Sunday, February 17, 2013

'Solidify': A review of "The 8 Year Affair" by Protoje

Of course watching an artist began their career and make certain crucial steps which are made during the earliest stages of their development is one of the most interesting about being a fan of music. This becomes wholly more fascinating when the particular individual in question displays some kind of indication that he/she possesses some type of long-lasting talent which, if cared for and displayed properly, may see them not only stick around making music for years to come, but stick around as personal favourites of yours and mine over the same span of time. However, while that initial rise can be so captivating and even more important and is such a large signature moment of a career (just think of some of your favourites and see how easily it is for you to think of their first big tune), it isn't the only thing worthy of being paid attention to. After that initial hype has died down and that buzz has completely circulated itself away, what remains is the nascent (I LOVE that word!) stages of what, hopefully, becomes longevity someday. Interestingly enough and incidentally, for many musicians who're very active, a critical occurrence during this time is their second album. In recent years in Reggae music we've seen quite a few big names reach this point while still relatively close to either their absolute musical beginnings or their beginnings on the proverbial 'next level' (the other side of that are people such as Khari Kill and Qshan Deya, who we've dealt with the 'sophomore' releases of recently, and who reached that second album at extremely advanced stages of their respective careers). Conveniently, I look at Etana and Romain Virgo as comparisons here. Both of those OUTSTANDING vocalists who rose to prominence in different ways, but we've since long ceased to pay a grand amount of concentration to exact circumstances or 'vehicles' of their respective arrivals, because both have continued to make excellent music and have shown themselves to be amongst the most talented young stars Reggae music has had to offer in a very long time. Last year Virgo would deliver the wonderful "The System", his second album to date, which would trail Etana's by a year as she would, in my opinion, top everyone from the previous year in delivering 2011's finest album altogether, "Free Expressions" (and now Virgo is on THIS album and Etana is about to give us album #3 in about two weeks). We've also seen that next step taken by the likes of I Wayne, Tarrus Riley, Busy Signal and others who have made it abundantly clear that, even after making themselves known, however they accomplished that, they were going to be sticking around and doing so on the strength of their MUSIC. Unsurprisingly, the all kinds of interesting and eccentric Protoje now joins those ranks.

Still, Protoje is just… kind of different (DUH!). He may not ever find himself as distanced in the minds of fans as his peers from the days of his emergence and other things because his existence seems to be so thoroughly musically-oriented - a trait which becomes reenergized almost every time you hear him speak. You almost get this image of Protoje being this person who sleeps with his headphones engaged and on his head (I know I'm not the only one who does that sometimes and I can tell you that you have NEVER had a good nap if you have yet to have one while listening to Destra!) (Sara Lugo and Ras Attitude also make really good napping music) (and, of course, biggup Sara Lugo whose music plays a PERFECT backdrop for so many fantastic things) (WHAT!). In fact, I might go as far as to say that it is Protoje's passion for the music which truly makes him someone to watch and it never hurts, again, when that "someone" is really, REALLY good at making music.  
"7 Year Itch" [2011]
To date, Protoje gave the biggest demonstration of this a couple of years back with the music which comprised his debut set, the very well received “7 Year Itch". That album, as I said at the time (or at least I hope I did), very much seemed like the beginning of a musical concept which wasn't going to take very long to play out and it continues a couple of years on now with the release of his brand new album, "The 8 Year Affair". Like its elder 'sibling', the new album comes with production duties handled by Protoje's amazingly talented cousin, Don Corleon and on his Don Corleon Records imprint. I'm not going very far at all to call Corleon, EASILY one of the most talented maestros the entire genre of Reggae music has ever seen and at an advanced stage of his career as well, the ace producer has shown no signs at all of coming back to the pack - having seen him going from the days of dropping a new riddim every forty-five minutes or so, to now where he only seems to lend his name and work to things which fully pique his interest. From the release of the first album, Protoje has remained very active and visual and has really seemed to have so fully embraced the other area of making music which requires artists to very much be proactive and driven in terms of promoting themselves and their work and he has appeared on some of the biggest stages afforded to the genre throughout the world and has remained one of the more active on the scene in making videos. He's also maintained a heavy presence in the studio, pushing new songs continuously, but for Protoje, he always seems to be someone whose work ultimately leads to an album and here we go again. While I rarely do such a thing, I do have to admit that, because of the presumed running 'theme' between the two albums, I was well engrossed in just how "The 8 Year Affair" (and someone is going to have to do something SPECIAL in the next ten and half months to not have this album have the best cover of 2013) compared to "7 Year Itch" in several different ways. And??? I'll tell you later! On its own merits, however, album #2 is another fantastic display of Protoje's strong musical passion. Let's do it! 

Although the album does feature a few familiar moments, as far as I can tell, the vast majority of this affair features material that is going to be completely new to most fans, seemingly made specifically for it. I don't ever see Protoje as being someone who gets to a point where he's, essentially, pushing a compilation as a new album unless it's a greatest hits release someday (and you know he'd even find a way to put new songs on something like that) and that definitely makes his albums, present and future, something more special to look forward to. Old habits can be good, however, as Protoje's brand new album, "The 8 Year Affair", just as its predecessor did, begins with the title track which outlines where he is at this point and gives an idea of the inspirations behind this album and what we, as listeners, can expect. This song almost sounds like a freestyle in some respects, as you get into the body of the tune (which, at nearly five minutes, is the second longest on the album named after it), it comes across as an organic and wonderfully spontaneous type of sound. That may be because that is precisely what it was or that sound may've been the intent going in. In either instance, it is a very nice piece and a good way to the stage for what is to come. What is to come directly is the BOOM. The finest tune I hear on the whole of "The 8 Year Affair" (interesting that the first album was called "7 Year Itch" sans "The", but it is included here) (Yep. I'm a nerd and I notice these things), the DAZZLINGLY HEAVY 'I & I'.

"Said I - took a break and I loved the break
Now I'm off the break, looking to make a break
At a greater stake and him flow sweet, like greater cake
Sharp than a greater make
And then I, take a date and I make a mate
At a greater pace -
Nah use razor blade and grate my face
Dem fraid a mi - lyrics ah penetrate 
Nuh hesitate fi mek tune generate"

The song, in styles, combines almost overwhelming old school sensibilities and vibes with a delivery is fully modern. A MASSIVE tune. The album's most recognizable moment, the stirring social commentary 'Kingston Be Wise' wraps up the opening of "The 8 Year Affair". The song, not very old at all actually, hasn't lost any of its lustre and is definitely amongst the finest selections on this album.

'Kingston Be Wise'

Definitely one of the major differences between the "7 Year Itch" album and "The 8 Year Affair" is how focused the new album is on the love song. And I use the phrase "love song" very liberally (as most people do), because there're quite a few on the album and they go in such a diverse group of directions, but I do find it well interesting that Protoje obviously made it a point to stress on the new album (perhaps leading one to think that maybe Protoje has met someone special) (or a few of them). Unlike most times I single out love songs on an album, however, some of these tunes, EASILY, are real highlights here. The strongest of them all, in my opinion, is the GORGEOUS duet with Tessanne Chin, 'Someone Like You'. The song falls directly in the specialty of Chin who (has, quietly, been on a very good streak of making music of a high quality for two or three years now) (and there was an album in there, "In Between Words", worth checking out), although I don't talk about her a great deal, interests me into perpetuity as someone whose musical range of what she is best at extends all the way from the slowest of ballads to… Heavy Metal - a trait which places in a very lonely musical company - at least until Alaine drops that long awaited combination with Metallica. Protoje, for his part, more than holds his own and the results are fantastic and subtly infectious as well as 'Someone Like You' is going to stick in your head long after you've moved on to the next track. Big tune. I also really enjoyed 'Shot by Love', and that master class of a riddim carrying it, which is the other duet during this affair featuring a female vocalist. This time singing up and joining Protoje is Toi, who has already made a really nice impression in her young career and while I still haven't heard a great deal from her (though I will tell you that you can find FAR less pleasant sights to look at than Toi), I can say that just about everything that I have heard has been winners. The very clever 'Shot by Love' is not only amongst her best but, as I said, it is also one of the better tunes on this album. Speaking of being clever, also check the outstanding 'Hold You Now'. This one has a bit extra to it in terms of the vibes. I think I hear maybe just a bit of R&B in the song and the actual tune is so well arranged as a country boy attempts to keep the attention of a girl from the city. Also check the cool 'Around The World' featuring Chris Watts, which is somewhat reminiscent, in its subject, of 'On The Road' from the first album and really grew on me in a short while. Sonically it is a very appealing track and it may have a bright future if given the opportunity to shine. And there is also the stringy 'Come My Way' which, again, took me something beyond the first spend to really enjoy, but I do WELL like it at this point. It is more of a subtle tune, but the blend on this one works to a near perfection and is not to be missed. While it doesn't belong in this lot, I'll almost mention 'Black Cinderella', which finds Protoje going all Errol Dunkley on the people in a scintillating meeting of old and new schools. 

"Mi tell you, she no discreet pon di city street
So she see it - so she do it
She seh she sweet, so tell yu repeat
Mi have a speech fi you listen fi it
Young girl, wear yah size cause dem shoes deh no fit yuh feet
Choose fi manipulate
Use you fi get you weak
And she no cheap, you have di dues fi facilitate
Cinderella put di spell on you
Princess with di glass slipper come fi trick unuh, mi tell unuh -

A when mi seh it turn to porridge from di pumpkin
Country bumpkin inna di carriage weh di skunk in
And like a dream, when it sunk in!
What a something! 
In reality she lookin for a fun thing
Though my duality, it have me chasing, hunting -
For di physical pleasure then - 


The remaining tunes on "The 8 Year Affair" actually includes a trio of its most well-known offerings which, it goes without saying (and I'm about to say it anyway) also include some of the signature moments from the project. 'Who Dem a Program' is on a genius level and rivals 'I & I' as the strongest lyrical impression made on this album. The song is just entertaining and while normally when you say that about something you may not say this: It also has substance ["Hey, dem no even know di root. Africa fi Africans a deliver you di truth"] - combining the two really makes it a very special piece. Even stronger, perhaps, is 'This is NOT a Marijuana Song' which is… well… well, it's a song about marijuana and a very nice one. Utilizing Life Line's LUSH cut of the Rockfort Rock Riddim, this tune soars! The previously mentioned Romain Virgo also joins in (I told you he did) on a tune looking to just reassert the presence of Reggae in the world, 'Reggae Revival'. Reggae music is alive and well and if you thought otherwise (seek help!) give many of your waking hours to this track and the rest of the album as well (it isn't like you have anything better to do anyway).

'Who Dem A Program'

And wrapping up "The 8 Year Affair" is another pair of selections require more than a little of your attention, 'Hail Rastafari' and 'Music From My Heart'. The former is a bit of a different piece for the album. It's full spiritual from beginning to end and, moreover, it is a spiritual affirmation which seems to stand behind the rest of the tunes on the album as a kind of a foundation or 'behind the scenes' piece - a conversation between Protoje and The Almighty. Finally, 'Music From My Heart' displays the musical intentions behind not only this album, but all of Protoje's music and his involvement in it fully (oh, and I love how the music continues on that tune well after the vocals are done).  

"I'm making music from my heart
Not music for the charts" 

Differences?! I generally avoid comparing one album to another from the same individual, outside of quality, because of so many variables are involved. In Reggae, you don't often get someone making two albums consecutively for the same producer and with the same foundational inspirations behind them. So while it's entirely fair to say that you think one is better than another, even more accurate would be, generally, to say that the two are very different. In Protoje's case, however, I'm less constrained to make the comparison because, as I said about "7 Year Itch" and I'm repeating it now for the new album, I very much get the feeling that these two projects are apart of a kind of a larger plan of which the beginnings and are very much tied to one another. The major difference, in my opinion, between the two is that "The 8 Year Affair", is a SECOND album. That sounds ridiculous (it does), but what I mean is that its elder 'sibling' was very much an introduction. You listen to a song like 'Dread' and besides being fantastic (and it was), it was educating fans about who Protoje was and where he came from. The second album isn't concerned with covering old ground and instead, what you find here is a more ACTION. Protoje falls in love, he questions love, he goes on tour, he talks to His Majesty, he outlines his musical intentions, proclaims the revival of Reggae music and does a variety of other things throughout. Also you get the feeling that Protoje was damn proud of  the work on that first album, he good reason to be proud, so you get into the second one, as you would expect, not learning MORE about him, but learning different things which makes me definitely recommend listening here after you've heard the first thoroughly. 
Overall, comparisons being what they are, "The 8 Year Affair" is BIG! Like I said, I recommend it along with "7 Year Itch", but even if you weren't very familiar with that release, it's going to be hard for me to envision someone who is a Reggae fan not enjoying this one. Also, despite Protoje's obvious love of the music of the past, this one isn't the type of album which is going to get a conditional suggestion from me because of it. The album is very accessible and even if you are not the biggest Reggae fan in the world (and if you aren’t, then congratulations on reading a review this long) (you're doing well! You're almost finished! Keep going!) I think that you'll be able to find something here to like and something substantial enough to hold your interest. If you are a more seasoned fan of the genre, however (and you likely are), more important here is that with as wholly fascinating as he is and how it was getting to know him, on "The 8 Year Affair", Protoje shows himself to be someone obviously destined to stick with us for years to come and, in doing so, delivers what is sure to be one of the year's signature moments. Extremely well done. 

Rated: 4.45/5
Don Corleon Records
CD + Digital

Review #415

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