The Jamaican singer Protoje, who is intent on bringing the fervor of classic reggae to contemporary streamers, announced a new deal with RCA on Monday. The company will throw its weight behind Protoje’s label In.Digg.Nation, supporting the singer’s own music along with that of two other artists he has signed, Sevana and Lila Iké.
While these deals are common in the American market, they are a rarity for Jamaican acts. “I still get to run my own label, have a certain level of creative control, but have support from a major,” Protoje says. “This was always something I’ve wanted to do.”
Protoje is the latest Jamaican act to reach a deal with a major, part of a wave of pairings in the past 18 months: Roc Nation with Buju Banton; Interscope with the producer Rvssian and the singer Shenseea; Columbia U.K. with Koffee; Atlantic U.K. with Stalk Ashley. The signings are another indication that the largest record companies are gradually acknowledging that contemporary pop is more global than it has ever been, and that a hit from Kingston, Medellin, São Paolo, or Lagos might be every bit as potent as a track manufactured by committee in L.A.
“People are more open to new music, and a lot of what’s been pushed on the more popular playlists is starting to sound a little redundant,” says Archie Davis, CEO of Six Course Media Group and senior VP of marketing for RCA. (Protoje’s deal is with both Six Course and RCA). “We need to shake that up a little bit,” Davis continues. “There’s an opportunity similar to how reggaeton was niche for a while [for parts of the American market] and then took on this holistic pop approach, same with Afrobeats. I feel it’s that time for reggae.”
Protoje founded In.Digg.Nation in 2014. “I needed a way to get my music out,” he says, “and I thought the best thing was to try to build my own thing.” He signed Sevana in 2015 — “I heard her sing a cover of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ and I physically reacted. My body had lots of goose bumps” — and Iké two years later: “I’ve never heard anything like her style out of Jamaica,” he says.
Linking his operation with RCA provides two advantages. “It puts you in better position to get in certain rooms,” Protoje explains. “I just went and did a session with Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, and that was those guys who set it up.” In addition, the label deal “gives you an equal platform to get your songs out there” next to other acts who benefit from major-label marketing campaigns.
The first release under the new partnership between In.Digg.Nation, Six Course, and RCA will be Iké’s “I Spy” single on Thursday, followed by an EP in May. Sevana and Protoje also plan to release new music later, in the summer. In Jamaica, “I’ve heard three Lila records back to back to back on the radio, and then two Protoje records,” Davis says. “The excitement about this music just has to travel here.”