With his new album Ancient Future, Protojé has bridged the gap between reggae and hip-hop in a way that few others have before him. Protojé is impressive as both a lyricist and vocalist on the album and cements himself as one of the most talented reggae artists to emerge from Jamaica in the past decade. Ancient Future is without a doubt his finest work to date, an exceptional collection of multifarious sounds informed by elements of roots, dancehall, and hip-hop that make for an undeniably fascinating album with wide commercial appeal.
Protojé comes in strong like a lion on the Philip “Winta” James-produced “Protection” (feat. Mortimer), rhyming rhythmically over a remixed version of John Holt’s “Police in Helicopter” riddim: “Watch who you burn, Who you stalk with, And you haffe go earn if you want it, So we no concerned with who hawking, When dem spit can’t reach where we walking, Enemies in disguise, Want to see my demise, Dem no eve’ realize, Jah no wrong dem.” It is the definitive opening statement the album needs as it both quiets the critics and skeptics and satisfies the appetite of ravenous fans who have awaited this, the third studio album by the artist.
The hip-hop-influenced “Criminal,” a street style hood anthem with a ‘Dre-esque’ riddim is reminiscent of the 1990s west coast sound that blared from the windows of low-riding Impalas from Long Beach to Compton. Ancient Future is clearly an album of influences, a living testament to the music and artists that formed the foundation from which Protojé evolved into the gifted artist he is today.
On Ancient Future, I hear Dr. Dre; I hear Tupac; I hear Snoop; I hear Nas; I hear Ini Kamoze; I hear Hugh Mundell; I hear Tenor Saw; I hear Michael Rose; I hear Black Thought; I hear Henry “Junjo” Lawes. The album embodies the sound of Protojé’s unique brand of reggae – a fusion of roots and dancehall that is heavily informed by elements of American hip-hop. Young producers like Philip “Winta” James and Don Corleone, who were raised on a steady diet of roots, dancehall and hip-hop, cook up a stew of “gutta fabulous” that will surely appeal to a wider audience than the more roots-influenced fare that appeared on Protojé’s first two albums.
Lyrically, the album is more evolved than previous efforts. Protojé has transitioned from a singer with a distinctive vocal style to a gifted rhymer who draws upon the litany of gifted rappers he grew up listening to and emulating. More than any other modern day reggae artist, Protojé’s vocal style and lyrical structure are more closely aligned with American hip-hop than Jamaican roots reggae or dancehall. His vocal delivery is clear and his diction is as impressive as ever. However, he hasn’t completely gone from singer to rhyme-sayer as several of the strongest tunes on the album feature melodic duets with fellow revival vocalists.
When Protojé and Chronixx meet up on the Winta James-produced “Who Knows” (the album’s first single), it is a match made in Zion – two of the most gifted reggae revival vocalists coming together over an irresistibly enjoyable and downright danceable riddim. Protojé calls upon the uber-talented Kabaka Pyramid for “The Flame,” the album’s closing track and one of the finest duets I’ve heard in years. Protojé recalls the late, great Hugh Mundell as he takes aim at our obsession with the superficial on “Stylin,’” a brilliantly-produced re-imagining of Mundell’s “Can’t Pop No Style.”
Protojé is one of the few artists willing to invest the time and money into recording a full length studio album at a time when most artists simply cut a few singles and tour them, and for this he should be commended. He is one of only a handful of artists keeping the album culture alive in Jamaica. In the same way that Dr. Dre’s groundbreaking 1992 album The Chronic ushered in the G-funk era of funk-influenced hip-hop, Protojé’s Ancient Future introduces a wholly new and unique brand of reggae heavily informed by elements of American hip-hop. Ancient Future is not only the best reggae album released so far this year, it is a bold statement from Jamaica’s premier reggae artist in an era when ‘reggae gone foreign’: “This is the new sound of reggae.”