On his debut solo album, Raised by the People, Notch is a sonero. A songsmith. He’s confident, even boisterous. But the person sitting across from me during a recent lunch interview is humble. He might attribute his humility to his nomadic journey in music; from his days in the reggae duo Born Jamericans, to his later dancehall days to his latest venture: reggaeton. But, after only a few questions it becomes apparent that it’s not the journey, but the reason for that journey that has made him this way. His cultural identity is a jigsaw puzzle. From an early age he understood that he wasn’t just American. He’s Jamaican. He’s Puerto Rican. He’s Cuban. And his music symbolizes that identity. He’s been categorized as a reggaeton artist for Raised by the People, but he’s quick to reject the label. As well he should. Raised by the People flows from reggaeton to merengue to freestyle to R&B to reggae without the slightest friction. In “Ay Qué Bueno!,” “Dale Pá Trá” and “Guaya Guaya” he’s all reggaeton. “Qué te Pica” is a merengue reminiscent of Sandy & Papo – if not more danceable. Then there’s “Jah Mexi Cali,” a purist reggae beat as catchy as its lyrics are melancholic. To add to the album’s mercurial nature, he sings in what he calls Spatoinglish, a mixture of Spanish, Jamaican patois and English. While in Miami, Notch sat down with New Times to talk about his journey.
New Times: You’re part Jamaican, part Cuban, part Puerto Rican and your MySpace page says your mother is part Portuguese.
Notch: And part American Indian. It’s a colorful family tree.
Are you trying to find an identity in reggaeton?
Uh, not really. I think reggaeton is trying to find an identity in me. … I don’t speak the same subject matters that a lot of the Puerto Rican reggaeton artists do because I wasn’t born and raised in Puerto Rico. I’m not from the same pool of artists there that have had the same experiences.
Tell us about Spatoinglish.
It’s how you have Spanglish. The first generation Latinos move to America. … Patois, in Jamaica, is nothing more than the Queen’s English, mixed with the African dialect that was brought over. But broken, it’s a broken dialect of English but it has a lot of African influence in it. But it’s still English, it’s not too far off. If I was speaking Japanese or Portuguese and patois and Spanish, I’d be a lot more amazed at myself.
How hard was it to transition from the patois reggae to the Spanish reggaeton?
It was difficult trying to convince the label that I used to be a part of to transition from the Jamerican reggae/dancehall/hip hop to going to straight Latin fuse music. And I got kind of a fight. I got discouraged. It was like, “Yo, we’re not accepting these songs. We’re gonna drop you if you keep singing this Latin stuff.”
How long ago was this?
This was from ’98 to 2001. So I’ve been hammering away at this Latin direction long before the explosion. I didn’t really get a chance to ride the wave of reggaeton ‘cause I was doing it at a time when they weren’t rocking it. I’ve been fighting. A lot of people don’t know that. They think it’s easy for me to slide into it ‘cause I look Spanish. I sound Spanish on record. And the Spanish thing is what’s happening right now, so why not slide in and make a quick buck?
What do you say to these people who will think that is what you’re doing?
Check my discography.
How fluent are you in Spanish?
I always tell everybody I just know Newyorican. I know all the abuelita sayings. I understand it more than I speak it. When I speak it to a female, and there’s no other English speaking person around, she’ll be like, “Your Spanish is not bad at all.”
Is reggaeton a fad?
They said hip-hop was a fad. They said rock ‘n’ roll was a fad. Any new music that comes along that represents change, or the industry has to readjust to find a way to capitalize off it, there are always naysayers who feel threatened by it because they’re not a part of it yet and they don’t know a way to work it out so then it’s a fad. I think if reggaeton loses musical value, if not too many artists step up to the plate with catchy, transcendent melodies, that transcend the language, that transcend the culture barrier, and other people of other countries or nationalities don’t embrace it, it will stay permanent only amongst Latins, but will lose out on mainstream exposure.
When did the album come out?
It came out May 22. It came out very humbly without much prior promotion, without much prior buzz. With just a window where not much albums were coming out. “We waited long enough for you to deliver this album. We got a window, nobody’s gonna release that week. Even though the streets is not whet with all this promotion, lets get the first run in stores and lets start the process of trying to figure out how to make this album make sense to the public.” –Bryan Falla