Jamaican singer-songwriter Protoje attributes his unique sound — a hip-hop/reggae fusion — to hip-hop’s “flow and patterns,” which influenced his music taste at a young age. In the latest installment of Rolling Stone’s “The First Time,” he cites Kanye West and producer Just Blaze as inspirations for his distinct style after 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.”
On the topic of inspirations, he highlights Damian Marley’s 2005 album Welcome to Jamrock for providing the confidence he needed to realize 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.”
Protoje wrote his first song at 13 years old while participating in “sound clashes” in Jamaica. He developed his songwriting skills through these experiences. “I started to rewrite popular artists’ songs to counteract what other people were singing.” He defines sound clashes: “[They’re] more energetic than rap battles in America, it’s more like you’re performing against somebody.”
While he had practice performing in sound clashes, his first time officially performing onstage didn’t go as planned due to technical difficulties. “When I started to sing, the mic cut off.” He stood onstage for over two minutes — an eternity, as he recalls — waiting for the music to come back on before he started over. “Two minutes just standing up there, like, watching people watch me was … something.”
Protoje is currently on tour this summer. He’ll kick off a North American leg on July 31st in Philadelphia, wrapping up in New Jersey’s Asbury Park on August 4th. He’ll play a four-date stint in Europe before returning to the States.