How Protoje Unlocked A Meditative Level In His Personal Journey With New Album ‘Third Time's the Charm'
An artist’s best musical moments occur in the face of challenge. Whether it’s courageously digging into the darkest pockets of your subconscious, accepting romantic dissolution (or discovery) or confronting sociopolitical-born fears, the musical result inspires growth both for the artist and the avid listener.
This is the case for Protoje: In 2018, the reggae star kicked off a sonic trilogy with his Grammy-nominated fourth album A Matter of Time. He followed up in 2020 with In Search Of Lost Time while announcing a partnership between his In.Digg.Nation Collective label and RCA Records/Six Course in April. Now, the trilogy is complete with Third Time’s The Charm. Released today (Sept. 23), the 10-track story showcases just how intentional Protoje is with his transformation both as an artist and man.
“That means the world to me. That is a perfect description of what I see my music as,” he tells EDITION while on a Zoom call after an Ethiopia festival performance. “It’s just me trying to better myself and sometimes it doesn't work out and sometimes it works out. Especially from my last two projects, it’s me trying to figure out how I’m seeing the world and how I’m navigating through it.”
The album may be called Third Time’s The Charm, but this navigation didn’t come from luck. Protoje worked to better himself. So it’s no surprise that this is his most confident-sounding album to date.
“You know when you keep trying to do the best you can do and you’re trying to make the most of your life? Obviously the saying [goes] ‘third times the charm’, so you know when you’re going to get there [eventually],” Protoje explains. “Maybe it’s not the third time, but it’s the tenth time. That whole sentiment, that feeling that it’s going to be super okay this time. There was A Matter of Time then there was In Search of Lost Time. This is the third album with that specific theme. It was like the third time I was doing it.”
Below, as he continues his tour with Jesse Royal and In.Digg.Nation artist Lila Iké, Protoje discusses with EDITION personal growth and finding his center again through music’s healing nature.
Compared to In Search of Lost Time, which was released two years ago, Third Time's The Charm seems that you sound more at peace in your life compared to the previous albums. Did you find what you were looking for? Did you find that peace?
No, you can never find time that’s lost. That’s the lesson that’s learned. The whole thing is that once you have done things, there is no taking it back. People can forgive you or you can move on, but it’s still permanent as much as you try to go back. When you do something to someone, you can try to spend the next year trying to make it up to them, trying to do the most, trying to be extra nice, trying to give more effort—but you really can’t go back and take back.
That [previous] album was a bit more sad. I feel like the last two years I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to recover from the things that were bothering me, which gave me a little more hope. Maybe it’s the stillness of the last two years when I’m not touring every week. I’m just at home, I’m chilling, running in the mountains, trying to keep my mind healthy, trying to keep my mind relaxed. It helped me.
Give me a daily rundown in your life. What have you been doing to find your stillness? Is it maybe taking a run, rolling up a spliff, or anything that helps you level with yourself?
I had just built my studio right before In Search of Lost Time, and then reality set in after that album came out that I wasn't going to tour, I wasn't going to do anything. I was just acting like things would go back to normal. When I finished the record and I realized there's no press run, there's no touring, there's none of that happening, I was like “Hold up, I think we’re going to be stuck here.” After the first month or two I got into a super good rhythm where I woke up, went for a jog, and came back.
I was on a super juice diet for the whole time. I was mixing food. I always had carrot juice, beetroot juice, june plum, apple—all freshly made. I would just come home, drink my green juice, drink my carrot or beet juice, smoke a spliff after I went for my run, and put on some music. My whole house is built for music so everywhere there's something musical. There are books around and I took up learning chess and I started to get obsessed with that. I kept my mind in a creative mode. That would happen for days upon days where I wouldn't leave my house for days or weeks and I just kept creating. Every day was a loop, but a very positive loop because I’ve never made this much music in my life.
PHOTO BY YANNICK REID @THETHERAPISTSOL
The album’s lead single “Hills” showcases exactly what you’re telling me–just going back to that simple roots living. I think we all had to find what makes us happy and cut out all the noise and distractions. That single really embodies that feeling.
For “Hills”, I literally went up on my roof and looked left, right, up, and down and just wrote that song. I went to my rooftop and I said, “What do I love about being up there?” My roof is a special place. I found many songs on that roof. It’s been the biggest catalyst for me because I just go up and I look as far as my eyes can see, and my imagination is just roaming. So I just said, “Let me go on my roof and look and see” and I just started to express. I’m from the country, I’ve always not been into city vibes. I like it for a weekend or two weeks, but I always like to be in some sort of isolation. I’m very sensitive to noise, so when I’m in the city and I’m hearing sirens or this or that it really throws off my creativity. That song is a really good snapshot of what the last two years were for me. Pretty much that video kind of captured it. Apart from the helicopter.
I want to talk about some of my favorite songs on the album. “Family” with Jesse Royal is number one for me. What I took from it is navigating friendships and relationships as you get older. I turned 30 last year and it really sparked something in me to look around and see who’s really here for me, who supports me, who wants to see me grow and cut off all ties that may not be beneficial to me. I think that’s why I related to that song the most.
I think “Family” shows how my mind works, the type of person I am and the Gemini in me. If you look at “Family” it starts off very positive. When I’m writing a song I’m not like, “Okay I’m going to write a song about this, I’m going to write a song about that”—it doesn't work like that. The song starts off with me being super excited to go back on the road and tour [begins singing]: “Two 365 trap inna the yard / Fresh up out the lockdown, back out pon the road / Who put in the work, a time fi reap uunu reward / All who did encourage me, keep me inna them thoughts / My regards to you, hope for you the same.”
When I say the word “family”, something happens within me while I’m writing the song. My entire mood changes, and I’m thinking about what people are going through. I think about some people that I’ve called family in my life and I remember, “Woah this is a word that I’m not going to be using lightly anymore.”
I don’t even realize this until the song is done. It took a dark turn and then in the chorus I wanted to give back positive energy to be like regardless of anything that's happening in my life I’m getting blessed in my life. I have a lot to be appreciative for. Maybe the people who I want the love from, I’m not going to get it back from, but certainly I’m getting love from different sources. So that’s the essence of that song. It really shows me as an artist, that’s how my mind works.
I think “Love For Me” also carries that theme as well. I feel like “Family” and “Love For Me” kind of go hand-in-hand because one: you’re being appreciative of the family that is by your side and you’re also like, “Why am I calling these people family?” Then “Love for Me” is like, “Well I’ve got to find more genuine and beneficial relationships.”
My friends listened to “Love For Me” and were like “Bro this is depressing.” I like when things bring out emotion.
PHOTO BY YANNICK REID @THETHERAPISTSOL
I think it’s really good for you to show that emotion as well because of course in Jamaica there’s been such a long stigma of men having to be rough and tough and not showing their feelings and having this armor. I like that more male artists are showcasing vulnerability. It's heartwarming to see how you all are getting out of your shell.
Give thanks. That’s like when Chronixx sang “Never Give Up”. He sent it to me and I was overcome with a lot of feelings. Sometimes in Jamaican music and Reggae music they want you to sing about four things: praises, marijuana, oppression or some other thing. If you sing about something else they say, “Why are are you singing about how you feel?” But that’s how I want to express myself so hopefully it can reach to the people that can connect to it.
I feel like you’re a romantic at heart. Are you a romantic? You have new songs on the album showing that loving side of you.
Obviously yes, but when it comes to my relationship with women I want them to feel special, I want them to feel cared for, secure, protected, loved, and I try to give off that vibe in my music. If I’m singing a song I want it to convey these messages. If you call that being a romantic, I guess. I am no longer believing in fairy tales. Even my song “Dreamy Eyes” [on this album] is the most love-like related song: “There's no perfect situation in life but girl we are such good friends/ Really there’s no surprise how we deal with problems”. It’s very realistic so that even people who you’re with, there's times where even if you offend each other or do things to each other that you’re not proud of, but it’s just like seeing through that. That works for every relationship, not just a romantic one.
Shifting gears just a little bit here. I’m curious to know how you think you’ve grown over the last two years. I feel like everyone has their own self-reflection story since the pandemic started, but just looking back from In Search of Lost Time to this new album, how do you feel you’ve grown as a person?
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past two years with all the stillness. The thing that was amazing for me was that I had to understand my level of control about situations: letting go, or releasing or trying to control everything. Especially when you’re in a job where you’re managing or running a label, there are so many things that are going to happen that are beyond your control. You have to accept that you can only control your own actions and that was a big thing for me [to learn]. And just to take time and spend time on myself as opposed to always giving so much of myself. Traveling everywhere, doing shows, being caught up in what my work and career are, and not taking enough time to just take care of myself and how I’m dealing with life. So that’s two big things that have changed my perspective.
I definitely relate to that because personally, I’m such a giver and I’ve realized I can't fill others from an empty cup. So I’ve had to also learn how to give any love or any support to other people. Actually, do you meditate by any chance?
You know I don’t. Definitely not in a sense of what is called meditation. I’ve tried to get into it and I always say I’m going to try it. It’s something that I know is efficient in my growth and I’m hoping that I make the decision to do so, but I think it can be very useful for my mind.
My friends are always speaking about mediation. It’s something that I’m trying to get into as well. I think it could mean different things to people. Maybe you doing music could be a form of meditation.
I think so. It may not be traditional, but for sure. When I’m [in that zone] and things are spoken through me, it’s like I actually feel like I’m on a different level in terms of how I’m thinking or knowing that I’m not fully conscious, if you know what I mean. It’s the relief and the wave of emotion that I go through. Creating is something that I know is definitely on a spiritual level that is giving me some form of healing.
PHOTO BY YANNICK REID @THETHERAPISTSOL
In Jamaica, well-being has always been part of our culture: things that we eat, the herbs that we take, us going to the beach, or you going to the hills. The things that we’ve been doing since we were kids growing up in a Jamaican household are now being brought to a more mainstream “wellness” level.
The essence of Jamaican culture is the tropics: with great temperature, enough rain, and enough everything where everything blossoms and grows. Just being in that environment already, it’s an automatic boost of well-being [compared to] if you’re not in an environment like that. I feel like the rush to the city—and to make money in the way how we know it—has caused many Jamaicans to leave the country or leave areas that are abundant in everything that one needs, and come to Kingston or other cities to try to make a way for themselves.
I feel like Jamaica is naturally built for that stuff—the food that’s there, the spaces that you can go to. The way how the world is now, a lot of times the focus is not on self, it’s about trying to make something of yourself. I feel like that’s something that has skewed the way people are thinking and the way how people are treating each other because it all comes back. If you’re not feeling well about yourself, the chances are you’re not treating other people well. I think it’s a thing that we really have to focus on. Really taking care of yourself, spending time on yourself, giving more attention to mental health and what people are going through because that’s something else that Jamaica doesn’t take as serious.
So I feel that all the tools are there and obviously with Rastafari culture they’ve had to maintain many things about wellness for years and years, and people have seen it as not real. Now it’s commercial for everybody. Rastas have always been the voice of consciousness in the western world for years upon years upon years. All the tools are there and that's why I try to do it in my music by expressing myself. When you’re on the plane and there's an emergency and the masks come down they say, “Put on your mask first and then put on your child’s mask.” Make sure you are conscious so that you’re able to take care of someone else. If you are not well and you see the entire world in a different way … a lot of negativity comes from people not feeling well. Then it trickles down to wives to daughters to sons and so the cycle continues.