Nottz NottzYou Need This Music
In close competition with Ski Beatz for the title of the most inspired and prolific producer of the year, Nottz has been anticipating his debut LP for months on Twitter, and appears here as beatmaker and also as MC. This is the main surprise in an old-fashioned debut: zero skits, no conceptual patina, cameos with criteria, a lot of sense, and a solid, coherent sound that is faithful to itself and doesn’t leave space even for the two inevitable singles that current American radio formula demands. “You Need this Music” has no commercial or popular aspirations, but rather it seems to be one of so many albums released in recent years that are looking more earnestly for respect on the streets, among other players on the scene, and with a hip hop audience that already has grey hairs than for major ring tone success and the unconditional support of XXL, MTV, and BET. With one qualification: this awesome album isn’t just one of the crowd, it’s one of the most compact, intense, and spot-on exercises in neo boom bap that yours truly has had the pleasure of hearing lately.
Nottz’s lyrical contribution, as well as his flow, which at times calls to mind the early Kanye West, are more incidental than relevant to this coming-out album. That is to say, the producer doesn’t come away from the struggle looking bad; one might even say that he does well with a challenge that many of us would not have expected him to, as he hardly has a history of it and we knew little of his possibilities on this front. He is a decent MC, with better-than-average plays on words, rhymes without too many pretensions, and a nice flow; where all eyes are really watching Nottz is in the musical section, as there’s a reason why he has become one of the worst-kept secrets in the underground in recent years. Let me explain. Although he isn’t a celebrity, or an ever-present point of reference for the more or less important launches on the scene, his influence is totally independent, his name has been on everyone’s lips: he is a permanent fixture on the albums of The Game and Busta Rhymes, passionately admired by Kanye West, one of the collaborators chosen by Dr. Dre to perfect the sound of “Detox”, and an emerging figure in the Southern conglomerate. So you can’t say that Nottz’s name is unknown, nor can he be included in lists of great revelations or promising stars in the firmament.
But even with this support from the highest spheres, his sound and his way of making beats hasn’t changed or softened in a search of a greater popular and commercial spectrum. “You Need this Music” easily rivals “Album of the Year” by Black Milk, in the category of the season’s great moment of orthodox hip hop. And if we’re going to get picky about it, there is no doubt that Nottz’s is the more purist, radical, hardened album in this sense. Where Black Milk brings in drums, real instrumentation as accompaniment, and free-jazz inspiration and psychedelics in some passages, the Virginia producer, on the other hand, absolutely refuses to get down from the high horse of MPC, funk loops, and vinyl mixing, giving a 90’s air to a recording that, nevertheless, stands up for itself as a very contemporary proposal overflowing with freshness and agility, as if J Dilla suddenly felt like parking his more experimental, bouncy side, or Kanye had decided to postpone his exciting recording comeback to recall the years when he used to produce nuggets of soul for Beanie Sigel or Scarface.
In fact, in “I Still Love You”, he recycles the same sample of Jerry Butler that Dilla used in “U-Love”, now with a more pumped-up beat, Mayer Hawthorne’s voice, and more layers of sampled string arrangements, giving the song new air and life. The process is the same with “Da Grind”, Khrysis’ melancholy, summery beat with yet another Jerry Butler sample, along with Brenda Lee Eager, which Masta Ace made into one of the highlights of the monumental “A Long Hot Summer”. Nottz picks up the original sample again, accelerating it a few bpm’s and giving it a shot of soul to revitalise it again in his own way, making good on the law of hip hop recycling for totally praiseworthy purposes. And on this terrain, that of cutting, pasting, reinventing, and rediscovering soul and funk samples, few beatmakers today can hold a candle to this MPC monster, a very talented student of Pete Rock, Buckwild, and DJ Premier.
The overall summary of the album couldn’t be more powerful and impressive. It has a vigorous, exultant, sturdy, soulful, current, and classic sound, in the best possible sense of the word. Joell Ortiz, Black Milk, Asher Roth, Snoop Dogg, Dwele, Royce Da 5’9’’ or Bilal are the main attractions of guest list where there is nothing and no one that shouldn’t be there, not even the testimonial appearance of drummer Travis Barker in the introduction. The lyrical baggage is solid, without fussing, without posing at all; his modesty is handled well and backed up by people who really know their stuff. And, of course, the title is eloquent and full of reasons: any good hip hop fan urgently needs to be whacked already with “You Need this Music”. As right as rain.