Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Protoje On Evolving Reggae
The Jamaican singer and creative force reacts to his first nomination, the importance of honoring tradition by embracing change, and how reggae crowns connect him to musicians like Bob Marley and Black Uhuru
Protoje sounds urgent on A Matter of Time—fitting, of course, as the Jamaican star’s fourth album captures an artist carving a new space within the genre’s most persuasive tools: energy and elation. The album honors the genre’s deep-rooted traditions, but bursts forth into bold, bright territory, infusing pummeling hip-hop beats, sheets of orchestral jazz, and dancehall claps into transcendent party grooves.
Protoje’s intense connection to his country’s music comes in part from family, as the son of Calypso king Mike Ollivierre and chart-topping Jamaican vocalist Lorna Bennett. Just as important, though, is the way the music has brought Jamaica to the rest of the world: Protoje spent 2018 on the road, sharing reggae with festival crowds like Reading & Leeds and opening for Lauryn Hill in the United States.
But he isn’t an artist content to rest on his laurels—nor those of reggae as a genre. “I can evolve, and I leave myself free to do so,” he says, low-slung yet resolute. Whether traditions in fashion or music, the 37-year-old artist finds comfort and strength in constantly pushing the envelope.
Protoje spoke with the Recording Academy about his first GRAMMY nomination for Best Reggae Album, his hope for a conversation with Jay-Z, and how proud he is to help make reggae a bigger part of the world conversation.
What a way to start the year! This is your fourth record, and your first GRAMMY nomination for Best Reggae Album. Did you see awards as a goal when you first started out in your career?
Let me tell you, I thought that my third album, Ancient Future, I thought that would have been nominated because it was groundbreaking when it came out in terms of modern reggae music. Winning a GRAMMY was definitely a goal when I started out. It's in the back of your mind always, you know, maybe one day I'll get that GRAMMY award, I'll be nominated. So I guess I thought about it but I was not obsessing on it. So much has happened since Ancient Future. It was very influential. When it came out we had the biggest song in reggae of like this decade. When I didn't get nominated, I took my mind off the GRAMMYs. I didn't expect to get nominated on my fourth because I thought the third was the sure thing. That's how it goes sometimes. It just works out that way. I was delighted when I heard that this [A Matter of Time] was nominated. Things happen and when it's your time. You don't have to worry about anything. Take your time and see what happens.
That's an amazing way to see things, and especially fitting considering the album is called A Matter of Time. What was that instant feeling when you first heard about the nomination? How did you react?
My mom called and told me. We've been together a lot in my career, making progress. I just felt that my team, everybody was excited, and everybody works so hard for me. So it's great to let them get that vibe and feel proud about it. I just know that I appreciate my family a lot and how they have supported me. Not every family is supportive, you know; not every parent is supportive, and I'm grateful for the ones I have, and I'm happy to make them proud. In the Jamaican music scene, there’s a lot of people who are supportive of each other. Everybody tries to support and help each other. I really like where it's heading.
Beyond the feeling of the nomination, how are you feeling about attending the GRAMMY Awards? Do you have any idea what you're going to feel as the awards start getting given out?
For me, it's chill just to be there. I'm a very low-key, chill person. I'm not going to be overwhelmed or too excited. I'm not going to have too many expectations. I'll be there with some of my friends, the people on my team, and my family. I'm looking forward to seeing things I've never seen before—just seeing how things are done at this level. It's all just a learning experience for me.
Where did you get that low-key chill from? Is it from watching your parents in the industry?
When I was seven years old, I didn't want a birthday party. It's just my personality. I never wanted a party, I never wanted excitement. I didn't want to blow the candles out on the cake. I just wanted to chill out and be cool. I've just never been this excitable type of person. I'm just very grateful, you know? I just experience things and express myself differently. So I'm happy of course, but I don't feel any, "Oh my God, I'm going to the GRAMMYs" kind of thing. It's cool to be there and I'm just grateful to have been invited. I won't be asking everybody for selfies or anything like that. That said, I'd love to have a conversation with Jay-Z. I don't think he'll be there this year, but I would love to have a conversation.
When was the moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician, when you knew that this is the industry you wanted to pursue?
I was always obsessed with music, as early as I can remember. I think when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I first said maybe I could do this as a job, maybe I could do this so I don't have to work. I just loved being able to express myself, to spend time with myself, just thinking about ideas and writing. I didn't need company. It would just get my mind flowing. That was the main thing before anything else, just something to do with my time and not feel agitated, bored, or uninspired.
Speaking of being inspired, you recorded this album at the Tuff Gong Studios. Did knowing its legacy and its impact have any effect on your process?
That’s interesting. There's so much history, and it’s just a huge room. It's very spacious. It left me time to be alone. It's not one of the most popular studios in Jamaica today, it’s not where the industry goes. It's really private, I get to take my time, and that to me has an impact on how the music comes out. It's not rushed and not frantic.
While it’s clear that your latest record honors the traditions of reggae music, it’s also perhaps your most experimental work to date, blending genres and influences—a fusion. When you set out to record the album, did you have a specific goal or outline in mind?
I wanted to do things musically to push the genre further forward, to update it. Every genre of music grows and evolves, so reggae music should be no less evolved. I like to be at the forefront of change with my producer Winta James. He to me is one of the most innovative guys making music. So naturally it's going to sound innovative. We could have easily made another Ancient Future again. But I wanted to try to do things differently and move the thing forward. I don't worry about genres feeling too sacred. I have a commitment to myself and to those that listen to my music—or even those that don't. My job is to make the music, to make what I like and feels good to me, and then live with whatever happens after that. I don't feel pressure about the songs that I'm making.
It's just making the record the best way you can, taking the songs that are in your head and putting them down on record. That's it. It's not like I said, "Let me find a way to be different." We listened to certain types of music, we wanted to try new stuff, and incorporate influences from everything that we do. My mind naturally works like that, and if I do something, I don't want to spend the next two years doing the same thing all over again.
Your 2018 tour spanned the world and featured so many thrilling accomplishments—Reading and Leeds, opening for Lauryn Hill. And now 2019 keeps that tour going into new continents and new opportunities. What was it like to bring your music to so many different audiences?
Music has given me everything in my life—where I live, what I drive, what I eat. It has provided everything for me and my family. It's amazing to travel the world through music. To get to tour, to see people's reaction first-hand to the songs that you sing in your house, it's very humbling. I'm just very grateful, and again I must say that I am grateful to be able to be living my dream.
That said, performing in Jamaica is very important. Those are always my favorite shows. There's nothing like it. Those are the core fans. Those are the people who were there from the start. Those are people excited. You know, we get to invite the youth, people get to come out and celebrate the album. I know it's going to be crazy. The presales are going like crazy. I just must say, I am really thankful that I get the support here and people actually come out and share their vibes. Jamaican crowds chill out more. They're not as hyped as international audiences. They don't come out to party as much. Jamaica is very much profiling. They come out dressed super well—you know, too cool for school. They don't dance much.
What does it mean to be a Jamaican artist?
Jamaica is a very blessed place, very influential in world music. I can guarantee there's no comparison to any other place this small that has that much impact on world culture and world sound. For me, the music should be highlighted more, helped more, pushed more.
Your performance style is incredible—and I use style intentionally, because you always look so fashionable. Can you tell me about your fashion philosophy and your clothing line?
[laughs] Thank you! I think presentation has always been a thing I've been key on. I just do what I feel, and have an eye for what I like. My girl always tells me that. Sometimes I want to wear a shirt with shoes and pants that don't really go together. I always like to do what I feel comfortable with. I express myself through that. It all plays together, especially with this generation, which is so audio-visual.
Then how can fashion connect specifically to music? I know one big part of your fashion sense is the reggae crown.
Yes! The reggae crown, specifically, is an expression of culture, another way to identify and to stand out, to carry on the tradition. It's always been a thing in Jamaican fashion. You see it and you think of Bob Marley, Black Uhuru, and all of those guys. I grew up seeing it and thinking it was cool, and thought I was gonna rock it but do my thing a bit different now.
What drives you to bring people to your label, In.Digg.Nation? And then to bring their art to the world?
I always wanted to be in charge of a label and managing artists. That was that my goal for the second decade of my career, which starts on January 1st, 2020. I've always wanted to set up a place where young artists that are coming up can have a space to go and be creative and have a way to get their music out. So I have two artists now, Lila Ike and Sevana. They're doing well. I'm just trying to get that going, releasing more and producing more music. Just making the industry turn more reggae.
What’s next in your trajectory? Do you have plans for another album coming soon?
More music, more music, more music! This year. I'm just building my studio now, so more music than usual. I won't have to go and get studio time anymore. I don't have to wait. If I want to record three songs tonight at 3:30, I can go and do it. So that's going to make things happen a lot quicker.
As time has passed, my perspective changes with it. I don't have to stay to any understanding of what my path is. Times change, music changes, equipment changes, sound changes. You have to be able to move and adapt.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com
Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors
Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it
Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.
McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award.
The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.
"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."
With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.
Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.
Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards
Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category
The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.
Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville
Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.
Championships – Meek Mill
In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
i am > i was – 21 Savage
Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.
IGOR – Tyler, The Creator
The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.
The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae
Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.
Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images
Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour
El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances
Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.
El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.
"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.
Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork.
Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist.
Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images
Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West
Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium
Taylor Swift will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.
The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic. I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West! https://t.co/xw6YMN38WE pic.twitter.com/IhVPQ8DMUG— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) September 17, 2019
The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1
"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!"
Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17.