Home / Features / Protoje’s Penetrating Perspective (The Interview)
Protoje performs at the Dub Club in Los Angeles | Courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper

Protoje’s Penetrating Perspective (The Interview)

Q: An article in the Gleaner in January titled “Weed sentence apology for artistes needed” called for the Jamaican government to take some action, some measure of reparations for artists like Bunny Wailer, Toots Hibbert, and so many other old school artists who actually spent time in prison – [and] had their careers and lives [upended and] interrupted – over herb charges. What are your thoughts about this? And as marijuana’s legal status continues to loosen in Jamaica, do you believe the government has an obligation, not only to issue apologies – to artists and other Jamaican citizens – but also to make sure all criminal records associated with marijuana are cleared up (an issue we’re also [contending with] here in the United States)?
Protoje: It’s crazy that in 2018 we’re still talking about clearing up criminal records of marijuana. It’s absurd. We should be way past that. There’s way more serious things we need to be concerned with than people being arrested and having criminal records for small amounts [of herb]; being caught with a spliff in an airport terminal because it’s in your pocket. It’s crazy.

Protoje performs at the Dub Club in Los Angeles | Courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper

Q: I want to move off of marijuana, but [before I do], I want to ask you one last important question about it. On August 20th, Rolling Stone published an article asking, “Now decriminalized, could Jamaica become destination for legal weed?” And just three days ago, the Gleaner announced: “Mobay gets its first medicinal herb house.” The Rolling Stone piece observed, however, that “due to financial incapacity, most Rastas aren’t in a position to fully participate in Jamaica’s budding cannabis industry.” As marijuana becomes more mainstream and accepted, does the Jamaican government have an obligation – based on [its history of] oppression [and subjugation] of Rastas [over herb] – to do something to make sure that [it is Rastas who] are first in line to benefit economically?
Protoje: In an ideal world, [they] will. But bro, at the end of the day, we’re living in a capitalist era. And capitalists will always win; the bigger money will always win right now and who comes and gives the government money will always win right now. Things are never done on the basis of people and what is morally correct. Things are mostly done on who brings the most money in. So, it’s a capitalist world. What else is going to happen apart from some people with enough money [who] can open up some real luxurious cannabis shops and whatever? And people can come and flock. And the prices will be hopping. The farmer in Saint Elizabeth and the farmer in Negril, they won’t be getting the same opportunity that these other people will get.


Q: Is one small step that they could take, giving [marijuana cultivation] licenses to Rastas for free?
Protoje: They could do something like that, but what constitutes a Rasta? Someone who has locks on their head? How do you decide that? I mean you can’t really decide that. You could make it easier for these people to get their license, to get licensed to distribute. You know, to set up in their towns. But to get a commercial license for a small farmer is very hard. So they can’t even enter the game.


Q: Turning back to “A Matter of Time,” as much or more than any album in recent memory, this new album [of yours] boldly and brashly tackles economic inequality, political corruption, the mistreatment of women, and more. Respect! In the song “Camera Show” you rhyme about men abusing their power to manipulate and intimidate women. And recently, on Twitter, you wrote that catcalls, threats of violence, and other verbal abuse of women and even young teens in Jamaica, is “embarrassing and disgraceful.” Do you think that because you’re surrounded by women like your sister, who tours with you, your mom [who is part of your management team], your personal assistant Jamila [Pinto], and being friends with powerful and conscious women like Jah9, in addition to [having] a young baby daughter, has given you more of a sensitivity to want to sing about those kinds of things?
Protoje: I just grew up with women. I grew up with my mom and my sister and my grandma, mostly. Two artists I signed [to my production company], Lila [Ike] and Sevana are women as well. It’s hard. It’s hard for women in the world. Man is an awful beast. You know what I mean?


Q: Is the problem accentuated in Jamaica for any reason?
Protoje: I’m from there, you know? Obviously I can – I see it more – but I’m sure it’s global, I don’t think the Jamaican man is any worse –


Q: Oh, in the United States, for sure –
Protoje: But I just think in Jamaica, the culture is different where a thirteen-year-old girl is walking on the road, a man is [whistling] at her, and you kinda of put it in her head that she’s like just for physical. It’s just a total breakdown. And then you know women in Jamaica in the workplace, it’s not like America where you say something [improper] to a woman [and] you can get into trouble. In Jamaica, there’s none of that going on. [Instead it’s,] “Yo baby, you look good. You sexy. Yo, wah gwaan?” You can get away with a lot of that stuff in Jamaica.

DJ Yaadcore performs at the Dub Club in Los Angeles | Courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper

Q: Jamaican scholar Ennis Barrington Edmonds, who has written several books on Rastafari, has observed: “In Jamaica, Rastafarian men are more likely than the average male to be actively involved in nurturing children.” Do you think that this is true based on your own observations and experience?
Protoje: At the end of the day, Rasta is the consciousness of Africa in the western world. I mean there’s so much stuff that Rastafari has said and been ridiculed for. When I was a little youth growing up and Rastaman talked about eating vegan and ital, people laughed. And dem scorn[ed]. And now vegan is a global thing, so much millions to be made off of it. When Rasta was saying herb is healing and has lots of medicinal purposes, people laugh dem to scorn (“Oh dutty-head Rasta, dem no know about nothing.”). There’s so much stuff that has been touched with the consciousness that Rastafari has – I have learned so much. And it’s [the] same thing when you hear about “community living” and “it takes a village to raise a child.” And all these things. Of course, you know, it’s set up that way. But I definitely think there’s some truth to that.


Q: On [your song] “Blood Money” which became a world-famous hit almost as soon as you released it last year – and which is included as the second track on your new album – you sing very frankly about political corruption in Jamaica. Ironically, at a reception celebrating the power of music and culture in July, Jamaica’s prime minister said: “[B]ecause Jamaica is going through a particularly difficult time with crime and violence,” he is “calling up the cultural icons and ambassadors who use music as a means of edifying the people, a means uplifting the people – that we need to do more with our music.” What is your reaction to the prime minister’s call for Jamaican artists to do more with music to help curb crime and violence?
Protoje: It’s a good initiative, but at the end of the day you can’t ask artists who are not about a certain life to sing about a certain life. If you don’t sit down in the day and think about [or] have social awareness, how are you going to sing about it? It won’t be real. And not every artist is on that. You can’t ask people that’s not on that to be on that. And then, at the same time, the government can be doing way more for local music. And local artists. If I go home and I have my CDs, they’re charging me duty. And I am an ambassador for Jamaica. And I am not treated as such a lot of times. So when [the government] says, “Oh, you need to do this, you need to do that,” what are you doing to help us to do these things? What places are you giving us to perform? Where are you giving us free venues to perform? Where [are] you giving us [assistance] to bring down our keyboards, our equipment, and all of these things? What are you doing to help us to help you? So I just sing about what I sing about because I’m inspired to do that. But you can’t ask artists that are not about that life to be about that life.


Q: In an article for Bashy magazine, Sharine Taylor wrote that several months after “Blood Money” was released, “the song was co-opted to assist the political platform of the PNP during one of their conferences.” Now throughout Jamaican history both the main political parties in Jamaica, the JLP and the PNP, have, at various times, sought to exploit Rastafari and reggae music for political gain. But does it anger you to think that some of the very same corrupt politicians you refer to in “Blood Money” might be riding around in their cars in Jamaica pumping the song without shame? Even using your music for political gain?
Protoje:  You know what? I’m just in reality. I know that if I put a song out there, it’s no longer my song. The song belongs to anybody after that. They can do whatever they want to do with it. I can fuss or I can do whatever, it doesn’t make no difference. You know we all – there’s nobody perfect, there’s nobody without sin. There’s nobody that I think without wrong. Different people have different ways that they have done people wrong. I have done people wrong and I’m sure you have. I’m sure everybody has. It’s hard to judge people. And being a politician is hard. It’s a selfless job that you do and you never get any credit for it, you understand? So I don’t want to make it seem it is easy to jump on politicians. That song “Blood Money” was talking about politicians, but it was also talking about just everyday people because it was talking about me. Because I drive around Kingston and I see the pain. And I see the suffering. I see all these things happening. And then I drive all the way to my house, press my automatic gate, drive in, go in, go and chill with my family. And then I go back to my regular life. It will hurt me for awhile, and I sing about it, and we try to do stuff, but we all go along with our lives, right? For the most part. So the key line [in] that song is: “if what you see no really faze you, then you are the problem that we face, too.” It was more [directed] to the people that see all of this happening and then just continue with their lives.


Q: Thank you. Now when you [were interviewed by] Beats 1 [and] Hot 97 [host] Ebro Darden this summer, you said that the first song on the new album, “Flames” with Chronixx, is about “put[ting] the whole establishment on fire.” Now I know Rastas like yourself have an inherent distrust of politics – often referring to it as “politricks.” [Nevertheless,] I wondered if you personally hold out hope that there may yet come a “fresh,” young politician, [one] who could properly lead Jamaica, and help the people have better lives.
Protoje: I just think absolute power corrupts people. So even people with good intentions when you go and get that power, it’s really difficult.


Q: There’s a line in your song “Flames” where you sing: “But, where the one dem who nah compromise/Start talk truth so dem waan come fi I.” To me that was a line suggesting you were hopeful in a way that there could be someone who could come like that.
Protoje: I mean there’s a guy now called Floyd Green.


Q: Yes! He’s a minister in St. Elizabeth [in Jamaica]?
Protoje: Yeah. We went to high school together. From he was ten years old I knew he was special. I wasn’t doing great in class. And he came to me, and pulled me to the side, and told me that I have better potential than this. And I need to stay with the right crowd. And I need to focus more. I need to work to my potential because I can be great. And he was like eleven years old. I’m like: who does that at that age? And I told him at like about fifteen years old, “you’re going to be prime minister of Jamaica one day.” And he said, “I’ll never do politics.” And when he became a minister, I said, “Yo, remember I told you you’re going to be prime minister?” And he laughed. But he’s a really genuine person. He really cares about people; that I know for sure. And he’s a charismatic leader. He reads a lot. He reads a lot about all types [of things]. So he knows all about Haile Selassie and he really studies him, in terms of being a leader. I really have hope he will be good for Jamaica. And I hope he maintains his honesty and compassion for people.


Q: Thank you for explaining your friendship with him because I’m sure a lot of people wanted to know [more about that]. Because he’s very supportive of you on Twitter –
Protoje: He’s very supportive.


Q: I see that. People see that. So, thank you [for explaining]. One last question about politics. On the tune “Camera Show,” you take a pretty explicit shot at President Donald Trump – both about his use of Twitter and his campaign slogan (“Make America Great Again.”). Did anyone involved in producing the album ever try and dissuade you from including this criticism of Trump, because it could narrow the audience who might buy the record?
Protoje: No. Nobody really. At the end of the day bro, if I lose somebody who doesn’t want to listen to my music because I said something about Trump, then I mean, like, good riddance. (Laughing).

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