Reggae was a catalyst for much of this social change and the liberation which it preached was a somewhat abstract concept of disillusionment that reverberated throughout the music. Reggae musicians pioneered with songs of freedom, unity, peace and love, earning the complete devotion of fans worldwide. Much of this same narrative is retained in reggae music today and the genre still enjoys a massive following but reggae enthusiasts can't help but notice reggae's underrepresentation on the international mainstream stage.
Whatever the reason for reggae's seemingly stagnant growth, there certainly is no lack of talent among the new wave of musicians now responsible for guarding and furthering its legacy. A lot has been done in the way of preserving reggae's classic sound and many of these contemporary musicians have managed to offer an entertainingly fresh spin on this sound, partly to express their individual creativity and also in a bid to appeal to a new generation of listeners.
Protoje somehow manages to stand out among this troupe of vanguards. His delivery is inimitable and his lyrics are both relevant and substantial. His Kool Kat image also makes him one of the more marketable acts currently on the reggae music scene.
The neo-reggae musician's latest release - Ancient Future, like the name suggests, brings a modern perspective to a timeless sound; a sort of sonic mashup of the past with the new, which paints a vivid image of reggae's promising future. There is a clear influence from dub, hip-hop and of course roots reggae music, and for the most part the authenticity of these sounds are preserved. The album's producers however did manage to imbue the compilation with a sort of intangible freshness that sometimes borders on originality. The music doesn't disappoint and in many ways it enhances Protoje's overall delivery.
The singles "Who Knows" and "Stylin'" cultured a healthy anticipation for the album's release and were probably the best choices to herald the compilation. Even though both songs may be familiar to the listener they are presented on the album as part of a much broader artistic concept which offers a more holistic appreciation of the artiste's growth as a musician as well as the evolution of his artistry. Both singles have been extremely successful - if youtube views and general airplay counts for anything - and unsurprisingly the album has followed suit. Within two weeks of its release Ancient Future peaked at number one on the Billboard Reggae Charts and now sits comfortable at the second position below a compilation of revamped Bob Marley and The Wailers songs.
It's alleged that reggae music has been struggling to define itself within the context of the global zeitgeist and that the musicians faced with this admittedly daunting task seem to cluster in the shadows of the luminaries who came before them. Regardless, it is evident that their efforts are not fruitless.
"Stylin'" in particular is so infectious that it is easy to imagine the victim of its bitter and sometimes arrogant lyrics dancing along helplessly to its tune. In a way "Stylin'" and "Who Knows" capture the overall essence of the album. Ancient Future may sometimes seem vintage but there is no denying it's 21st century appeal. Protoje's lyrics are particularly relevant among today's youth and songs like "Suddenly Flight", which features a talented new siren who goes by the name Sevana, and "Who Can You Call" highlights the type of conscious inspiration that has been lacking in much of today's popular music.
Sevana is also featured on the track "Love Gone Cold", where she gives another convincing vocal performance that erases any doubt of her prowess as a vocalist - assuming there were any to begin with. Her voice is like nothing you've heard on a reggae track before but one you certainly hope to hear more of. It's hardly worth denying that reggae and soul are cut from the same cloth; it is because of this shared heritage why r&b/soul singer's like Jasmine Sullivan and jazz artists such as the late Amy Winehouse can transition so easily into the reggae genre. Voices like Sevana's, which seem to leave every lyric soaked with soul, are just what the reggae doctors prescribed and listeners receive a healthy dosage on Ancient Future.
"Love Gone Cold" is completely unexpected and the surprise attack leaves a lasting impression. "Answer to Your Name" is similar in this regard and carries an exciting ska beat that suits its light-hearted, wisecrack lyrics. "Criminal" might bruise a few egos, especially considering Jamaica's suffocating crime rate but as the late-great Bob Marley sang, "who the cap fits…". The track itself is a brilliant composition and could have easily been a leading single. "All Will Have to Change" also stands out among the track with it's insightful narrative and its subtle dub influence.
It's not immediately clear why musicians such as Protoje, who are talented and possess a distinct and marketable image, have not received the same level of exposure that reggae musicians in the past have earned. Maybe it's only a matter of time - who knows? Some other notable contemporary reggae acts like Chronixx, Jesse Royal and Kabaka Pyramid are featured on Ancient Future and each bring their own original style to the compilation. In this way, Ancient Future delivers a nuanced texture that adds to its overall complexity without coming off as disjointed.
"The Flame" features Kabaka Pyramid - an undoubtedly adept lyricist - and ends the album on a definitive high-note. Whether or not this was a strategic move by the album's producers is unclear but "The Flame" ends in such a way that a crescendo is reached and kept in the final moments of the track and before the listener has a chance to descend from this musical high, the song cuts abruptly. The listener is left craving more and the only options present are to either replay the track or the entire album, much to the same effect.
Protoje's PR team should be commended for the clean presentation of the compilation and the development of the healthy publicity surrounding, to which the Ancient Future Documentary adds indefinite scope. It was evident from the release of his first album, 7 Year Itch, that the musician had a strong team and competent management. This is important to note because the topic of poor management and unqualified PR representatives has been much publicized in Jamaican media and at one point the issue appeared to be the bane of the industry.
Protoje is a young musician and most likely has a long and illustrious career ahead of him but this should not cast a shadow on the light of his current accomplishments. The musician raps on the opening track, "Protection", "…I see that in life you achieve sum'n, nice, but to achieve sum'n twice is a problem" and then he delivers the punchline by speaking to his own success - "…then you can imagine what I face, two up in the hand and another on the way, plus I have another in the brain and every other one a put the other one to shame". These lines could be written off as musings of a youth drunk on hubris but there is no denying that the artiste has been consistently exceptional and has indeed raised the bar for himself and other contemporary musicians.
Perhaps the doom and gloom attitude towards reggae music is not at all warranted. Sure, reggae may not be as prevalent in the mainstream market as it once was but it is still very well represented. Reggae culture has grown significantly and today's reggae musicians enjoy strong support all over the world, especially across Europe, East Asia (most notably Japan) and in Hawaii. Probably all that's missing is the unwavering support of reggae's home turf.