Like many beatmakers before him, Virginia-bred producer Nottz had specific ambitions: he wanted to venture behind the mic. Those in similar shoes and with similar dreams tend to approach the craft in a variety of ways: some surround themselves with enough talent to drive attention away their own verbal ineptitude, some employ ghostwriters to make sure their bars are on point, and some make sure the production is so incredible, the lyrics are rendered trivial. (And yeah: some do all three.) Oh, and others are just good at that rapping thing. File this dude in that last category.

Over the past decade-plus, Nottz has earned a solid reputation as a reliable producer, supplying a strong collection of bangers to a group of well-respected emcees (including Busta Rhymes, Xzibit, G-Unit, Game, and Ghostface Killah, among others). Though he’s been in the game since the late 1990s, and despite his extensive production catalog—which contains Kanye West’s “Barry Bonds” and Snoop Dogg’s “That’s That Shit”—the dude has remained relatively below the radar. Even though you might’ve heard his name and may or may not affiliate it with dope beats, you most likely don’t know much about Nottz, the actual person.

And on his first solo album, You Need This Music, not a lot is done to change that. Many of the songs concern the material itself (examples of a few song titles: “You Need This Music,” “Blast That” , “I Do It For Yawl”, etc.), very true subjective things are shared besides the revelations of “Right Here.” There are some cool themes (the female-dedicated “No Money Down” and the R.I.P. tribute “A Dream Come True” both hit hard), but he spends a little too much time using the music to talk about, well, the music.

Aside from some been-played-out subject matter, Nottz shows impressive versatility as both a surprisingly capable spitter and an executive producer with a nice rolodex. Nottz Raw is above capable of switching up flows and bouncing rhymes off one another so fluidly you’ll forget about the whole “not a real rapper” thing pretty quickly. He slows down and speeds up as the sonics demand, never fumbling over words or sounding awkward and out of place as an emcee. 

The guests he brings along are worthwhile and well placed, too: Royce Da 5’9” and Snoop make interesting appearances on “Never Caught Slippin’” , Joell Ortiz is the ideal storyteller to help with the in-and-out-of-jail tale on “The Cycle” , and putting Asher Roth on a song about community and upbringing (“Dontcha Wanna Be (My Neighbor)”) could be either the most brilliant or most obnoxious move of the year. 

As you’d hope is the case, You Need This Music is filled an excellent selection of beats. The soundscape ranges from full-blown New York-influenced boom bap (“Fair Warning”) to soft and soulful “How Long Will It Last”, with a few quick stops in between. A range of samples are employed, and like the majority of his catalog, nothing really stands out in particular—it all sort of just has that trademark Nottz knock. Throughout the last 15 years, Nottz has provided album-cuts on classic long-players. While the hits and namebrand recognition are still coming, it’s not hyperbole to say that the onetime DMP leader is one of your favorite rapper’s favorite producers. However, while his network is thick, as are his basslines, YNTM proves that like Jay-Z told Memphis Bleek, Nottz Raw is just one hit away.