Notch: Cross Colors

  When the now defunct Born Jamericans swam the mainstream in the mid ‘90s, it was the breezy melodies of Notch that lingered in the ears of Hip-Hop and reggae fans alike. Known for hits like “Boom Shak-a-Tack,” “Send My Love” and “Yardcore,” Born Jamericans were kids from foreign that added a twist to reggae/dancehall […]

Win A $75 Giftcard To Footlocker


When the now defunct Born Jamericans swam the mainstream in the mid ‘90s, it was the breezy melodies of Notch that lingered in the ears of Hip-Hop and reggae fans alike. Known for hits like “Boom Shak-a-Tack,” “Send My Love” and “Yardcore,” Born Jamericans were kids from foreign that added a twist to reggae/dancehall on American soil. The duo parted ways in ’98 but left a permanent mark in music. Now, Notch returns with his solo debut Raised By the People, a very different look into his diverse heritage, with elements of his Cuban, Puerto Rican, and of course, Jamaican roots. We caught up with Notch on his birthday. Feeling a little under the weather – because he was sick, not because he was another year older – Notch still managed to drop some science on the history of Jamaican meets Latin fusion. He explains his own background and the difficulties his former label Delicious Vinyl had in placing him post-Jamerican years. While the Latin community readily embraced the new Notch, he recalls his journey back into the spotlight – from underground dancehall in Jamaica, to joining the reggaeton movement in Puerto Rico. One thing is for certain; Notch possesses a voice that carries through any genre and any language, effortlessly. Alternatives: First off, what does “cheke leke pan keke” mean? Notch: Oh it means, “Everything is irie; everything is chillin’, everything is cool.” It’s actually Hondurian slang. When I was in Honduras one time, I heard someone say, “Cheke leke pan keke” and it reminded me of a slang that these Jamaican kids use in Brooklyn when they say “ke ke ke ke ke.” That’s like salutin’ somebody or sayin’ “pull it pull it.” AHHA: Is that like “rrra rrra rrra”? Notch: Exactly! AHHA: Well you have people shouting “cheke leke pan keke” everywhere. Notch: Everywhere I travel, I sociologically adapt to the slang and dialect of the different people that get into my music that I get into as far as what they have to offer, and I always try to make it mainstream or whatever. AHHA: Well it stuck, just like another phrase you popularized years back, which was “boom shak-a-tack” when you were in Born Jamericans. What happened with Born Jamericans? Notch: We broke up in like ’98. I think just maturity [broke up Born Jamericans]. We met like a creative ceiling, and we dealt with a lot of label pressures of them saying, “You guys can go further than what you are if you experiment more outside of your sound. You should sing more. You should sing more R&B; you should sing more of the pop side of your voice that you’re capable of doing that you keep on hiding or holding back on.” I think our success started to supercede our internal control. Like we had management and then we didn’t have management, and we still had a few singles out there, where there was still a demand for us to keep on touring and doing more stuff. But like so much stuff wasn’t administratively in order, that one thing started to supercede the other and it crumbled us. So we were like, “Let’s just throw in the towel and start all over.” And that’s kind of what happened. We broke up in ’98, I stayed in DC or Maryland, for like six months and then I moved to New York in ’99, and I’ve been in New York ever since. AHHA: What did you do when you moved to New York? Notch: When I went to New York, I ended up going to Jamaica for like three months and recorded a lot of hardcore dancehall records. I think when we were the Born Jamericans, we got perceived as a diluted or watered down version of Jamaica. We got a backlash with us being so commercially viable with our videos being on BET and being shown so much when that’s not really coming from Jamaica and our records’ [are] not sounding like traditional hardcore dancehall music. So I kind of wanted to know that I could meet the challenge of having tight dancehall records without the videos or label support and that people would embrace me without the visual marketing theatrics that most people are able to created stars out of. So I went down there and put it down. Actually, right before [Born Jamericans] broke up, I found a Tony Touch/Doo Wop/Diaz Brothers mixtape where they were going back and forth bilingual style and I decided to go into my childhood memories of me going to bilingual elementary school and all the words that I knew that were on the mixtape. My grandfather was Cuban and Jamaican. I heard him speak patois and speak Spanish back and forth, and my mother’s side of the family is Puerto Rican and Black. They always spoke English and Spanish. So I said, “Let me try this melodically.” I tried them out in Jamaica on a riddim called Outlaw Riddim called “Ay Que Bueno.” Somehow somebody brought me to Puerto Rico and asked me to remix my song and do a reggaeton remix before I even knew what reggaeton was about. So I got kind of thrown into the reggaeton world while taking care of my reggae/dancehall hardcore dreams. Here we are today a couple of years later with a deal and a new solo album in another direction, but still the same sound. AHHA: Wow. That’s crazy how that happened. Notch: Yeah I think it was an organic, natural transition that was bound to happen. Jamaicans migrate to Cuba, they migrate to Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, and wherever they migrate, they take on the sound of what is commonly known there. They come to America with the Kool Hercs, the Special Eds, the KRS-Ones, the Heavy D’s. I mean they end up doing some interpretation of it; their own music with a new flair. I think me having that background of me studying reggae and my father being a reggae bass player and me studying reggae for years since I was in my mother’s stomach until now. I’ve learned that reggae can be flipped so many different ways and reggae falls into so many different music forms. They borrow the best elements of other people’s music forms. So it was an easy transition for me. It was natural. It wasn’t like, “Yo my career is over with Born Jamericans, the dancehall thing ain’t takin’ off. Let me play up the me looking Spanish and let me get in the reggaeton scene.” AHHA: Did you look for another record deal? Notch: Actually, when we broke up, [Delicious Vinyl] kept me. They said, “You’ve gotta stay with us, and you’ve gotta give us your first solo album.” I kept giving them all this Spanish material, and they were like, “How do we go from marketing you from being Jamerican to now being Cubarican. Like we don’t see the connection.” They knew my family was Puerto Rican. They’d see my family when they showed up to my video shoots, but they never thought there was a connection. I always knew there was a connection. I grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. There’s not much of anything but Puerto Ricans and Black Americans. Everybody looking at themselves differently, but I’ve seen the similarities and have been able to use melodies to express the similarities and try to break down some of the barriers that people try to create for themselves when they limit themselves as just Puerto Rican, or Jamaican, or Black or whatever. I had confidence in it, but the label didn’t and they was like, “We’re gonna have to drop you if you keep submitting more Spanish songs.” I didn’t have Daddy Yankee or Tego or nobody out at that time for them to say, “Yeah let’s jump on this.” I was kind of like a lonely soldier doing it from like ’99 to 2003 before the whole Tegoton or Yankeeton kicked in, so I was on my own doing it and I stuck it out. That’s why I’m here right now in the situation I am in right now. AHHA: What’s interesting is how when artists from the era of Born Jamericans took a break from the spotlight and try to come back out now, they struggle with getting back on the radio. You came back out and went right into rotation on Latin radio. Notch: You know what? It’s funny…good thing that Spanish people love reggae music from Jamaica. They’re not so biased towards their own Spanish version of reggae that they only love reggaeton. They love good music; everybody loves good music, but they love reggae music. They loved the song I did on a dance riddim called The Buyout called “Nuttin No Go So” and they never made the connection that I was the same person who sang “Ay Que Bueno,” so them embracing that riddim gave me even more credibility with them embracing my reggaeton record. It was a good thing I got on dancehall riddims and I was low key, and nobody knew where I was and couldn’t pinpoint me or pigeonhole me according to a video or according to a look or saying he’s this or he’s that. They kind of just grew with me organically, and I think the DJ’s really got me back on the radio because it was something different, something new that they hadn’t really heard before. There’s always been Notches out there. Sometimes labels don’t have an easy time trying to market artists that are too multi-genred and use their voice differently with different vocal tones and different styles. Sometimes it’s a record company’s nightmare. Artists like myself, we get caught on as time goes by. I’m just glad that somewhere somehow people just naturally embraced me. Like Beenie Man got me on his album, Elephant Man got me on a remix that did well in Canada, Thievery Corporation, they have me on two of their records – “The Richest Man in Babylon” and “Amerimacka” that kept me in Europe…a lot of collabs. All those collabs helped to additionally brand me, and now I have the album Raised By the People where instead of me singing eight bars like an appeteazer, they get to hear the whole caboodle I’ve been holding back all these years. It’s still reggae, it’s still R&B, it’s still Hip-Hop, it’s still reggae roots, it’s like an extension of Jamericans. I just let go and opened up. I wasn’t as afraid to experiment on this project. I knew I had to please a lot of different people. With me having so many different backgrounds and me looking like I could fit anywhere, people considered me like, “Yo, you’re our guy. Why are you working with them? What about us?” So I had to work quadruple time on trying to make all different kinds of music, keeping everybody kinda…knowin’ I ain’t desert them. But who knows? No matter how much I try to please everybody, people just can’t please everybody. AHHA: How did you go about speaking “Spatoinglish”? Notch: I think the best way to explain it is it’s a dialect similar to speaking in Spanglish. First generation Spanish folks move here, they have kids, and carry the language with them over to America and they take on the native language. A lot of Jamaicans when they migrated to Cuba for work or Panama or Costa Rica, they took their patois with them but they spoke Spanish, and when they went back to speaking English, they spoke the broken dialect of like a patois. So it’s nothing that I created, it’s just something that’s probably been on the low and American hadn’t gotten hip to it yet and artists hadn’t used it yet. Pinchers used it in the early ‘90s on a song called “Bandelero.” Jamaica has a fascination with Western movies and with Mexicans, and anything dealing with Latin culture, Jamaicans latch onto it. Cuban radio bleeds into Jamaica, so a lot of Cuban music influences reggae music. [Spatoinglish] is something that’s always been there. Harry Belafonte tried it in on a song called “Matilda” where he did patois and Spanish. I’m just probably the fourth or fifth one to take it upon myself and express it my way from an American standpoint. AHHA: Where do you see reggaeton going? Notch: Reggae has been around for years, so anything that reggae touches or creates a spin-off music is gonna be around just as long. I think reggaeton is only going to be as important as America needs to target more Latin people. The more tight beats that come out of Puerto Rico that aren’t as monotonous and has more merengue in it, more bachata in it, more cumbia in it, more R&B in it, with that reggaeton treatment, they’re always gonna have girls move their pelvic area. The dancehalls need it and the DJs will always feel the need to play it.