Writing about music and new artists to watch for tends to be challenging at times. As a reporter you want to sound interesting so that “this artist is great” doesn’t become your tag line. But how do you write about a “new” artist who has spent years in the music industry, already forged his own fame in a group and has worked with the movers and shakers of the Latin music world?
I first heard of Notch by word of mouth after he did a performance in New England. “This guy is hot,” is what I heard, and apparently I should have heard it sooner. When researching for a press contact for the singer, who mixes Jamaican, hip-hop and Latin beats, I was greeted by Fan sites, YouTube videos, MTV profiles and an artist album pre-sale website.
The question: How did I miss out on this? Thankfully, here are the answers so you don’t have to.
The former lead vocalist for the hip-hop/reggae duo Born Jamericans, Notch joined the music scene in the 90s. The Hartford native’s racial background is a combination of African American, Cuban and Jamaican.‚
Always interested in music, he grew up listening to Bob Marley in a largely Latino community. As a boy, he learned the Jamaican dialect Patois, was immersed in Spanish and created his own little dialect (Spatoinglish) as a result.‚
“I got influenced by all the dancing, the dialects, the people. I just expressed myself by mimicking what I saw and sharing when it was needed the most, to entertain or to liven the day,” he said in a recent interview. “I learned to appreciate the beauty of a melody or the pain, and I created fusion words.’
His early success with Born Jamericans allowed him to fuse words with the passion of music to create a tool to connect to people.
Known then as Mr. Notch, Born Jamericans singles like “Boom Shak-a-Tak” and “Send My Love” introduced the artist as sultry, smooth-singing counterpart to his partner, Edley Shine, and his rugged rhymes.
For five years the duo grew popular and achieved international notoriety by offering dancehall music to American urban radio.
But with fame came commercialization. With more use of hip-hop and R&B, dancehall diehards began to turn on the duo as they became more mainstream and the group dismantled in 1998.
Notch decided to go solo, tap more into his Latin roots and make unique music.
In 2000 he jetted to Jamaica to record authentic dancehall and reggae. By listening to other bilingual artists, he experimented with his dialect and recorded Hay Que Bueno, a hip-hop/reggaeton song that is perfect for dancing. The multilingual hit became popular on both Latin-based and reggae mediums. With the success the singer moved to Puerto Rico and started to work with reggaeton producers.
The single started playing on Latin radio stations too and found its place on the Billboard Latin charts.
Shortly after, Notch was featured in the albums of Daddy Yankee, Luny Tunes, Beenie Man and even ska rockers Sublime and Thievery Corporation. The success lingered.‚
“A lot of Hispanics love reggae music and they sing along to it many times not understanding the words well or they decipher what is being said, but it gives them a chance to poke into their curiosity and learn about the reggae language and maybe their own language.” Notch explained. “I’ve come along and offered more of a window for people to procure their curiosity.”
Curiosity that can form bonds amongst people.‚
“We all got dropped in the western hemisphere and got shuffled as dominoes, but anyway I can find words that are close to the roots of our native people and use them I try to do just to show our historical commonality,” Notch said.‚ “It puts more soul to the melody … and it’s helping Jamaicans learn Spanish too,” he added with a laugh.
In 2007 Notch released his first solo album, Raised by the People, making it on Billboard’s 14th Best Selling Reggae albums and 9th Top‚ Reggae Artist of 2007. The single “Dale “ËœPa Tra” (Back It Up) made Top 100 in Latin charts and Top 5 in Reggae charts as well. The production is a mix of merengue, cumbia and bachata in addition to urban-pop and hip-hop to his interchanging medley of reggaeton and dancehall. Songs like “Que Te Pica” and “Rosalinda” are as playable as the single and although not easily understandable to English speakers, still addictive.
“I’m making headway now, but it’s been really hard doing what I’m doing and I’m not playing clean or fair. I am able to cheat by bringing out the karate side of me and show all the things I can offer, but at end of day I believe music is the universal language,” he said. “I know melody is internal and can cross any lines. Anyone needs a song to pump up with in the shower, on the way to work or just to bring back the spirit in their lives.”
The road has been somewhat long and less than perfect after he left Born Jamericans. As the singer says, though, the ability to record music he is proud of is worth crossing any red tape.
“With the group there was a lot of pressure from the label to make R&B present to get more airplay, to be more amicable instead of cultural and ethnic which was harder to sell. We were a group and we packaged the product so I strayed away from what the label wanted and showed them my art can be different and that as an artist I can show other pallets,” recalled the singer. “When I was going back [to Jamaica] and learned about war and drugs, teenage pregnancy and school dropouts I came out with songs like Rosalinda and other songs that had social commentary that I felt needed to express the message and show things form my cultural bag of tricks.”
As he continues to remake his image and grow as a solo artist, Notch has the advantage of knowing what is like to be at the top. He can survive in the music industry jungle and take it one day at a time as well. He says that all these years he’s been dropping hints of his return and now the pieces are connecting through the Internet, through his album, through his music connections and through fan support.‚
“I have more optimism and look forward to taking this industry by storm and getting people to sing my songs; but I have to take it day by day because I may be the most popular person now and later you may see me at the post office working!” he said. “The most important thing I aspire to is getting people to mumble my name, keep me in their minds, and its like getting a portrait of me in everyone’s house.”
Notch is debuting a new official website, where fans can order his album, preview new tracks and vote for their favorite songs.
The clean shaven and attractive, 30-something, also established his own music label. As he puts it, he has to deal with paying taxes and hiring personnel so he does not see the need to have his nose, “up in the air.”
“When people make a big deal about the dialect or the music or my business and ask me what I am like, one thing people keep forgetting is that I eat Italian food and French fries; I get my hair cut by Dominicans, play baseball with my Black friends and chill out with my Asian friends,” he said. “I’m like everyone, but I take time unwrapping my gift of mimicking the beauty of the people around me.”
Whether he continues being an underground sensation or becomes the next Daddy Yankee, one thing is clear. Notch is an artist who made it to the top and back and is still able to stay human. His music, like his personality, is energetic and magnetic.