As he was passing through NYC sharing Royalty Free with his fans, we sat down and talked with Protoje about his music, the future of reggae and why it is important to share the positive message.
RN: Reggae In NYC
RN: You just kicked off a huge tour both in the United States and abroad, how has that been going so far, what venues are you excited about?
PR: I’m looking forward to the New York show, for sure. I’ve been really excited to come back here and play music. I like playing the major cities in America because they are full of energy. L.A. and the (West Coast) regions they should be dope, but I am also looking forward to going places I have never been before like Chicago and such.
RN: Your live shows are an amazing thing to see, especially with the live band. How do you keep up the energy and that positivity night after night on a tour?
PR: Every night is a new night and every night is a chance to be a master of what I do. Every night is a new challenge and different people. It’s always a whole different vibe. I love being on stage, it’s my joy, it gives me energy. It’s not how do I keep the energy, it’s I’m getting energy, so I am never tired on stage. Never feel bored. Maybe there are nights that you feel a little overwhelmed, just to keep going. I really enjoy being there.
"I made him believe that there was hope for Jamaican music again."
RN: One of the first places that we heard your music was on David Rodigan’s radio show. I know he has been a huge supporter of you from the very beginning. How did that relationship start?
PR: It started when he heard 7 Year Itch. He wrote me a very passionate letter after the album and was telling me how much I am doing for the genre and that I made him believe that there was hope for Jamaican music again. I was overwhelmed when he said those things to me. Because he was there from the beginning and for him to see that in my work and what I do and put so much faith in me for my first record, I always feel like I need to make him proud.
Every time I go to London we link up, we have lunch and we talk. We talk about music, we talk about life, we talk about everything under the sun. He is definitely one of my mentors and I really appreciate his impact on my life.
RN: When he says, “you provide hope to reggae music” what others have dubbed the “reggae renaissance “or the “return to the roots”, what do you think about this shift back to roots reggae?
PR: I just feel good about the new energy that is coming into it. For me, it’s (for) Jamaican music more than for reggae. I feel that right now we are on the cusp of making an impact globally and it is good to be a part of a generation like that. It’s not to get caught up in titles and such, but just that, try to make good songs and have an impact. Try to have an impact on the world market once more and that has always been one of my goals.
RN: I think you have been able to make an impact…
PR: I’m starting, but there is so much more work to do. Especially in America. It’s good that I am here to do the work and to tour and put that work in.
RN: To share your message with the people…
PR: No doubt.
RN: Let’s talk about some of that music, with 7 Year Itch, then 8 Year Affair and Ancient Future your popularity has been steadily building album after album. Now with Royalty Free, you released the B-side for free. Why did you make the decision to release it for free to your fans?
PR: I was in a position where I could do whatever I wanted to do musically and release wise. I felt free and I wanted my fans to feel the same way. It was almost like they got a gift. To energize and share it themselves and be telling their friends, who may not be in money, “hey you can go and download it for free, check it out, it’s real, its dope.”
Another thing is that I wanted to use my platform to see what my reach is without the iTunes, without the Spotify, without all these things. And see what my direct reach is to my fans. They can go to my website and download it. It’s already over 10,000 downloads and counting. For me as an indie guy from Jamaica doing music, for 10,000 people to download your record in less than three weeks, it counts for something, not including streaming. It's a chance for me to build my platform and my audience without the middleman. Which is something I have been very interested in doing because I think that is where the music is going.
RN: That B-Side has been out for just a few weeks and it did exactly what you said, my social media was blowing up with people sharing it and encouraging their friends to check it out. Can we expect some additional A-Side material soon?
PR: I don’t know how soon, but it’s there. B- Side is going very good right now. I have other works working on. I will finish the Royalty Free series at some point in time, but there is no need for anyone to be looking out for it because it’s not coming out right now. I just release a video for ‘Can’t Feel No Way’, probably some other videos from Royalty Free and just keep building it and making those songs find their way.
RN: You have talked before about always working on music and just getting a feeling about when to release things and when they are ready?
PR: When I came in I had a ten year plan and I’m just reaching it. Everything in it’s time. There is just so much stuff to come out and I’m just grading it when I feel the time is right sonically for different sounds. I felt that I want to do this type of sound right now and then next year will be a different sound. I just take my time and when it’s ready, I’ll put it out in a real way.
RN: When you talk about those different sounds, you mention that 8-Year Affair was a different type of sound that you wanted to put out then Ancient Future. For someone who is coming to Royalty Free, maybe as his or her first album of yours, how would you describe the sound of this album?
PR: I hear people calling it reggae-trap, it’s funny. But just reggae music at the core. Jamaican music and expression mixed with hip-hop mixed with a little bit of trap I guess. Just mixed with old school roots and I found a way to express myself in that way. I’m not hung up in genres and names. I just do music how it sounds in my head. It’s not anything deeper than that. I just hear something and be like “I want to try this.” I listen to a lot of music from all different types of genres so it’s going to seep into my expression. If I am at my home bumping A$AP Rocky for two days or Stormzy & Skepta and a then a beat comes up, I am going to approach it differently or I’m making a beat, I approach it differently.
"At the end of the day just try to reach who you can reach, try to access who you can access, and hope that there is message that you put out there that spreads the love same way."
RN: How do you think your status as an independent artist as influenced your ability to make the music you want to make?
PR: It does. It does, because I don't have to answer to anybody, you know what I mean? I don't have to answer to anybody. I can just do what I feel like when I feel like it. That’s why I am so happy to be an independent artist. If I get up and want to try a sound, I don’t have to listen to the label telling me that this is not what their fan base wants. I just get to do what I feel. Then also I am not worried about my fan base if I go with a different sound. Some will grow with you and some will leave and that’s the way it is. I am comfortable with it either way.
RN: I know you have done a lot of work with other great artists, who would like to do a track with if you had the opportunity now?
PR: A$AP Rocky or Black Keys, for sure. Probably those two, I am sure there is more people to, but probably those two for now. J. Cole, we would do something very dope, he would challenge me lyrically so I think probably him.
RN: Reggae music has been a music of the people. No matter what genre within reggae, it has supported those who struggled with oppression. Right now in the United States we are experiencing a conflict of our own with police brutality and the Black Live Matter movement. What influence do you think reggae music can have on that?
PR: Music as a whole, right now is an interesting time because for me it’s like the whole world is going crazy. I think with the information age right now it’s like you are getting to see all of these things happening now because of camera phones and online and all of these things. It’s very present and in your ear. Music has always played a part to influence people and talk about the oppression or the messages that are going on. But no matter what positive music you put out and no matter what you do there is just evil in this world. It's really at that point right now, where sometimes I wonder, what’s the difference you can make by singing and giving messages out there? At the end of the day just try to reach who you can reach, try to access who you can access, and hope that there is message that you put out there that spreads the love same way. The thing is that what these things do is make you want to be angry. You be angry and have an aggressive attitude towards it and I don't think that is the right emotion that we need to be putting out. But it is hard to be peaceful and loving when we see these things happening everyday.
RN: Its hard not to think about anger when we really need to be helping each other. So what music are you listening to right now to help with that?
PR: The Black Keys and I have been listening to Kayne West, Life of Pablo, a lot. I think that is my album of choice right now. A lot of UK music, Nadia Rose, Stormzy, Skepta, Kano. A lot of UK music of late.