley and Queen Ifrica, for example, both are the children of musical Fathers. There’s also Da’Ville, shocking Grammy nominee Andrew Tosh, Kenyatta Hill who I mentioned a few days ago, Nicky B, Cen’C Love and Achis Reggae favourite Pashon Minott. We have siblings like Richie Spice, Pliers & Spanner Banner, Beenie Man & Little Kirk, Tami & Tessanne, Konshens & Delus, whatever Turbulence & Norris Man are to each other and dozens and dozens more in both cases. And that’s just Jamaica. We don’t even mention the likes of the Bros. Benjamin of Midnite fame (themselves the sons of a musician as well), Ambush who I just told you about last week and Tiwony. Reggae business is a family business in so many ways and to so many people and figures to continue to be so. So with that being said one can only wonder how long ago it must’ve been when one Protoje decided that it was his life’s calling for him to make music and realized, ‘oh wait, my cousin may be the greatest of all time. Maybe I should give him a call’.

Meet Protoje

Well it was probably around seven years ago. At roughly the same time his cousin, the most incomparable Don Corleon, was thrilling fans around the world by largely being the guiding force behind ushering Dancehall into a new era (called Vybz Kartel) and dropping HUGE riddims such as the Mad Ants, the Good To Go and the Krazy. Protoje was planting seeds which would ultimately sprout into a very interesting and very promising career of his own. Certainly it also couldn’t have hurt that the same person who became prominent when everyone began asking themselves ‘who the hell is Don Corleon?’, singer Lorna Bennett, was actually Protoje’s Mother - So he grew up in a musical home and when he grew up . . . There was even more music. Don, himself, has always been associated with a very eclectic group of artists such as the aforementioned Kartel, Alaine, Munga Honourable (remember Munga???) and more recently VI Reggae ace Pressure Busspipe and for all of the almost inherent oddities offered by that lineup, I find it SO interesting that, at least ostensibly, Protoje may be THE standout from that group because he doesn’t seem to go about doing things as those artists did in the past (with the exception of Pressure who, by virtue of his origins, didn’t go through the same avenues, but he’s well made up for the lost time, hasn’t he). You won’t see his name attached to every big riddim - Quite the contrary, you won’t even see his name attached to every big riddim that Don Corleon rolls out - And from ever since I first remember hearing about him, the goal seemed to be to build towards an album (and you take that and remember how long everyone called for albums from Kartel, Alaine and Munga before we finally got them), more like an international artist. Well the goal has obviously been reached, although I’m sure he now has something else in mind, because Protoje now drops his debut album, ”Seven Year Itch”, on Don Corleon Records. You’ll hear such a thing attached to quite a few projects these days (especially with Etana, Elephant Man and Richie Spice on the way in the coming weeks), but this album is clearly one of the most anticipated of 2011. We were actually expecting it sometime last year as Protoje had assembled a very impressive streak of singles and through gaining the hits and his performances particularly over the past couple of years or so, it surely helped the anticipation for the project. Also, it should be said that as we’ve learned more and more about Protoje, he just seems like a very ‘different’ type of a person. He kind of seems to do things in a very different way, he has a bit of a different look (he looks like Straïka’s twin brother) also and it’s actually quite refreshing (I do A LOT of these things and I can pretty much size up any artist from just a song or two and having a good look at them and I have to say that it’s always fun to be wrong in such an instance or, even more entertaining, to just have NO idea what to expect, and that’s what I experienced when I first REALLY took a look at Protoje). He reportedly has a great affinity for older music and you’ll see all the press about him now saying something along the lines of ‘he was born in the 80’s (biggup the 80’s) but he wishes he was born in the 60’s’ or something like that and he also reportedly has interests in names such as Winston McAnuff, a huge artist who you’ll almost never hear credited by younger artists. So, with all of his idiosyncrasies taken into account, was his album worth Protoje scratching himself for seven years??? Hell no! Nothing is worth that! But it is pretty good. Let’s examine!

'Seven Year Itch'

Although clearly hard to categorize, vocally, I’d say that Protoje falls somewhere in the neighbourhood of Gentleman (more on him later) and NiyoRah (himself a product of a musical family), although slightly closer to the latter for the most part. He uses this kind of light chanting/singing style throughout his debut album ”Seven Year Itch” which comes off, in many parts, as being very autobiographical and perhaps never more so than is to be found on the opening and title track. Having heard a nice lot of the tunes on this album it was pretty much a formality for me to declare the second track as my favourite, but listening to the opener in this form (I’d heard what apparently was a ‘rough mix’ of sorts before) . . . Stuff changed. Although the acoustic and Nyah drum backed piece is about as simple and straight forward as it gets and pretty much completely about Protoje, I related, personally, to it in so many ways. So, for me at least, it comes off more than just a story about Protoje’s journey to the music/around the music (and through the music), it’s also a song which strikes in on levels of perseverance and staying firm when things get tough because it finds Protoje almost observing himself and his actions from a different vantage point and commenting on the things he did. I really like how he refers to certain moments which seemed to enthuse and energize him to stay with the music after maybe thinking it wasn’t the way for him.

“I watch Gong and Stephen Marley ah live out the dream
‘Welcome To Jamrock’ did lift my feeling up
I, listen it still
I listen it keen”

GOLDEN! And as someone who has done copious amounts of DUMB SHIT in my life (and most likely will continue to), it definitely hit me on a very nice level and is truly a MASSIVE start to the album.


The previously alluded to second track, ‘Dread’, is probably one of the most ‘visual’ in recent Reggae memory because it would birth one of the greatest videos . . . Probably ever, which saw wonderful adventures of a very young Protoje with his sidekick at the time, Don Corleon, causing mischief and mayhem as youths in Jamaica. The issue here for an over-thinker such as myself is to pry the song from the video and I don’t know if I’m successful at it, because I love the tune as well and, again, it is very relatable. And the final track from the opening batch of songs of ”Seven Year Itch”, is another very well known tune, ‘Arguments’. The song was probably one of the earlier ones from Protoje in this current ‘streak’ and it was actually produced by DJ Karim (who is very well known because he used to make mixtapes which helped me lose weight about a decade ago). I’m happy to say that this tune isn’t very relatable as it features Protoje having woman troubles (I‘ve had more than my fair share of those but, again they were usually the result of my spectacularly flawed judgment). It isn’t my favourite tune either (although it’s sounding pretty good now), but it was a pretty sizable hit for him and it is well carried out.


Speaking of “sizable hits”, ”Seven Year Itch” is an album literally brimming with such tunes, past, present and future. To my opinion, the best of the remaining bunch is definitely the rather personal and intimate open love-letter which Protoje pens for a very special girl in his life, ‘JA’.

“Even though the times get hard
And the mindset hard
No, mi caan lef yard

Even though the body dem ah pile
And di gun dem ah oil
Caan lef up ah mi soil

Even though di times get rough now
And life get snuff out
Dem tings wi ah tuff out

Tell dem seh no matta what ah talk
And no matta what ah spark
Yow a yah so ah mi heart”

On the tune Protoje espouses about the virtues of the most magical place on earth, Jamaica, and how despite its many many hardships, he still is madly in love with it and so am I. Excellent song. Listeners are also very likely to recognize what I think may be the album’s very first official single and is also one of its three combinations, ‘Rasta Love’, which features none other a representative of Reggae royalty, Ky-Mani Marley. This one has grown on me just a bit from since I first heard it and although it’s kind of Hip-Hoppish, which isn’t my favourite thing in the world, it’s a nice song and it’s also pretty ‘transferable’ and easy to see why it was chosen as a single if it really was (and apparently Marley stuck around and made more music with Don Corleon after this song, which was an excellent idea on his part). There’s also ‘Roll’ from Corleon’s absolutely STERLING Minor Riddim. I also have a healthier appreciation for this tune these days, but I’m not sure if it’s the song itself or the fact that the riddim is basically crack for your ears. Of course crack is illegal (and rightfully so) and so is marijuana (not-so rightfully so) and Protoje apparently found this out the hard way as is explained on another recognizable number from "Seven Year Itch”, ‘Wrong Side Of The Law’. The song is quite fascinating because, at least to me, it doesn’t come of as Protoje saying ‘don’t do what I’ve done’, but instead it seems largely that he’s pissed off that he was detained because he was . . . Well because he had stuff to do! This one is one of my favourites here and also it should be mentioned that an appearance is made by (I THINK) Jah9 on a very aggressive style of backup singer (more on her in just a second) and that the tune is very easily the longest on the whole of the album because it features around ninety seconds of a kind of electric Dub at its end, which is ALWAYS a good thing.

As for the new material on the album (or at least what’s new to me), definitely what sticks out are the remaining two combinations. The first, ‘Growing Up’, features the previously mentioned German superstar and longtime Don Corleon collaborator, Gentleman. I have a reader, Steven, who holds the thought that Gentleman’s work with Don Corleon is as special as Sizzla/Bobby Digital and some of the other more storied artist/producer collaborations over the years - Buju/Donovan Germain - And while I may not agree, Steven is a genius (pun intended) and certainly that view isn’t his alone and this tune won’t do anything to damper that opinion because although it’s a pretty sad sounding tune, it’s also very good and Protoje only adds to what is always a powerful link. Even better is ‘After I’m Gone’ which features (officially this time) Jah9. She is a very strong up and coming talent because her voice is EXCELLENT and while she doesn’t stretch it on this tune you can still feel how polished it is. With Protoje she creates a solid vibes which emphasize the importance to appreciate what you have when you have it and not when it’s gone away. You can actually take this message in so many different ways - It is kind of broad - But, I would think that’s by design and if so, very well done. Also keep an eye not only on Jah9’s name, but keep an eye on her altogether if you can (because she is a cutie of MAMMOTH proportions!).


And there’s also the dynamic ‘Overtime’ which is one of my favourite tunes on ”Seven Year Itch” and it sounds a bit like a selection from Gentleman actually. This tune, although lacking a great significance, in the general sense, is a very impressive lyrical piece and it’s kind of ‘dance song’ I suppose and the basic change of pace that it offers was definitely not a problem. 'On The Road' is another big tune and it's one which sounds quite familiar to my ears for some reason. Regardless of its origins, however, you're going to have to deal with this one in the very present sense because it's a very strong offering. We have the innuendo-laced ‘No Lipstick’, with its intoxicating acoustic backing. This song finds Protoje essentially relaxing with his special lady - smoking. It has one of the best choruses on the whole of the album and I can already see them framing a (very popular) video for the song as well if they choose to. And finally there is an interlude on the album which precedes the tune ‘JA’, but I didn’t mention it there because I really think that it’s more of a stand-alone track, just a short one - ‘In The Streets’.

“I arise
And open eyes
And focus ears
And all I hear
Is children playing in the streets
Watch dem playing in the streets

And they at peace
And they are free
If they can see it
Then why can’t we?

I see dem playing in the streets
Watch dem playing in the streets

So be the one to set the plan
And use your knowledge as your weapon
And see some reading in the streets
No more bleeding in the streets

So when we start
Is when it end
So let’s begin, cause I intend
To see my children playing in the streets
Watch dem playing the streets . . . “

Overall, I do feel compelled to say that I have the feeling that there is a bit more DIRECT planning behind this album than just what is to be found on this album. Not that I’m unimpressed, because I am impressed, but it feels like ”Seven Year Itch” is more of a part of the ultimate goal than the goal itself and that’s weird because it’s been so celebrated and so declared to be the focus of Protoje, but I’m kind of wondering why they didn’t stick ‘Vol. 1’ on the title. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see, in a year or two, the artist return with another - Very similar and very autobiographical - album. In fact, if when Protoje is an old man, I wouldn’t be surprised if his entire catalog was such either. However, just judging this perhaps first installation on its own merits, it well fulfills on the kind of intense hype surrounding it, but again, I feel it’s just the first step in what is sure to be a very fun ride in watching and listening to Protoje. Well done.

Rated: 4/5
Don Corleon Records
CD + Digital


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