It was nearly a year ago that I first took to this space to share my thoughts on the self-titled debut EP from NOTAR. We’ve welcomed a lot of new readers to the site over the course of the past year, and with the overdue release of the full-length DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND finally taking place this Tuesday (Sept. 13, 2011), this is a chance for all of you to get caught up.
The New York City-based emcee has returned, and believe me when I tell you that he’s hitting hard.
I’ve been spinning DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND here since July, quietly awaiting this moment to share my thoughts once more. I’ve waited until now so that the name NOTAR would be fresh in your minds so that come Tuesday, you’ll remember tobuy the album. Yes, I’m telling you to buy this record before I even enter into the realm of what should be considered ”review” territory. Why? Because I can, and you should.
The Lucky 13 tracks on DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND encompass all five cuts from last year’s EP, wrapped within a package that includes new songs that are every bit as good – if not better – than those present on the self-titled release.
Utilizing a robust arsenal of live instrumentation to lay the musical foundation for NOTAR’s impressive vocal delivery, DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND is very much a genre-bender – and as I said last year, “not pure hip-hop, nor rap-rock, but a musical cornucopia of the aforementioned along with elements of funk and radio-friendly pop hooks.” There’s surely some that will view ‘PLAYGROUND as a rap-rock album, but where most titles lumped into that genre seem to feel as if they were created with rock first, rap second – the hip-hop elements of NOTAR’s music take center stage, while blending seamlessly with everything around them. With producer MGeezy (T-Pain, Wyclef Jean) rockin’ the boards along with production contributions from Ken Lewis (Kayne West, Beastie Boys, Usher) and Brooklyn newcomer Kevin Augsburg, DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND also features vocal contributions from Counting Crows frontman (and Tyrannosaurus Records founder) Adam Duritz.
In many ways the title track reminds me of Las Vegas in it’s description of a place filled with every vice imaginable – the difference being that all of those temptations for a mans will are available anywhere, especially in places like The Big Apple – they’re just not planted in plain sight. Some that partake in the darker side of life will eventually Choose to Run, but find that their problems “will just follow them to another day.” Using band names as lyrics, Perseverance tells a serious tale of a drug-fueled rise and fall. [Props for using FAITH NO MORE in there.]
With four out of the five EP tracks sequenced here as a part of the DEVIL’S first half, what you’re hearing feels like a genuinely completed work as opposed to a sequel or b-side for the back half. As the EP felt incomplete and without a true ending, ‘PLAYGROUND is an even listen, bringing just as much quality at the back as in the front. Superstar is driven by it’s funk guitar lead, raising a middle-finger to the naysayers that would’ve rather seen NOTAR keep working a dead-end job as opposed to rocking the mic as a full-time gig. Seasons Change brought a chill to the back of my neck using a highly-detailed narrative to capture every detail of a shattered relationship. It’s string orchestration and melodic chorus add to what may be my favorite of the new songs.
The most personal of the album’s tracks, You Went Away finds NOTAR laying down an ode to his late father, jazz trumpeter Michael Notarfrancesco, to close out the record. Describing the emotions brought forth by his father’s death and the time following, NOTAR takes to the trumpet himself (an instrument that he first picked up at age 12) for a mid-song solo. A haunting piano piece by Timothy J. Reinhart (who played with NOTAR in the band Ducksauce) closes the record.
Bottom Line: I hate writing reviews, but love talking about music – and as the Beastie Boys once said, there’s“too many rappers and still not enough MC’s.” NOTAR has proven himself as a world-class emcee, and a Hellof a rapper. DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND is a great record.