Prote-J has been deemed hip-hop’s next big thing and LIAMA ABAIJAH catches up with the 21-year-old to talk about music, PNG and Good Hip Hop Meets Radio
IT’S official! Papua New Guinea has hit the big time and no, it’s not another new gas project.
This time, it’s Prote-J.
The Milne Bay-US lad has now reached the ultimate for any young up and coming star, his debut album release.
Good Hip Hop Meets Radio was officially released online on Tuesday (Feb 23) on his website www.Prote-J.com and The National decided to catch up with the 21-year-old for part two of our exclusive with the young rapper and find out how everything was going.
Described as an album with “great beats, catchy hooks and clever lyrics”, Prote-J, better known as Jayhugh Smith (or Jay) to his friends and family, was more than excited about the release.
“It’s a huge relief to finally be able to let people hear my music.
“I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of it,” he said.
From his humble beginnings in a church band in Alotau, Milne Bay province, being a simple guy with a huge load of talent and a whit for catchy lyrics, Prote-J has never forgotten his roots or the fact that it all started here.
You could, in a sense, say that Prote-J has joined the ranks of local artists such as O-Shen (Jason Hershey) George Telek and Patti Potts Doi who have all made Papua New Guinea proud by bringing our music or promoting PNG through their music to the outside world.
“I mention PNG a couple of times on the album, because I’m very proud that I grew up there and I want people to know where I’m from,” he said proudly.
“In the future, I plan on incorporating some of PNG’s original sounds into my music…I’m definitely a PNG mangi.”
He added that the idea of collaborating with local artists wasn’t too far from his mind either.
“Why not? PNG has a lot of talented musicians.
“I was lucky enough to grow up in a church that was (and still is) filled with excellent guitarists, drummers, pianists, etc, and that’s how I got started in music,” he explained.
But album launching aside, it has been a long journey for Prote-J, and with the help and support of those closest to him, it’s been a road worth travelling.
“I’ve been working on this project for a long time…I’ve been blessed and God has really given me an awesome opportunity,” he explains and tributes his experiences and incredible support group to two women; mum and granny.
“I have an amazing grandmother here in the States, Barbara Smith, who brought me over and encouraged me to be all I can be. She has opened up so many doors for me and I can never repay her for all she has done for me.”
“My mum is my biggest inspiration and she’s also my biggest fan. She still calls me from time to time and quoting lyrics from my songs. I think it’s hilarious but I’m thankful to have a mother who believes in my talent 100%. She’s completely behind me as I pursue my dreams.”
And being the mother of someone so talented yet so young, Eleina Butuna, Prote-J’s mum, wanted nothing more for her son than for him to go after his dream. But she knew one thing for sure: education came first.
“I told him to get his college degree first before his hip hop music interest,” she stated.
“Now that he’s achieved that, I am happy.
“So yes, he can pursue his musical interest if that is where his real interest lies, and of course, I will support him,” she said proudly, adding that Alotau and even their tiny villages of Bonarua and Savaia in Milne Bay were buzzing about the news after The National’s first piece on Prote-J (The Weekender, Dec 4, 2009).
It seems that Prote-J’s fan base just grew by a couple thousand.
So, we know that he has the skills, the support and now he’s got the album. But what is Good Hip Hop Meets Radio?
“There are a lot of artists that make good hip hop, but they often get overlooked because people in general don’t really listen to lyrics.
“Artists that usually appeal to the masses have either great production, catchy hooks (choruses), or some kind of gimmick (like a dance or something).
“If a song just ‘sounds good’ that’s enough for it to become a hit these days. It’s very rare that you see an artist who has great lyrics, and who’s actually saying something, be very successful commercially.
“The radio plays what people want to hear and generally speaking, people want to hear stuff that’s dumbed down (very simple).
“My album is simply about me being an artist that can make good hip hop, but also be successful commercially.
“I do this by making sure all my tracks have great beats, very catchy hooks, and verses with clever lyrics.
“I want people who just like songs that ‘sound good’ to like it, but also appeal to fans of ‘good hip hop’, who actually pay attention to what I have to say.”
And it looks like he’s got it under raps.
Prote-J had previously released several songs from the album online just to give people a taste of the record and I’ve had the pleasure of hearing just a few, (my favourite one so far would have to be Distance which features Chanelle Ray) and it seems that he has done just what he intended: to have songs that sound good with catchy lyrics, great beats and still have that hip hop feel.
“So far, the feedback on the music I have released has been all great, so hopefully once the album drops I’ll definitely be everyone’s new favourite rapper,” he said.
And now for the big question: will Good Hip Hop Meets Radio reach our shores?
“That’s the plan,” Prote-J said, adding that he and his team are trying to work with organisations and individuals who want to get the album across here.
“The album will be available free online but the problem is not many people have internet access over there.
“We’re trying to collaborate with promoters, distributors, DJays and whoever wants to help get tonnes of actual copies of the album over there.”
With the launch of the album, and in a place like the US, the list of possibilities are endless. But that doesn’t mean PNG is still in the grand scheme of things.
“One of my goals is to build a recording studio there (PNG) one day so artists can showcase the ‘PNG sound’ on a whole new level,” he said.
With the album out, I guess all we have to do is wait for his star to rise, and I’m sure that it will.
So with the support from family, friends and management, an ever-growing online following (all you have to do is Google him and you have complete access to all things Prote-J), his business administration degree tucked in his back pocket (that will surely come in handy), a huge amount of talent and a wonderfully bright future, the world is Prote-J’s oyster.
He may hope to be everyone’s favourite rapper, but there’s no doubt that Papua New Guinea will definitely be Prote-J’s favourite supporter and home to his biggest fans.
*NOTE: If anyone wants to help get Prote-J’s music and album out here and help distribute copies of Good Hip Hop Meets Radio, contact Ben Witherspoon (Prote-J’s manager) at [email protected]. To listen to Prote-J’s album online go to www.Prote-J.com