One-half of ragga/hip-hop duo Born Jamericans, Notch (born Norman Howell in Hartford, CT) played a key part ushering in dancehall to American urban radio in the '90s with singles like "Boom Shak-a-Tak" and "Send My Love." Known then as Mr. Notch, he served as the sultry, smooth-singing counterpart to Edley Shine's rugged, toasting rhymes. After the group disbanded in 1998, Notch began tapping into his Latin roots and re-emerged in the 2000s as a hot reggaeton newcomer. Singing in English, Spanish, and Jamaican patois (sometimes all at once, which he coined "Spatoinglish"), he adds meringue, cumbia, and bachata in addition to urban-pop and hip-hop to his interchanging medley of reggaeton and dancehall. This cross-pollinating musical palate is informed by his racial background, a combination of black American, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, and Cuban heritage. He largely ignored his Latin roots when teamed up with Edley Shine, partly because of his Jamaican/Afro-Cuban father, who was a reggae bassist. A great influence on Notch, his father introduced him to those infectious dance riddims that eventually drew him toward Shine.
Born Jamericans ascended the reggae and dance charts mainly due to their incorporation of more Americanized productions of hip-hop and pop-R&B. On the one hand, this garnered them crossover exposure through U.S. mainstream outlets, but on the other hand, they were derided by Jamaican dancehall diehards. Thus, when Notch went solo, he first spent lots of time in Jamaica in the early 2000s recording authentic reggae and dancehall, but he was later inspired by a bilingual Tony Touch mixtape to try and blend the many languages and dialects he grew up hearing during his childhood. The first song he made using the "Spatoinglish" hybrid, "Hay Que Bueno," unknowingly threw the singer into the burgeoning reggaeton movement. The multilingual hit, which became popular on both Latin-based and reggae mediums, led him to Puerto Rico to work with up-and-coming reggaeton producers. By 2004-2005, "Hay Que Bueno" spilled into Latin radio in America and found its place on the Billboard Latin charts. Consequently, Notch started making guest appearances on various albums, including by Daddy Yankee, Luny Tunes, and Beenie Man, as well as ska rockers Sublime and experimental acid jazz duo Thievery Corporation.
Notch's first solo album, Raised by the People, finally arrived in late spring 2007 via his own imprint Cinco por Cinco and Universal subsidiary Machete Music. With album single "Dale Pa' Tra (Back It Up)" in regular rotation in the U.S., Raised by the People peaked in the Top 100 of the Latin charts and Top Five of the reggae charts. ~ Cyril Cordor
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