A Reasoning with Protoje in NYC

Protoje recently performed for the first time in NYC and drew a packed audience. You could barely move in the venue an hour before Protoje took the stage. NYC had been waiting for Protoje to make an appearance and that day finally arrived The audience was not disappointed as Protoje performed several hits from his catalog as well some select choices from his new album, Ancient Future. Protoje connected to the audience his entire performance and left the audience wanted more.

I got the chance to speak with Protoje a few days before the show. We spoke about his new album, his thoughts on the Revival movement, and the decriminalization of herb in Jamaica. Here is our conversation.

Maliika: The title of the album, Ancient Future, is also the title of a classic book. Things Fall Apart, the great album by The Roots, comes to mind.

Protoje: I actually didn’t know about the book when I named the album. Somebody bought the book for me. I went to a show and someone mentioned to me that they bought the book because of the album. I told them I never saw the book so they gave it to me.

The title draws more from the sound of the album. The lyrics are more aligned with what I wanted to say with the ancient sound of reggae music but with a futuristic update to it. That was the concept of the album. Also this album was set in a particular time, more like 60’s, 70’s and 80’s

Maliika: I love the change in production on the new album. I hear maturity and growth on this new release vs. your previous two releases.

Protoje: When I was finishing up The 8 Year Affair, I knew I wanted to go in a different direction. I had the concept for Ancient Future even before The 8 Year Affair.

Maliika: Yeah I read that. I was amazed that you were thinking about Ancient Future while working on The 8 Year Affair.

Protoje: I wanted to do this album following my debut release, The 7 Year Itch, but I always intended to do a follow up with producer Don Corleon. The 8 Year Affair became the follow up project. I never wanted my follow up to be Ancient Future because I felt like I needed total control over this album to get it how I wanted it to sound. I worked with Don on my first album. I was a young artist working on my first album so he had the lead on the albums sound. He is a great producer so why not.

protoje_ancientfuture2However for Ancient Future I had a vision for what I wanted this album to sound like. When Winta (Phillip James) sent me his Rootsman Riddim to voice, I immediately felt he had a sound I really liked, but I didn’t want to record on the riddim because my album just came out. I told him to send me some more music and he did. After hearing the music I said to myself ok, this is the producer I need to work with on this album. Now this is before Rootsman Riddim even came out and Winta became what he is now. I knew he was the guy I wanted to work with; he was the guy I wanted to trust with the concept. We met and I told him about the concept and he felt it could be an epic album so we began working on it.

Maliika: Can you share with us the experience of working with Winta James on Ancient Future? He was a new producer for you after two releases with Don Corleon.

Protoje: We were working together for six months before we even entered the studio. It was me and him at each other’s house vibing to music, letting him hear my rhymes, stuff like that. I wanted to go in the studio with him before starting work on the album. That is when we recorded Resist Not Evil on Winta’s Miltancy Riddim.

I wanted to see what it felt like to work with Winta first before we started the album. When we first started working together in the studio the friendship was not there. Winta was very serious in the studio so I adapted to that. I realized this is the way he likes to work but after that first time we got comfortable with each other. From the second time on we developed a rhythm with one another, we developed a synergy.

Maliika: Ancient Future is the number 1 Reggae album in the country? How does that feel?

Protoje: It feels great but I definitely expected it to be because that was the goal. I am also thankful for all of the support we have received with this release. Considerable time was taken with the planning and marketing of Ancient Future. A good team was put together, good Management, Marketing, and PR. This is the first time that Winta and I are releasing a new project from our new label. This is the first time I was in charge of the timing of the album release, the first single that is released, and all of the other key decisions that come with releasing an album. We had a plan and stuck to it, and that plan in bearing a lot of fruit right now.

Maliika: The one thing I noticed about reggae music is there is usually a buzz about a record in the U.S. but then that buzz sizzles after a while, quicker than other genre’s. I know things are different in Jamaica with regards to a projects popularity long term.

Protoje: Well there are no relevant charts in Jamaica. ITunes doesn’t even work there if you do not have an American credit card. There are no sales charts in America. An artist popularity does not derive from sales or charts. Your popularity comes from the people feeling the music. Also there is no popular reggae artist releasing music from a major record label right now. Yeah the sales are not great but who has sold the most as a Jamaican artist the past two years, its Chronixx. He has 8,000 sold.

Maliika: That’s crazy to me that his sales are that little compared to other artist releasing music; say from the U.S. for example.

Protoje: Yes but its progress. He has surpassed other artists that have been around longer than him, and he has done it independently. Most other artists were releasing projects via VP Distribution but he still did very well. So I look at his success as the goal, that is the standard for what’s happening right now. I commend him for doing that because that’s how you build back the industry. Now that Chronixx sold 8K, maybe the next person will sell 10K and so on. So that 8K is the building block for the industry moving forward.

Maliika: I know I mentioned that I love the new album. The track that sticks out to me is Who Can You Call.

Protoje: That is my favorite song on this record.

Maliika: That is interesting because a lot of artists say that do not have a favorite song on their albums.

Protoje: Who Can You Call was my favorite song writing the album. Now that it’s done I don’t really have a favorite.

I hurt my back badly, to the point where I couldn’t walk. I could not even put steps together for three days. My band was down in the country visiting me but I was in the bed. I would hear them in the living room, outside jamming, blazing the herb, or just chilling out, but I could not participate. They would come and visit me in the room but they would eventually leave and go back to living life. Now I’m not saying they should have done anything different, that’s just life. But after two days and feeling like my back wasn’t getting any better I said to myself, What if this was permanent? I watched the Marley documentary right before that. Bob has achieved everything I could dream of achieving and at the height of all of that he had to leave the earth in physical form and leave everything behind. I just reflected on this and its crazy how things connect in your mind. I was very sad when I watched that documentary and I do not think I will watch it again because I can’t manage it. It just hits too close.

Maliika: I watched that documentary many times but I only watched it to the end a few times.

Protoje: You can’t watch it to the end. For instance Blow is one of my favorite films and every time it gets to the part where he has to go pick up his daughter I can’t watch because it cuts me up. So reflecting on the documentary, and the stack of books behind me, I said how much they sell Jesus for again and I knew it was 30. Then I thought about Joseph and knew he was sold out for 20. So in my mind I pictured 30 and 20. I said to myself this was the theme so I just started writing. Even in the second verse you hear me talk about,
“Still I admit I get caught up in the game, saw the legends do it so naturally I did the same. So rolling around the city and Ms. Jamaica did a Whitney”, so I joined the parallel of Bob doing the exact same thing and it doesn’t really matter. So taking all the things I have done, all of the successes and saying to myself, what really matters? That is a question I asked myself. That is a song I really wrote to myself to remind me what was really important.

Maliika: Now herb is legal for Rasta’s in Jamaica.

Protoje: No it is decriminalized, that is a big difference. This decriminalization is very confusing in Jamaica right now because some police don’t understand the rules. It’s obvious that herb should be legal now but it’s not going to be free in Jamaica until they can fully capitalize off it and all of the people on the farms fighting for the progress of marijuana, they’re going to be excluded. That’s the only reason marijuana hasn’t been legalized because they haven’t figured out how to monetize it.

For instance in St. Elizabeth some farmers are dealing with a rampage right now. They are cutting down some of their fields. That is what they are doing, trying to get the little guys out of it, so the government and corporations can make all the money off of it. It’s going to be this big corporate, money making thing. It’s still going to oppress the people that really have been putting the work in with regards to legalizing the herb.

There may be some that don’t agree with this but I don’t believe that herb should be decriminalized for just Rasta’s. So Rastafari can smoke herb but others can’t. That’s separation. I don’t support that. How are they going to define who is a Rasta and who isn’t? So are they defining Rasta’s by if he has loc’s? So if he has loc’s he’s a Rasta? You’re giving yourself another problem when you start separating those who can from those who can’t. Herb should be legal for everybody, not just decriminalized for one segment of people.

Maliika: I asked a few other artists about the prospect of the legalization of herb in Jamaica and some felt Jamaica was slow and could have been a leader in the world, but once again they are behind.

Protoje: I understand that but people need to realize that Jamaica can’t just do that. They need pressure from other countries like the United States because they need sanctions. They need the U.S. to be okay with legalization because they are not going to upset the U.S. That is how Jamaica works. We used to be colonized by England and now we’re kind of run by the U.S. Jamaica cannot just decide when to make it legal.

Remember the U.S. Government came inside our land, killed off a lot of people, and demanded we turn over a drug lord. We didn’t make that decision. We don’t govern ourselves, it’s all a facade. It’s limited independence in Jamaica.

Protoje Ancient Future

Maliika: I see the Reggae Revival movement as resurgence, not a revival because reggae music will never die, it will always be with us. How do you see the Reggae Revival movement?

Protoje: If you say reggae resurgence or reggae renaissance then people would be saying why aren’t you calling this movement reggae revival.

I was there when Dutty Bookman came up with this term. He actually said a Revival not just a Reggae Revival. He said he was doing some research on the Harlem Renaissance and found tons of information on this period. He felt it was very important that you can just type in a term and get all the history of that movement and period in time. There was something happening in Jamaica but without a term international media would have nothing to zone in on. It would just be something is happening; a movement, but it would not have a specific name. He felt like if the movement had a name then it would draw more attention to it. The last six interviews I did asked me about the reggae revival. All of those articles are going to print the words reggae revival, even though some may not agree with the term. To revive something doesn’t mean it’s dead because you can’t revive something that’s dead. To revive something is just to bring back energy, that was his thinking around the whole thing.

Maliika: One of my favorite artists is also one of yours and that artist is Buju Banton. Is there a particular release that brought him to your attention? The album that made me a fan of his work was Til Shiloh, and then I proceeded to listen to collected body of work.

Protoje: For me his early dancehall, from the first time I heard him flow. He was the first dancehall artist that made me go what is this? When I heard Deportee I said this dude is crazy. I listened to all of his lyrics. When he left dancehall, and went to reggae, I was disappointed because he was my favorite dancehall artist. Til Shiloh was played from the time time I got on the bus to school and all the way back home. Everybody listened to that album. Buju’s music brought me to modern reggae of that time. Til Shiloh for me is the album I always tried to match myself up to. The albums I try to match myself up to are Til Shiloh, Welcome to Jamrock by Damian Marley, and Da Real Thing by Sizzla Kalonji. Those three albums are always my Mt. Rushmore. My aim is to always do an album that can be up on that mountain. Those are the standards for my generation. Buju’s Til Shiloh was the first album for me that was the most complete from start to finish.

Maliika: What message do you want people to hear when they listen to Ancient Future?

Protoje: It’s irrelevant for me to answer what I want people to hear because that is like an artist feeling like they can control the audience’s interpretation of the music. I can’t do that. That’s like dictating to everyone that listens to the album what they should be hearing. Everyone that listens to the album is going to have their own experience. That is why I don’t say my mission on this album, etc. No this is a letter to myself because everyone who hears the album will get their own message from the music. My main thing in my music right now is empathy for each other. Maybe you hear something on the record that you connect with. My gift is to inspire others thru the music. It’s for people to get what they want from it.

Maliika: I am looking forward to your first live show in NYC. My only experience seeing you perform was in Miami, November 2014.

Protoje: That was a good show. Each show is important to me because I remember watching a Michael Jordan interview and he was asked about his intensity in every game. His response was he plays 82 games a season and at each game there will be someone in the stands that will only see him play that game. So he wants to make a good first impression and a good last impression. For him it could be a game 3 of having back to back games but for that person in the stands it could be the only time they will see him play. I always remember that he said that and I always bring 100% to my shows because you never know how it can impact someone else or if they will ever see you again.

By Maliika Walker

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