It's a bit strange that a Jamaican artist has to turn to musicians outside of Jamaica if he wants roots reggae rhythms. But okay, Jamaica is moving forward – while here in the “West” we conservatively hold on to the legacy of the 1970s. Since we still have some purchasing power here (let's see how long that lasts), Protoje came up with the idea of having his 2020 album "In Seach of Lost Time" "remixed" for our listening tastes and as “In Search of Zion” (RCA Records). Remix here means that the three Zion I Kings producers have actually composed and recorded a completely new roots instrumental album - which, however, only serves as backing for the vocals from Protoje's existing album "In Seach of Lost Time". It's a really crazy concept: just swap out the music to better sell the album to European and North American audiences. Well, it's just business. However, the Zion I Kings were proud enough to release a double album Dub-versions of their productions. And let's listen to it now. What is immediately noticeable: The spectrum ranges stylistically from lovers rock backings to (subdued) roots steppers. I'll now benevolently delete the Lovers Rhythms because I can't do anything with Schlager, no matter what musical form it comes in. The backings of Schlager are not far from elevator music – a product of boredom. What remains are the rootsDubs on the album. But compared to the state of the art, they areDub of the present, incredibly pale and inconspicuous. Where is the power of Roots? Where is the dynamic, where is the rebellious statement? How can a roots album by a great artist come across as so shallow, unoriginal and despondent? The same applies to the Dubmix: Absolutely generic. Unfortunately, “In Search of Zion” is a huge missed opportunity for modern Dub to make it palatable to a broad target group of Protoje fans.
Admittedly, I'm more familiar with Protoje - especially in recent years - through casual overhearing: I'm not into hip-hop, I'm not into chanting. Maybe in this case you could call it conscious hip hop, progressive rap, sing-song or whatever; In any case, the music and lyrics leave my auditory nerves pretty unimpressed - even though I have certainly engaged with Protoje's albums, even if not with the usual intensity: In the end, every artist deserves a chance.
For the sake of fairness, it should be noted that in Protoje's oeuvre - or should we say: in the oeuvre of his producers - one can certainly discover successful hooks. You could already find them in the first (internationally released) albums - thanks to producer Don Corleon, who basically wrote the Reggae/Conscious Dancehall/R&B-heavy material at the time, right down to the lyrics, for Protoje. With the albums and singles that followed, Protoje was able to establish itself as a permanent fixture in its ReggaeHipHopR&B hybrid genre with its own label and management and, above all, the support of producer/keyboarder Phillip James. Live a little more roots, in the studio a little more R&B - to each their own. It was only a matter of time before a major label put Protoje in the black and signed him up to a contract. Sony Music or its sub-label RCA Records has more or less controlled Protoje's fortunes since 2020, although he expects "a certain level of creative control" (=> Wikipedia) from the deal. One would like to wish him that, even though one knows that majors are not exactly squeamish when their financial input does not bear the expected fruit.
Two very successful albums on RCA Records later, we are faced with a surprise these days: someone has the (vocal) tapes of the 2021 release "In Search of Lost Time“ handed over to the Zion I Kings team – nothing less than the roots-oriented reggae album “In Search of Zion(RCA Records) (RCA even calls it a “remix album”). Whose idea that was is anyone's guess; it may be Protoje himself to regain some credibility in the reggae community; It may be Sony/RCA Records that also wants the Sunshine Reggae segment to be covered in its roster. The fact that Zion the I Kings was hit may be because of their good reputation or because of their first collaboration on Protoje's last regular release "Third Time's the Charmto be grateful for.
Now we already know what we can expect from the Zion I Kings: flawless craftsmanship, solid arrangements and the finest sound, implemented in classic-looking roots tunes. You really can't complain, it's solid backing that gives every singer room to do their thing. This even works, as in this case, if the singer doesn't sing anything new. Wonderful and maximally enlightening: listening to the original and the reggae version back-to-back, comparing two worlds. Rap like that doesn't work on Roots... but it does. And it sounds good!
As an unexpected bonus, Protoje/RCA Records/Zion I Kings also give us this Dub-Tracks of these reggae versions recorded two years ago. The Zion I Kings can do that too, as they did with the Dub-Albums under his own name have proven - especially with the Vol. 1 of theirs Dub-Series, with which they pay an excellent tribute to Style Scott. Now we know - and have already discussed it here - that you shouldn't expect any crazy innovations from the men around Laurent Alfred - they boom accordingly Dubs bass-heavy from the speakers; The effects are used with appropriate precision and never oversteer. Nothing new under the Virgin Islands sun – “just” the usual reliability with quality.