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Interview: Protoje (2014)

Interview: Protoje (2014)

Interview: Protoje (2014)

By on - Photos by Che Kothari - 2 comments

"Music is my therapy first and foremost"


For United Reggae’s first interview with Protoje, he told us how his debut album the 7 Year Itch realised his dream of becoming a recording artist like his mother, Lorna Bennett.

During our second chat he explained the method behind his Sly and Robbie influenced follow up the 8 Year Affair. How he had moved from songs of partying with girls and ganja to more serious statements informed by his journey into Rastafari; and why he was done with touring without his band the Indiggnation.

Now he has a third album ready to drop in Autumn. It’s titled Ancient Future and features collaborations with fellow “Reggae Revival” artists Chronixx and Kabaka Pyramid alongside the UK’s Prince Fatty. It represents another departure in that it is his first full project without his cousin Don Corleon. Instead the rhythms are overseen by Winta James of Ovastand Entertainment.

Angus Taylor spoke to Protoje two days after he had celebrated his birthday by going for a run and spending some quiet time with his mom and his friend Eva Flow. They discussed the constituents of the new record, as well as his views on politics, his response to criticism of the Reggae Revival, his love of boxing, and the importance of being in control…

Let's start where the last interview left off. You said you were not going to travel without your band. So we’ll begin with your triumphant return performance at Summerjam 2013. In the press conference one excitable journalist even compared you to Bob Marley.

It was a great feeling. Summerjam was our first major show as a unit so it was still very anxious. As good a vibe as it was, it was really us going through our first battle together and getting to know each other in these big situations. That was a joy and the start of about 14 weeks where we ran across Europe doing many festivals until for me it all came together down at Rototom where I remember going on stage feeling so super confident about the unit. That’s what I’ve always wanted to be a part of – an extremely strong unit on stage.
Your new album is due out in September. What stage is it at – is it all finished?

It should be finished by this Sunday – at least the recording. I have two out of twelve songs left to record.

We know now that the title is Ancient Future. Tell me about the break from numerical tradition after previous album titles 7 Year Itch and 8 Year Affair?

We definitely wanted to break the chain. Ancient Future existed at the same time that 8 Year Affair was about to be done. Right after 7 Year Itch I was trying to figure out where I was going to go and two ideas came to me - 1) the 8 Year Affair and 2) this Ancient Future. I knew they were two very different albums so I did the 8 Year Affair.

Working on Ancient Future I knew I wanted to visit an era. This was an album I really wanted to get off my chest. There were certain sounds I wanted to do from start to finish on a record. The whole concept of Ancient Future is building on those messages and sounds and adding to it and updating it in this world. That’s what I think this music is about for me right now.

You said last time that the final three songs on 8 Year Affair represented a change for you. How does that connect with the sound of the new album?

Sonically it represented the heavy one-two sound I was trying to go for even back then. You have to remember that when Kingston Be Wise came out it was a lot of one-drop rhythms and there weren’t very many one-two types from that era. So that was an effort on my part because it’s one of my favourite styles of music. I wanted more of that feel on 8 Year Affair and that was the kind of sound I was moving towards at the end. I think it’s represented very well on this album but in a different way. It doesn’t sound like the heavy syn or Simmons drums that are on the 8 Year Affair so it’s still a different era.

From the beginning it was never my intention to go through my career just working with one producer

Let’s cut to the chase here. The main producer on Ancient Future is Winta James from Ovastand Entertainment. How come you’re not working with your cousin Don Corleon on this album?

From the beginning it was never my intention to go through my career just working with one producer. There are many different talented producers out there that I wanted to work with so I always had that intention in mind. I feel the main reason for this is that this is a record where I really had to be in control artistically. It’s always been a plan of mine to play this role in my own music. Working with Don on those two albums was great and those albums had success but at some point in time you have to decide whether you’re going to live by somebody’s direction for you or you’re going to take your own direction from what you feel. Being at this point in my life I have to follow my instincts and I chose my instincts on this album. Working with Winta gave me the opportunity to express myself freely musically. I also get to put this record out on my label as a joint venture with Winta.

So when you work with Winta are you giving him direction about how you want it to be or is it more collaborative?

It’s very collaborative. It’s easy. I don’t think about it. It’s very seamless. From the first rhythm he played for me and from the first time we sat and reasoned it was clear there was a heavy mutual respect. And a lot of the time, when you get that respect from somebody it makes you so comfortable in a working situation. At the time he didn’t even have anything out – it was before the Rootsman rhythm that we were linking - but I sensed the working chemistry we had. So it’s not like me giving directions but I am very clear about what I want to achieve and he is very clear about what he wants to achieve, so there are parts where he has the final say and parts where I have the final say and we made that deal going in.

How did you first link with him?

He played on a session for Don and I met him there but I also saw him at a show where he was playing for Jesse [Royal]. We were hanging out and he had some rhythms to send me. One of them was Rootsman and I said “I really like this but I’m trying to finish up my second album and I don’t think it would have a spot on it. But I think we should still work some time later”. So later he sent me a beat which is the song Criminal for this album and we really bonded over our love for Junjo Lawes. He was like “I’ve never heard no artist from your era talk about Junjo Lawes!” I was like “Yeah man, that’s my producer” and we just hit it off. Then separately from music just philosophically the energies matched up. We get along on a personal level so that in turn makes the music cohesive.

This is my first album where all the songs were made knowing that they would be on this album

You considered the Rootsman rhythm for the second album, you also told me that you originally didn’t want This Is Not A Marijuana Song on the second album, and you’ve also revealed that Kingston Be Wise was originally being considered for Ancient Future. So would it be fair to say you take the compilation of your albums quite seriously?

Yeah man. Trust me, 8 Year Affair, I loved that album and as I said it was a brilliant production by Don. But there were certain songs I didn’t feel fitted. You can add Reggae Revival to that - I just didn’t feel it was supposed to be there. Working with Don he had more say in what the final product is on the album and he is good at that, so whatever. But for example, Kingston Be Wise was meant to be on Ancient Future but when I looked at 8 Year Affair I felt that it really needed that signature song and I didn’t feel it was there so I had to take it. It wasn’t easy but I felt that it was the right song to usher in the album with that synth sound that I wanted. For me it is so important for an album to be cohesive and sound like the songs belong on there. That’s how I grew up, saying “What’s that doing there? That doesn’t belong” and I really feel like this album everything has been fitted to a tee. This is my first album where all the songs were made knowing that they would be on this album.

It’s not just Winta on the album. I know you’ve been linking with Prince Fatty because he sent me your dubplate of This Is Not A Marijuana Song. He also co-produces a track on Ancient Future. I also know that his favourite producer is Junjo Lawes!

ProtojeI met Fatty last year in California when I did Sierra Nevada World Music Festival and he is the coolest dude. He is just so chilled. We were hanging out talking and he gave me the Hollie Cook album which I loved. He said “You know man, if you send me some stuff I will dub all your music”. I sent him Marijuana Song because it is the only song off my last album where I had access to the a cappella. Nico Browne gave me the a cappella and Prince Fatty went in man! He’s dope! It sounds so crazy! I don’t even know what to do with that song. I’m just sitting on it.

So when we were doing the last track for the album called Used To Be My Life – a song I’ve had for many years too – I introduced Winta to Fatty’s stuff and he was like “I really think he should be the one to mix and produce this last song because he has the feel that will serve it good”. So we hit him up and he started adding the drums and percussion and we did the overdubs with Chinna [Smith] playing guitar and Glen Browne playing bass and Obeah [Denton] playing keyboards. We’ve sent it back to him now and he’s going to do what he does. (laughs)

Tell me about the other guest producers on the album.

Another guest producer on the album is myself. (laughs) Bubbling is going to be my first official production and I’m excited about that. My keyboard player Paris worked with me too – that’s my co-production. Also my brethren LP from the UK…

Lewis Planter.

Right! Paris worked on the one with Lewis too. LP sent me the beat for this album four years ago. It missed my first album, missed my second album and he was like “Are you ever going to use it?” and I was like “Trust me, I have big plans for this – just be patient” so I was excited to text him and say “Yow, you’ve made the third album” and he was so excited too”. But that’s about it.

You just mentioned Chinna so let’s talk about the musicians. To what degree is it your own band? I hear some serious bassmen like Robbie Shakespeare and Flabba Holt are involved.

This was the deal when me and Winta started. Musically he was going to have an idea of what feels he wanted for certain songs and I agreed. That was the reason I wanted him to do the production because of his ear. So he made most musician decisions. The song I produced, Jason Worton plays on it, Paris plays on it and Danny Bassie plays on it – who are all my band. When I’m producing I like to work with them. But for the songs he’s producing he just kind of knew who to pick for certain stuff. Like for two or three songs that are sampled on it Flabba played the bass originally so it was like “Let’s get him”. Flabba just has a wicked energy. Again, I met up with him on tour and we were real cool. We linked Robbie and Robbie went in! We linked Chinna and Chinna I rate to a different level – he just has a sound. Young Ranoy [Gordon] that plays for Stephen, has a sick chop – so really an all-star cast. I wanted to work with a lot of people who I have always admired. That’s the thing with this album. Sonically it goes from place to place but it still finds a way to be compact and cohesive.

You mentioned samples. I remember being so disappointed when that wicked track Our Time Come featuring Burning Spear got pulled from 7 Year Itch just before the release. Have you cleared all your samples? Are you good?

(laughing) Hey, that’s what we’re doing right now! We had some issues with Kingston Be Wise too! Right before Grand Theft Auto! But it got cleared up and the person who was working on that is working on these samples for us. So we’re hoping everything comes through in time because the album right now is just exactly how I want it. I don’t want to be losing any tracks. The sampling – again it’s not by chance, it’s by design. It goes into the whole theme of Ancient Future. It’s really paying homage to an era that I always wanted to. This album is going to mark an era of my career. There’s no doubt about where my music is at in 2014. That’s not to say that is where my music is going to be in 2015. It’s like when you listen back to certain albums like Sly and Robbie presents Ini Kamoze or even Black Uhuru Red there is no question about the sound they are trying to put out there. It’s clear, it’s definitive – and that’s my album in a nutshell.

This album is going to mark an era of my career

OK, so if historians were looking back on your music and they said “This is when he was in the ____ stage of his career” fill in the blanks – what would the descriptive word be?

Yeah! (laughing) I don’t know. I really feel like I’m just coming into my own right now and I’m stepping into the point where I know what I want to do musically and have the ability to just do it. It’s very liberating. Social commentary is good and I understand that I have made many songs in that vein but where I am right now is more of a self-reflection. For me that’s the important topic for oneself – especially in times like these. My music has to signify that. So lyrically I really dive into what I feel and address the feelings in my chest and know it’s alright to feel that way. To analyse yourself and that’s what this album is like lyrically – more of a self-investigation. I say things on it where somebody might say “Hmmm, OK” but I have to say it and hear it because to me music is my therapy first and foremost.

So the word is “introspective”?

Yeah, introspective.

The first single of the album was Who Knows with Chronixx. How far do you go back with Chronixx and how come the first single was the time you collaborated?

I met Chronixx through the internet really. He reached out to me when he was producing. He hadn’t started to record – or at least nothing was out – and he said he wanted to produce for me. Him and Teflon both reached out to me and I was like “Cool” because I always like working with youths. They sent me some beats when I was just dropping 7 Year Itch so I really couldn’t record but they sounded nice so I ended up giving them to Kabaka for his EP. One was Warrior and one was I Alone. It was Kabaka’s birthday and at the time Kabaka and I were living at the same house so I invited him over and heard him sing. From that point I thought “This is an amazing talent”. That night he was like “We have to do a tune together” and I said “When the timing is right he have to definitely”. It’s never been an issue for us to do a collaboration – it’s always been like “anytime – when we are ready we ago know” and when the opportunity came for this album it was the time to work together.

I already mentioned about Summerjam where someone said “It’s like the next Bob Marley” and of course after Chronixx did Tracks and Records the Jamaican media said “He’s like the new Peter Tosh”. What do you think of comparisons like that? Do they hold anything for you?

Listen, those comparisons are setting up the person for a fall. You’re setting up the artist to underachieve. It’s like in basketball. Kobe Bryant could win five championships and instead of appreciating we say “He ain’t as good as Michael Jordan”. OK, I’m an artist, making music so they say “Oh, he’s the next Bob Marley” but no matter what an artist does they can never have the impact those artists had. They made the industry that we’re living in.

So I don’t take the comparison seriously. It’s never me who says it. It’s never about being the next anybody – it’s just about doing the best I can do - as clichéd as it may sound. I’m from Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth and there’s no artist that I can look to that I grew up knowing they came from here. I’m not supposed to be here, Angus! (laughs) So it’s like anything that comes my way I’m just going to give thanks for it and go and make music.

It’s kind of like when someone says “This artist is overhyped” then they are contributing to the culture of hype as much as the person who says “This is the next Bob Marley”.

You really have to think very highly of your own opinion to think that you should say what other people like or what over people are getting excited about. I don’t get it. At the end of the day people will have their own opinions and their own comments – especially in this age that we are living in where everyone has free reign to post their comments and opinions. (laughs) So you just have to go on and be sure of what you are doing. I am sure of what I am trying to do. So even these comparisons between us as young artists coming up – we just make music. It all comes and goes. In ten years they are going to be talking about a whole bunch of other things and other people so we just laugh and go and enjoy.

On the song Who Knows you say you read a chapter a day – which chapter did you read today?

I haven’t read any today but yesterday I was reading Proverbs 3. Proverbs to begin with is one of the most mystical books in the Bible so there are always messages in it. Especially as a writer it is good to have these subtle messages. Proverbs talks about not forgetting your teachings so for me what I take from that is that there is an inner voice and an instinct that talks to you. There’s this innate knowing about right and wrong that is separate and apart from what we read and what we know. A communication that lies within us and to always move with that spirit.

There’s a combination with Kabaka on the album called the Flame – repaying your appearance on his EP.

We have so many songs, it is crazy. I said to him we should do an album together. After he does a couple of albums maybe we will do something because we both have a vibe to write. We write so well with each other. I wanted him on my second album and it didn’t work out so I really wanted him on this album. He always brings it and I think we bring out the best in each other. If we meet on a track he knows I’m bringing it and he’ll be bringing his A game.

How far you do you and Kabaka go back?

I met him through Jah9. Jah9 was like “There’s this youth I really want you to meet. It would be good if you could give him some guidance with music” and stuff like that. She basically engineered our meeting and brought me to his house and we just started to vibe. I heard him deejay on this song called One Day Better Must Come and he used to rap. I told him “I’m doing this show called Bands Incorporated and I want you to join me onstage”. At the time he wasn’t really known so it was a big opportunity for him. I said “The only way you can come on stage is if you deejay – you can’t rap”. He came and deejayed and absolutely destroyed the place. After that he was straight deejay.

At the time I was living in Stony Hill and I invited him up there to come and do his EP in isolation up in the hills. He was up there for about six months and we worked on that EP and we just shared a lot of time and reasoned about enough different things apart from music. When me and ‘Baka link up we don’t really talk about music as much. It’s always a whole heap of other things.

To revive something doesn’t mean it’s dead. You’re not going to revive something that’s dead unless you are God himself

You and him and Chronixx are often dubbed as part of the Reggae Revival. Recently a lot of older artists have said they don’t like the name “reggae revival”. Most of them ask the same thing “How can you revive what isn’t dead?”

It’s not an important name. What is important is what is happening. To me that’s crazy that we’re trying to focus on a name rather than what is actually happening. But just to talk about it academically, to revive something doesn’t mean it’s dead, to begin with. You’re not going to revive something that’s dead unless you are God himself. So it clearly doesn’t mean that reggae is dead. So there’s no argument there.

If somebody says “Oh, it will be better if you call it the renaissance” or whatever, I don’t try to focus on that. What I do like is that it had a name which brought attention. There was something to group it as which makes it easy for press to have a unified concerted effort of awareness of what is going on. And I have to big up Dutty Bookman who really was the person who came up with that. Like how you have the Harlem Renaissance or whatever, it gives attention to what is happening in the music and shines a light on all of reggae music. So for me, nothing is in a name, it’s all about what’s happening.


Sly Dunbar said that what is crucial for this new movement of reggae music is what it does next musically in terms of going forward.

I read that. “This new movement of reggae music” – why can’t you just say that? (laughs) It’s interesting because I think a lot of us have different sounds. If you are really listening to the music you will hear lots of different sounds coming out. For me personally, after this album it’s going to be totally different from Ancient Future. Because there is nothing new under the sun so it is to build upon ideas now. They were experimenting with what came before them and we are experimenting now to take it to a different level.

But I always say, we’ve been at it for like five years. In 2020 let’s judge the picture then. I’m still painting now so let’s judge it when it’s finished. Musically I think it’s going to be an exciting time with lots of brilliant artists. It’s about trying to be true to the music and that’s what I’m trying to do – just follow my instincts. If I want to do this, even if Angus might think it’s too experimental a form of reggae then he can think that but I’m going to try it. But this third album, now is a thing that I wanted to make and I know for sure Europe will love the songs.

You recently tweeted about politicians. You asked how people can say “Bun Politician” when Haile Selassie was a head of state.

I read something last night that is so pertinent to what you asked me. “Everyone may not be good but there is always some good in everyone. Never judge anyone shortly because every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”. Oscar Wilde said that. If you’re going to go and do away with state completely and live without interference in your own world then that is brilliant and I commend that. But it’s hard to exist in this world without caring about what’s happening in your surroundings. If you exist in the world it is going to affect you.

To me there is good and bad in every field. His Majesty was very vocal about this. He travelled to many places in the name of diplomacy, representing his country and representing his people. Wouldn’t it be great for us to have somebody here in Jamaica that you could feel proud about them representing you? That would be very positive to me. Something to be really motivated behind. All I was really going on that rant about was that politics needs youth. It needs new age thinking. It needs new methods. These youths coming up now are infinitely smart. Even teenagers now are so brilliant to me. We need an injection of the youth in how the country is run because the country is for the youth. So if a little youth with integrity is coming up and wants to make a difference and all he hears is politics is for the wicked then he might decide to do something else when that mind could be the mind we needed to change the whole thing.

It’s hard to exist in this world without caring about what’s happening in your surroundings

Music is clearly in your family but sport is also in your family. Which sports people do you admire?

When I was in high school I was a real big fan of Kobe Bryant. It was because I read some stories about his work ethic and how he’d get up before training and do his own shootaround, have breakfast, go and do strength training and then show up for practice. I’ve seen my father get over 70 scholarships for youths from Jamaica to go abroad and study where he had to be helping them learn to read at 14 years old. I saw that dedication and belief. Giving that intensity to something can transform your life. So I really use the philosophy of sports in music – you’re going to work hard, you’re going to be consistent, you’re going to make sure every year you bring something new to the table, every season you try to perfect a different part of your craft and then you’re going to come back next season and go again and keep on building. That’s something I definitely learned from him – how to bring something new every year.

We’ve had some discussions about Floyd Mayweather on social media – do you think he’s slipping since the Maidana fight or did he just let him in to make it more entertaining?

Come on Angus! When we talk about the example he sets in training and boxing he’s the next one too. He’s quite brash but his dedication means you’re not going to outwork him. I really respect that. He’s going to be more prepared than you and he’s going to have that edge. That’s why I feel that with his respect for craft he’s going to know when he’s slipping and he won’t go in those waters. I fully expect him to retire undefeated and I don’t think he is slipping. I just want them to get that Pacquiao fight out of the way.

Jamaican boxing is going very well with the success of Nicholas Axeman Walters winning the WBA featherweight title – the first Jamaican to win a world title on home soil.

I never knew about him until I saw his last fight. It’s crazy to me because I’m so much into boxing. To be honest the last year and a half I haven’t really been watching much sports at all. I’ve kind of stepped back from it and when it comes up I catch it. Boxing for me is a great discipline and it’s great to me that we have a champion. Jamaicans like to be in everything. It will be good to see where his career takes him. Again, it’s a good thing for the youths just to be physical in aggression. Not necessarily to be competitive but to go into a room with a punching bag and vibe out for a while is a thing I used to love to do. It really gives you an energy.

We need an injection of the youth in how the country is run because the country is for the youth

You’ve been doing a lot of press in the USA recently. The Jamaica media are obsessed with their artists making it big in America. Do you feel the pressure to succeed there?

No sir. I don’t feel any pressure when it comes to music. I’m not going to tell you that there are no moments when it doesn’t get intense and you want to do well. But at the end of the day, having my mother, my sister and my father happy and proud of me, I don’t really feel any pressure to please anybody else. I do by best and hopefully it resonates with everybody but in terms of pressure to do well in the US, no. I know the state I came and found reggae music in and I know what it is my generation has to do and we’re just going to steadily build it. I don’t feel any pressure anxiety about it more than any other place.

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Read comments (2)

Posted by Jah D on 06.26.2014
Yes Protoje shall go far!! His music is FRESH!!!! CRISP!!!! New style & pattern. Big Respect 2 One Igher & In Digg Nation Massive. Blessing's

Posted by Originator on 07.17.2016
Big Up same way......Jah Kno Protoje & Indiggnation set it......

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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