Like his alma mater Munroe College’s motto “In Are Sitam Quis Occultabit (A City Set On A Hill Cannot be Hid), Protoje’s raw musical talent cannot be hidden. With the caliber of work being consistently written and produced over the last decade by the artiste, whose given name is Oje Ken Ollivierre, no one can argue that the future of Jamaica’s prized, powerful Reggae music is not in safe hands.
The meticulous effort that he put into his fifth studio album, In Search of Lost Time, is absolutely remarkable, though not surprising, as the St. Elizabeth native is known for always maintaining high standards and paying attention to minute details in his productions.
Protoje never puts music out in the public domain until everything is absolutely perfect, from the associated visuals and cover art, to how the music is mixed, mastered, and presented, as he insists these have to be in keeping with global standards.
In Search of Lost Time was released globally on August 28, by way of Protoje’s In.Digg.Nation Collective as well as Six Course/RCA Records and shot to the top of the iTunes Reggae Albums charts in less than 24 hours.
His golden touch is evident throughout the album, with most of the tracks co-produced by him. It is no wonder Reggae music connoisseurs immediately sensed that the 10-track album was ‘Grammy material.’
Here are ten takeaways from In Search of Lost Time.
Protoje draws inspiration from his musical elders.
Protoje also draws upon the work and styles of three of Jamaica’s most amazing artistes. The influences of Papa San and Papa Levi, two of Dancehall’s veterans, are clear in Strange Happenings and Switch It Up.
Switch It Up, the first track on the album, is a duet with his compatriot, Koffee, and leans heavily on the adaptation of Papa Levi’s rhyme schemes and rhythm, from his 1984 hit Mi God Mi King.
The unique style of the late Edi Fitzroy of Princess Black fame, is evident in Like Royalty featuring Popcaan. Protoje’s intonation of the word “life” which he pronounces as “loiffe” is similar to the style of the Reggae legend in his hit song Prison Life.
Papa San’s 1991 hit Strange is also heavily sampled in the final track titled Strange Happenings, a song the 39-year-old describes as ‘very personal’ focuses on his family and relationships, love, hate, and what goes on in his mind on a daily basis.
Loving parent-child relationships
Anybody who is a fan of Protoje knows that music is in his DNA. His mom and manager, Lorna Bennett is known for the 1970s hit Breakfast in Bed, while his father, Michael Ollivierre, is a highly acclaimed track and field coach and calypsonian who uses the moniker Lord Have Mercy.
His love for Lorna shines through in Weed & Ting, where he sings, “Just call mommy, and she reach home safe,” an indication that he treasures her and makes sure she is OK at all times like any good son would. Also, in Like Royalty, he speaks glowingly about her financial support to ensure he attained his musical dreams. According to him, her sacrifices were priceless: “Mummy put har money where har mout’ deh, Empty bank account, support mi talent out yeah”. For her sacrifices, he will give her anything her heart desires as long as he is able.
He speaks of his relationship with Michael in Deliverance noting, “Love my dad, I don’t see him enough, We had reasonings while steaming up”, perhaps due to the fact that the elder Olliverre repatriated to his native St. Vincent some years ago.
In Weed & Ting, anyone who didn’t know that his father was an international sports coach, now knows, as he proudly points this out: “First of my kind, act like you nuh know, But a me this, born from a coach…”.
In Strange Happenings, he speaks of the words of wisdom received from Michael, noting: “When I was just a young boy, maybe like seventeen, I would talk to my father, told him about my dreams, and often he would tell me ‘Don’t rush to be a man.’ I heard the words that he spoke, but could not understand, ‘Cause still mi live was easy, it was just fun and games…”
Proto makes ganja-smoking sound romantic.
Like countless Reggae artistes before him who have gone on record about their love for weed, so does Protoje – for the umpteenth time. It might be that it is his voice, or the beat or the blend of the two, but the manner in which he sings about the herb in Weed & Ting does make it appear as though he is indeed having a love affair with ‘Mary Jane’ with the very telling lyrics:
Ain’t nothing but I
Just me and my weed an’ ting
Wheeling in on time
I’m back on the grind
Man hop out of the streets again
And you feeling him, oh my
Not a thing on my mind
It’s just me and my queen again
Wheeling in on time
Put it all on the line just to get back this feeling
It was almost the same in the track, which followed titled A Vibe, a collab with Wiz Khalifa.
King Solomon would be proud of him.
Some of the lyrics in Protoje’s love songs would give the Biblical King Solomon a run for his money, and maybe for his many wives. In Same So, like King Solomon, he describes the beauty and excellence of his beloved professing: “You’re like my favorite painting, One I would never sell, Just have you up in my room, And keep you all to myself”.
With Lila Iké in the In Bloom duet, the two deliver a powerful description of the romantic and sensual love between a man and a woman, singing love verses to each other alternately, with the Munroe College old boy even cooing: “Girl, the farthest I’ll fight from it is you, In my darkest of night, girl you been moon.”
Later he becomes a bit salacious, promising to procreate: “You no see a how she set, Coulda give her set a twin too, Even Jesus guilty of sin too…”
“Like two year now you shoulda been boo, Haffi change up the key, now me in tune, Cause nothing like a woman when she in bloom, And you been blooming”
He is protective of women.
Protoje demonstrates that he is prepared to be a “Knight in Shining Armour” and a true gentleman in every sense of the word.
Throughout Self Defense, which he dedicates to the protection of women, whom he refers to as queens, he proudly presents himself as a source of strength, a man confident within himself, who understands not only his but a woman’s self-worth.
He proposes vigilante justice for robbers who prey on women, chanting: “And any man weh a prey pon woman, Dem fi get line up make we shoot the target.”
The perpetrators of violence against women are also warned, even as he urges ladies to be vigilant and well-prepared to defend themselves against psychopathic men and their friends who are prepared to maim, rape, and murder women and girls, seemingly for sport:
“Woman, put up unu hand if unu nah take no check
If unu nah take no threat, make we raise Intratec and select it
Make a bwoy know if him touch, him regret it”
“When we retaliate, we nah go need apology
We sisters under attack, this is a calamity
Me hear some man a say them rather rape than turn a gay
As if dem deh ting deh related in any way”
Loyalty and gratitude abounds.
There is a Jewish proverb that says: “Who finds a faithful friend, finds a treasure,” and it seems Protoje has found his life’s treasures in the form of his three faithful friends who fed him when he was hungry and gave him money when he was broke.
He does not shy away from pledging his own loyalty to these friends who never once let him down in his most trying moments, and lists their names one-by-one in Like Royalty. He never forgets the nights on Stagga’s couch or the sofa belonging to Currie and being given a place to stay by Eddie, one of his biggest cheerleaders, who accompanied him to the 2019 Grammy Awards when he was nominated.
He reassures them that he will ensure they and their offsprings want for nothing, as long as he has the resources because their altruism will never be forgotten.
Team-work makes the dream work.
He is a team-player and welcomes collaborations, evident in the fact that forty percent of the album’s ten songs are collaborations.
Working with a team, even if it’s a team of two, means there will be varying opinions and ideas and so it is obvious that he listened to Koffee’s ideas, gave her creative freedom, and was respectful of her, as her influences and her writing style, is heavy throughout their duet.
In fact, on YouTube, where he posted the accompanying video, he noted that: “It was a sick experience to be going bar for bar with Koffee who I think already is one of the best lyricists and so sick with flows and patterns…”
A lyrically compact artiste
It would probably come as no surprise to people skilled in songwriting of Protoje’s ability to fit even an entire speech in 16 bars and still make sense. It is quite notable in Switch It Up where he spits 27 lines in 55 seconds, even as Koffee churns out 28 lines in 56 seconds herself.
A story of courage and perseverance
His own tribulations, having to sleep on his friends’ sofas when he did not have a place of his own and was trying to get his big break in music more than a decade ago; being turned back from the studio when he tried to get in to showcase his talents, are something that he looks back upon as part of the journey of life, with its ups and downs.
Like the average Jamaican, he explains that there was no free pass for him and that he had to struggle to make it as a country boy coming to town, despite the relative success his mother had in music. He was still an unknown, with no strings to be pulled. The setbacks did not stop him from pursuing music as he knew it was his calling.
His rural roots are not forgotten.
He doesn’t forget St. Elizabeth, the parish of his birth. In Weed & Ting, he sings of the weed from the parish, known for not only food but good grades of ganja, chanting: “Man dem out, Saint Elizabeth too, First of my kind, act like you nuh know.”
St. Elizabeth was the place where his parents were domiciled when his father served as track and field coach for the St. Elizabeth Technical High School in Santa Cruz. The parish is referred to as the “Breadbasket of Jamaica”.