Known for his complex, blistering lyrics addressing various societal injustices, delivered in hypnotic chanted-sung vocals, reggae artist Protoje will release A Matter of Time, the long awaited followup to his acclaimed 2015 album Ancient Future, on June 29, Billboard can reveal.
Recorded primarily at the Marley family owned Tuff Gong studios, in Kingston, Jamaica, A Matter of Time, Protoje’s fourth album, is a joint release between his In.Digg.Nation Collective, producer Phillip “Winta” James’ Overstand Entertainment and (in North America) reggae independent Easy Star Records. “We’ve been fans of Protoje since (his 2010 debut album) Seven Year Itch, he has since worked with artists on our roster including Rebelution and Jesse Royal, but it was his stand out performance at Cali Roots Music Festival in 2016 that really piqued our interest in working with him,” comments Eric Smith, CEO of New York City based Easy Star Records. “With A Matter Of Time, Protoje has delivered a beautifully thoughtful and forceful album that never lets go of its groove and we can’t wait to share it and build upon Protoje’s steady growth in the U.S. market.”
Born Oje Ollivierre, Protoje is the son of Lorna Bennett — a former singer whose single “Breakfast in Bed” topped the Jamaican charts for six weeks in the 1970s, now a practicing attorney and part of Protoje’s management team — and Mike Ollivierre, a former calypso king of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In Feb. 2017 Protoje released the single “Blood Money,” an uncensored look at close relationships between major criminals and politicians, summed up in an explosive chorus that’s propelled by Winta’s evocative production: “Police cancel operation/cause nuh real bad man nah go station/Now if you check the situation a blood money run the nation.”
“Blood Money” is a song people feel ‘pon a level because it’s blatant in your face truth, not prettied up with metaphors; it was so upfront that people were like did he just say that? Say what we already feel, know?” explained Protoje, 36, on the phone from Kingston while driving from a rehearsal to a video shoot. “Everybody kinda knows what happened in Jamaica but nobody says it that way and people responded to it because I was saying something that they heard before but I creatively put it together.” Acclaimed dub poet Mutabaruka, an unrepentant social critic and talk show host on Jamaica’s No. 1 radio station IRIE FM, called “Blood Money” the best reggae song of 2017.
“Blood Money” is the first single from the ten intricately fashioned tracks included on A Matter of Time (available for pre-order May 18), produced by Winta who, like Protoje, draws from a wide swathe of sonic influences to create this remarkable, truly progressive reggae album. About seven years ago Winta approached Protoje with the intent of working together; he sent the artist several beats that eventually found their way onto Ancient Future. “We bonded over our love for Jamaica’s Channel One sound and Junjo Lawes’ Volcano sound; Winta said that he had never met a reggae artist who loved that 1970s/80s era as much as he did,” Protoje recalled. “But A Matter of Time is the first time we have gotten to really know each other’s sounds and pull different sounds from each other. I trust Winta implicitly as a producer. If he says try a song this way or use this person on bass, I leave it to him. Obviously I give my input but I try to stay out of his way because I am always amazed at what he comes up with.”
In what might be a surprising turn to those familiar with Protoje’s recent politically charged offerings, he displays a romantic side on the second single from A Matter of Time, “Bout Noon,” and his fans have favorably responded. Released in February, “Bout Noon” has surpassed one million YouTube views. “I sing about things that I read in the news but there’s a personal side I want to sing about too; ‘Blood Money’ to ‘Bout Noon’ shows the wide range of what I am feeling, that I can dance between a lot of different stuff,” Protoje explained. “When I get up on Monday a news story may be on my mind but 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.”
In early December Protoje was the featured act on Chronixx’s two Chronology concerts held in Jamaica; each artist performed extensive sets with their respective bands, The Indiggnation and Zinc Fence Redemption. Protoje visited Chronixx at his Kingston home soon after the shows took place and told him about his forthcoming album. “I played him some songs and he was like, yo, put me on your record; obviously, that’s an invitation you take very seriously,” Protoje recalled. “I gave him the song ‘Flame’ (another well observed, scorching social commentary) but I had another song, ‘No Guarantee’ that wasn’t sitting well with me. It needed a contrasting voice and I thought Chronixx would do an awesome job and he wrote something that took it to another level.” At this point in the conversation Protoje directs his comments away from A Matter of Time and toward Chronixx, whom he met when the latter was an aspiring teenaged producer who reached out via Facebook. “Please put this in the article: Chronixx is the greatest musical talent I have ever been around or have had the opportunity to witness work and I just hope people appreciate the gift to music that he is. When I think back on when I met him, I was like this kid is amazing and it gave me a lot of confidence to know that I was going to be a part of a very special era in reggae music.”
Protoje and Chronixx are now marquee names in contemporary reggae and their two collaborations on A Matter of Time mark the first time they have recorded together since their 2015 blockbuster “Who Knows.” Chronixx contributes an ethereal hook to “No Guarantee,” a contemporary roots reggae juggernaut with crunching guitar riffs underscoring Protoje’s deft, rapid-fire rhymes conveying inevitable disappointments in people. “No Guarantee,” the album’s third single, will be released on May 18 and debuts here.
Protoje will embark on a seven-date run in the U.S. beginning in Miami on May 19 and wrapping on May 27, alongside Chronixx at the Ford Amphitheater in Brooklyn. “The U.S. market is very tricky, how do you even crack that as a reggae artist talking about truth and rights, with thought provoking lyrics? It’s very difficult but I do think there has been progress since I released Ancient Future in 2015,” Protoje comments. “I performed at Coachella in 2016 and Afropunk in 2017; Chronixx did Governors Ball, was on Jimmy Fallon, and we are playing the Amphitheater in Coney Island, so all of that is progress. Coming from a point where it felt like reggae was kind of pushed out of America, I think that the unity in which we are doing it allows us to take the steps to get the music to a greater level.”
In other words, it’s just A Matter of Time.