New York based hip-hop musician Notar first gained attention from an unlikely source: The Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz. Duritz became so impressed with Notar’s style and combination of hip-hop, rock, and metal that he eventually signed the rapper to his own Tyrannosaurus Records label. His first 5 track EP was released in 2010, and this year sees the release of his first full length album, Devil’s Playground, which also features Duritz and Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba. This past summer, Notar joined The Counting Crows on their “Traveling Circus and Medicine Show Tour”.
Devil’s Playground finds Notar meshing metal, hip-hop, and even has one song driven by an orchestra. For more information on Devil’s Playground check out Notar’s web-site.
Your demo was passed onto the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz – someone normally associated with hip-hop. What was your reaction to his enthusiasm?
Well I would associate Adam with great music and that’s what I want to continue to make to the best of my ability. I truly don’t believe in genres anymore. I really don’t. As far as my reaction to Adam’s enthusiasm I was nervous at first but prepared and ready to do damage with him. He is a genius and not only that but over time has become one of the best friends I have ever had. I’m his little brother in real life and in the music world. I’m blessed to have a guy like that in my corner truly.
You also recently toured with Counting Crows. Did you feel that you had to win the crowd over? Or were they digging it from the start?
I felt I had to go out there and give it one hundred percent. Which I did every single show. I thought that if I did that the rest would take care of itself. I believe it did. I learned a lot on that tour and I hope I taught something to people as well. All in all it was the best time of my life other than being away from a very special someone in my life.
“Devil’s Playground” is pretty eclectic for a hip-hop record. There’s raw rap, the metal assault of “Matador”, and the synth-pop of “Reach”. Do you find it hard to juggle all these different sounds and ideas?
Funny you said juggle because at times on tour I felt like the clown in the circus. Again though seriously I don’t believe in genres great music is great music. I want to do it all. I want to explore and grow. I’m currently in the studio doing some electronica type stuff with an amazing production team Volt’s United. I am blending heavy rock, electronica, hip hop, dance, whatever…. I want it all.
You’ve mentioned Chuck D as one of your major influences and have gone on record as stating that as hip-hop grew bigger it lost some of its honesty and rawness. Do you think that you feel that in your music?
I don’t totally think it’s lost its rawness and honesty because you still have so many talented artists out there. I would just like more people to be able to hear them. I have so many influences and people I admire but all I can do is be honest and do me.
“Alcoholic” seems to be one of the most brutally honest songs about the complex issues surrounding alcoholism. Was that based on a real experience? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t drink everyday. It’s my fuel in a way. I’m like the drunken master or at least that’s what my boys tell me. It’s definitely based off real life and during the recording of that song I think Mgeezy and myself drank about 24 beers between us. Hence “when I’m up in the place 24 up to my face guess I’m like a detective who is working hard on a case”. It’s just the way I live my life.
Hip-hop albums seem to be loaded with guest-rappers. “Devil’s Playground” has guest-spots from Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba and Adam Duritz. Were those collaborations your idea or theirs?
Well, I only have one guest “rapper” on my album. That being Young Cash my twin brother who I can’t wait to be released in from jail in about 45 days! As far as the other collaboration, those were the collaborations that made the most sense. Chris was the best person to fit on “Reach” (his range, and heart felt delivery works perfectly) and Adam on “Stranger” well, lets just say it works. Adam was my idea and Adam’s and Chris was Adam’s idea.
“Seasons Change” reminds me of the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” (in the sense that it’s mostly driven by a string section). What’s the story behind the track?
The fact even one of my songs on my debut album reminds you of something the Beatles have done is certainly humbling to say the least. The subject matter is me explaining the trials and tribulations that come with any relationship. It was me trying to hold on to a relationship for all the wrong reasons at the time. I was in love with a thought and not the person any more. I explain this through the seasons changing. The lyrics if you listen closely are some of the most powerful on the record. On the musical side I have about 3 different versions of this song but we (Ken Lewis & Myself) decided to go with this one because of its ability to really paint a picture of what the lyrics are describing. Its a song I hold very close to me and I think the strings mixed with the lyrics set the vibe to do exactly what we wanted them to. I credit Ken Lewis a lot for really guiding me with this song. I played him a version I had recorded (demo) and he fell in love with the song. His eyes lit up and I knew right then I had to do this song with him. He to this day is the only one in my camp that understands it. He did an amazing job.
“Devil’s Playground” is a reference to your life in New York and how you’ve overcome certain temptations and kept on creating. Tell me a little a bit about your experiences and how it inspired your writing.
I’ve been through a lot over the past couple years. A whole lot. From fake friends, hate, drugs, death etc. It’s been a very bumpy ride to say the least but life is what inspires me. I am not the first one to say that pain and heartache make for great songs but some of my best material has come from me being in the pits of this world and particularly my own life. I have carried such baggage in my life and still do to this day. This album allowed me to let some of it out and express how I have truly been feeling. In the last two years alone I have lost 3 friends to suicide. We are fighting like 5 wars, people are broke, hungry, and confused. I want to be a voice through all of that. I don’t want to give up. I want to stay driven even if I am locked up in the Devil’s Playground.