One of the more respected producers in Hip Hop is Virginia’s Nottz. The emcee-turned-producer only changed jobs because his production peers were fronting on him 15 years ago. Now, with hit singles placed for Scarface, Busta Rhymes and others, he laughs last. What’s more, Nottz maintains a strong connection to underground Hip Hop, frequently doing stand out singles for artists like Little Brother, Finale and M.O.P.
The man they call “Nottz Raw” spoke to HipHopDX last night. This October, he will release his solo debut, You Need This Music. With guests ranging between Snoop Dogg and Little Brother to Mayer Hawthorne and Travis Barker, the emphasis is on music in an industry-driven time. One month before his own October 12th release date, Nottz will fully-produce Rah Digga’s sophomore album, Classic. With perhaps his strongest year ahead of him, Nottz told DX about his album, the dissolving of his DMP group, and as a Born Again producer, what he thinks about the Rick Ross/Notorious B.I.G. comparisons made in the media.
HipHopDX: Tell me about a little about how you knew that this was the year, the climate to release an album. Certainly, a lot of producers with credentials that dwarf in comparison to yours have taken that step already…
Nottz: I been wantin’ to do it. I just had a lot of outside work that we was workin’ on. That really took it over. Right now, we’re gonna it back and just start on the album. My manager kept pushin’ me and pushin’ me to do it. Before, I never really met anybody who [encouraged] me to do it. Before, I was working with a group called DMP. With them dudes, it’s like…we wasted time with them dudes. For years. I could’ve been doing an album [back in 2005], my own shit, then.
DX: People’s work ethic wasn’t matching yours?
Nottz: Correct. [Chuckles] The [You Need This Music] album is dope though, man. Good music.
DX: We’ve heard “Cars.” Much of the album is under wraps still. DX has a ton of fans of both Snoop Dogg and Royce Da 5’9″, can you tell us about that track? I don’t think those two have been on a song together.
Nottz: The joint was already done. Me and Snoop [Dogg] had already did that record. When Royce [Da 5’9″] heard it, he was like, “Man, I’ve got to get on it.” I was like, “Aiight. Let’s do it then.” We’ve [also] got RL from Next on it. He sang the hook on it. Quan has a little piece on the hook as well.
DX: People always touch on this, but you do stuff with mainstream stars as well as underground cats. With projects like You Need This Music, do you think it’s a good opportunity for people like Snoop or Travis Barker who you work with, to get familiar with a Black Milk or Joell Ortiz?
Nottz: Oh yeah, fo’ sho’. You got RL, let’s say him. RL hasn’t been out in a minute. One particular song me and [RL] did together, we sent to Snoop. Snoop was like, “Yo, I want it.” RL was on it, and [Snoop said], “I’ma keep his verses and everything.” It’s a crazy record, and it might be one of those records that brings RL back to where he needs to be. Then you’ve got Colin Munroe and Asher [Roth] on there, and Little Brother and Kardinal [Offishall].
DX: Your name always comes up with emcees, because they love the way that your music sounds. Your beats always have that knock. With You Need This Music, is there one cohesive sonic element that you try to put in there?
Nottz: The basslines, man. The second track on the album is called “Fair Warning.” I took it back to like ’97, ’98, you know what I mean? I try to keep the basslines there. That’s what people really know me for anyway: basslines. They’ll know it’s a Nottz joint when you hear that bassline.
DX: It’s interesting you say that. The first time I ever really was blown away by a Nottz’ track was M.O.P.’s “Home Sweet Home” in 2000. Interestingly enough, I loved “I’m A Brownsvillian” on last year’s Foundation album. Both of those songs sounded non-traditional Nottz. They’re among my favorite.
Nottz: The “Home Sweet Home” joint, that was Lord Have Mercy’s record [for his unreleased album]. Being that he got dropped or whatever, I guess he let [M.O.P.] have it. They didn’t want to waste a record, that was a dope record! Them dudes, man, I love them dudes. They’re some of the illest dudes I’ve ever worked with, and they don’t get credit where it’s due, man. They’re one of the illest [groups] of all times, man.
DX: Our Media Director and I were just talking. Ghostface Killah’s “Be This Way” is another interesting record within your catalog. I feel like that Pretty Toney album was designed to show Ghostface’s range to the mainstream, and that song was essential to that agenda.
Nottz: That record there, man, he was more on the soulful vibe anyway. [Ghostface Killah and his management] sent me an iPod full of [sample tracks]. That was one of the joints. I sent it [back] to him, and he rocked it. I love that record. That record right there is so sweet. I thought he was gonna do a video to it, but it is what it is.
DX: In 2007, I interviewed Jean Grae. She said she had albums upon albums worth of material with you. Certainly, it appears she’s figuring her own release situation out, but do you think those will ever see the light of day?
Nottz: Hell yeah! Me and Jean [Grae] talk all the time, man. We got a surprise though. [Laughs] A suprise is in the makin’, for the good Hip Hop folks. That’s probably comin’ out, man. Real soon.
DX: Not for nothing, we have your album, but you’re also producing Rah Digga’s sophomore album. It’s always crazy when producers are able to strike while the iron is hot. DJ Premier did Jeru The Damaja and Group Home’s first albums close together, Large Professor did Nas and Akinyele’s albums together. Tell me about how you made these two projects sound different, in terms of the music?
Nottz: Damn! [Laughs] Hmmm. With hers, we put down [a lot of work]. She went through beats that we knew would fit her style. We know that she can that she can go crazy on a record, so the music’s not gonna take away from her vocals. None of that. On her [Classic] album, she’s not gonna have any features on there anyway, so she’s comin’ real hard on this one. She’s dope, man. She’s one of the illest.
And my album – the beats that I have on this album, the majority of these tracks are tracks that other artists, well-known artists, picked these beats and didn’t fuck with ’em. So I said, “Aiight, I’ma spit to this shit and put it on my album.” I’m not just rappin’ though, I’m talkin’ about somethin’. I have substance on this whole album.
DX: Different than Evidence or Diamond D or even J Dilla, you’ve really put your emceeing to the back. Not to say you’re not sharp – ’cause I think “Cars (Remix)” is dope, but did you have to brush up to do this project?
Nottz: I was rappin’ first. One of my homeboys had a keyboard and shit. He wasn’t givin’ me beats, nobody was. That’s how I started makin’ beats. “Fuck it, this is what I want to do.” I kept rappin’ though; we had the DMP group. But this is what I wanted to do.
DX: This was ’96, ’97?
Nottz: Probably like ’95. The middle of ’95.
DX: It was billed like a mixtape, but I liked the album you did with DMP…
Nottz: With [Nottz Presents… DMP: The Album], we did it on Koch [Records]. They had say-so on that record: what we put out, what we put on it. That really wasn’t even us, for real, talkin’. These [A&R’s] were like, “Yeah, use that!” and I’m like, “But that’s not us!” DMP, it was a little door-opener right there. Somethin’ bigger could’ve happened, but dudes got lazy on me and all that shit. Long story. [Laughs] That wasn’t us, that was them – Koch. The album was cool, but it wasn’t no shit I’d jump for joy for.
DX: So that’s why this is billed as your solo debut album?
Nottz: Right, right.
DX: Like they do on Sportscenter, I have to put you on the hot seat for one question. You’ve been doing this a long time, since the early ’90s. You’re a Hip Hop guy, but you work and seem to understand a lot of today’s stars. One of the hot-button Rap issues this year has been Diddy comparing Rick Ross to Notorious B.I.G. Nottz, you produced on Born Again, what do you think?
Nottz: We can only have one [Notorious] B.I.G., man. I put out a record called “Can’t Hide The Truth.” [Laughs] It is what it is, man, you can’t hide the truth. There can’t be another Big, there can’t be another Jay-Z or [2Pac]. None of that.