When the duo disbanded in 1998, Notch delved further into his multiethnic heritage and began highlighting his Latin roots within his music. Born Norman Howell to a Jamaican father who is part Cuban and a Black American-Puerto Rican mother, Notch learned Jamaican patois from his father and Spanish from his Cuban grandfather while on his mother’s side of the family, he was exposed to “the Puerto Rican way of speaking Spanish” as well as the latest African American slang.
Notch’s multicultural background contributes to the diversity that characterizes his first solo album “Raised by the People”, a joint venture between Notch’s label, Cinqo Por Cinqo, and Universal’s Machete Music, the home of several successful Latin and reggaeton artists including Don Omar, Hector El Bambino and hit making production duo Luney Tunes. “Musically, I am trying to connect the people of the African Diaspora who have been colonized by different languages,” explains Notch. “Latin music sounds similar to the music from neighboring (English speaking) Caribbean islands: poco drumming from Jamaica is the same as the timbale sound that comes from the African influence in Latin culture. So here am I, an African American, fusing influences from the (Latin) Fania label of the 60s-70s with Jamaica’s Studio One label (which launched the careers of many reggae artists including Bob Marley) showing that they were simultaneously creating similar sounds without knowing each other. What I am doing may get looked upon as watered down reggae or watered down Latin music but I am exposing what they took from one another and showing the beauty of it.”
Notch’s interest in emphasizing his Spanish roots was sparked by a mixtape by premier Latin deejays/emcees Tony Touch and Doo Wop whose raps alternated between Spanish and English; Notch took their bilingual approach a step further by intersecting Spanish, English and Jamaican patois lyrics. His trilingual hybrid, which he has labeled “Spatoinglish”, furthers the achievements of some of his favorite artists including Jamaican singer Pinchers (who became a dancehall sensation with his Spanish flavored hit “Bandolero”), Jamaican producers Sly and Robbie who fused reggae with Latin rhythms for their sizzling La Trenggae sound and especially Harry Belafonte, the American born crooner whose 1956 album “Calypso” sold one million copies and helped pave the way for the crossover success currently enjoyed by many Caribbean artists. “Belafonte sang Jamaican folk songs along with R&B, calypso, gospel, Jewish and Hispanic songs and he could sound like any genre he was performing,” says Notch. “Some Jamaicans thought he diluted their music yet he created some of the most popular Caribbean songs played on mainstream radio at a time when white America wasn’t too tolerant of different musical styles.”
As a solo artist, Notch has earned several hits that reflect his wide-ranging musical tastes. He has remained a force in reggae with the dancehall boom shots “Nuttin Nuh Go So” on Jamaican producer Tony Kelly’s Buy Out Riddim and “V.I.P. (Get Back)” on the popular Kopa riddim, produced by Supa Dups of Miami’s Black Chiney collective; he sang lead on acid jazz group Thievery Corporation’s “Richest Man in Babylon” (which debuted at number 111 on the Billboard Top 200 chart) has collaborated with The Brand New Heavies on their Brazilian-Portuguese flavored tune “Carnival”, sang with alternative-ska rockers Sublime on their hit “Open Road” and lent his talents to dancehall icon Beenie Man’s “Pure Pretty Gal”. Notch joined forces with reggaeton star Voltio on the smash hit “Chevere”, worked with the multi platinum selling Daddy Yankee on the Latin Hip Hop track “San Pedro” and hit just the right notes alongside Colombian group Cyclon on the tropical hit “Estoy Pegao, produced by six time Latin Grammy Award Winner Sergio George a.k.a. Sir George. Notch also recorded one of the first reggaeton songs heard on mainstream radio “Hay Que Bueno”. Originally recorded on a dancehall riddim, “Hay Que Bueno” was remixed by DJ Blass, it exploded on Puerto Rico’s airwaves and then earned steady rotation on all major Spanish radio stations across the United States.
“Hay Que Bueno” leads off Notch’s debut solo effort “Raised By The People”. Various Latin and Caribbean genres including dancehall and roots reggae, merengue and bachata from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rican reggaeton, and cumbia from Colombia’s northeastern Caribbean coast are neatly interwoven, supporting Notch’s melodious vocals, which are delivered in English, Spanish and “Spatoinglish”.
Gentle strands of Spanish guitar color the reflective “Mano Y Mano” (produced by Supa Dups) contrasting the tough edged reggaeton beat of “Dale Pa Tra” and the rapid paced, irresistible merengue-reggae fusion of “Que Te Pica”. Notch displays his credibility adopting a wide range of personas: he is the tough rude boy on “No Problema”, the forlorn romantic crooner on “Rosa” and a sophisticated traveling man in search of a plant that is popular in Mexico and Jamaica on the Spanish flavored one-drop reggae tune “Jah Mexi Cali”.
Notch is hoping that his audacious blend of Latin and Anglo Caribbean musical styles will tear down cultural barriers, just like the artist who has had the most profound influence on his career. “Bob Marley proved that music unites people,” Notch observes. “Raised By The People” is the first album to try and mix all these things up and I am hoping the catchiness in the music will break down some walls. Sometimes Spanish format radio doesn’t tolerate that much English and I don’t know if (English speaking) Caribbean radio is going to latch on to all the reggae songs that are partially sung in Spanish but I want to show people that all of this is related and I am honoring the beauty I see in all cultures.”