Jamaican singer-songwriter Protoje sat down with Rolling Stone to talk about his unique sound – a unique fusion of hip hop and reggae – and first-time experiences, giving plenty of insight into the culture both past and present.
Watch: Proteje chats to Rolling Stone
Comparing his style to hip hop’s “flows and patterns”, Protoje explains his style came out of being inspired by producers like Kanye West and Just Blaze, and hearing them sample R&B and soul records in hip hop songs. “I was like, ‘Maybe I could sample old reggae or [Los] Rakas type of songs and give them an updated bop to it’ … that was about 2005.”
The 38-year-old artist also cites Damian Marley’s 2005 album Welcome to Jamrock as a landmark for both his own style and the wider reggae culture. The successful album, with a title track that went onto chart worldwide, gave Protoje the confidence he needed to realise that he was “on the right path” as a musician. “I heard that bass line and I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ It was a unique sound at the time, and it was just the start of a new era, I think.”
Sound clash culture began on the streets of Jamaica in the 1950s, best described as the reggae and dancehall version of rap battles, where different sound systems perform against each other.
It’s at Sound Clashes, as he tells it, that Protoje honed his song writing skills and channelled that into a successful career. “I started to rewrite popular artists’ songs to counteract what others were singing,” he describes, recalling his participation in sound clashes since the age of 13. “[They’re] more energetic than rap battles in America, it’s more like you’re performing against someone.”
Watch the full video above as Protoje goes on to retell his awkward first performance, the pressures of touring, and what it was like hearing his music on the radio for the first time.