Notes to Self is a group I’ve been following for a few years now. Since the release of their ‘Warning Shots EP’ back in ’09 I have been a massive fan. Hailing from my home city, these Toronto boys have been able to create a pretty big name for themselves which is a massive feat for a group with only one full length album under their belt. Their style is unique but also reminiscent of old school rap groups and their clever, thought provoking lyricism combined with solid production has really set them apart from other hip-hop groups. With the upcoming release of their second full length release entitled ‘ Used to be Dark ,’ I thought I would get to know Notes a little better and shot them a few questions. For all the Word is Bond readers, this is Notes to Self….
For those readers who aren’t familiar with Notes to Self and your music, could you introduce yourselves?
Notes: Bronze One (producer/rapper), Swamp Donkey (rapper), Roshin (Rapper), DJ Dopey (DJ/Tablist) and sometimes, Elicser (visual artist).
Extended team… Book, JR, Benjamin Young Hart, Adam Hilborn, Lee Gaul, Eric Boucher, Arowbe, Lo, Mamoud.
You have been a group for around nine years, how did Notes to Self come together? How was the name Notes to Self created?
Bronze: Buncha young dudes developing a brotherhood through rap music. You want the truth about the name? Haha… Kind of bland story – I was in first year, studying design (theory), in a class working on branding & identity – and I was developing an identity for a physical retailer/store that sold rare music, ..nerd sh*t, Haha – not sure I have ever admitted to this… anyway, I named the store Notes to Self – more or less, so that I could work out the identity for the burgeoning group that is now our own, Notes to Self. I then incorporated the idea of NTS in to almost every class I took after that, some how some way, ha, even doing a photo shoot of Swamp and I at a Pearson airport above ground parking lot, for some reason or other – not overly knowing what it was becoming, then.
On your Myspace page it states that “A collective as mature and talented as NOTES TO SELF is rare, especially in a genre often limited by trends lacking in originality,” what do you think set’s Notes apart from any other Canadian hip-hop group?
Roshin: This is where we get to take shots at another Canadian rap group! No, but seriously, we’re different in our approach mostly. I think we’ve stuck with the same team for so long that’s its developed an actual personality or feel past where a lot of groups get.
Bronze: I think you quoted my father for that one, haha… sounds like him.
You’ve compared yourselves to traditional hip-hop groups like De La Soul & Tha Alkaholiks, who are some of your other influences?
Roshin: Man this question could go pretty deep . I’d say Dilated for sure, Common was a huge early influence. We really try to stay within the walls of the studio to keep it original, but its unavoidable. Who else? T.I. was a big later influence on my writing, he’s always been particularly good at keeping his flow and schemes interesting without sacrificing content. I really respect that in a writer, Yela’s really good at that too.
Bronze: Rosh has said it best, we try and be ourselves – but influence is unavoidable – I’d say our peers too, big influence, people we’ve worked with first hand, from Toronto in the early days like the Oddities – even ambassadors for the city like the Circle – or worked with first hand from Cali like the Dilated/Expansion camp, or from afar like the early Madlib and Stonesthrow Records movement – to NY like Mobb, Dipset, The Roc, El and Def Jux, Can O – huge outfits to indie fams – list goes on, can’t name them all, some more than others I prolly won’t even remember to say on the spot. And legends we would love to work with like obviously De La, who are so original – and who we see as passionate & continue to stay relevant, contributing such inspiring music – groups who did it their own way like Prem and Gang Starr, Jay Dee and Slum – when groups were groups. We like what Pac Div is doing. and what Little Brother did. Might not directly influence us, but it definitely helps a group like ours stay connected when you see others like that making an impact. Kanye & Jay doing projects. Ross & his MMG putting family projects together. Nice to see that kind of “we move as one” mentality.
Your debut album ‘A Shot in the Dark’ featured some rather impressive collaborations with Dilated Peoples (Ev, Rak & Babu) which eventually spawned ‘The Lick Shots Tour’ with DJ Babu as well as a collaboration w/ Fashawn. How were you able to build a relationship with Dilated Peoples, being a group out of Toronto?
Bronze: Honestly – I reached out to them, because I learned from them, we learned from them through their music, first & foremost – I believe they felt that when I reached out to them years ago, just to let them know how much I appreciated their presence in rap music – this was before everyone was messing with everyone over the internet – had EV in to our studio the first time we ever met in person – and we respected how much they respected the culture, and each other, which is hugely important… and us, and their fans. Once we built and connected with them, it was a natural thing – we became family up here in Toronto to them – toured with Dilated a bit, then Babs. Always connecting with them when we can. EV is like an older brother, Babs too when we’re with them – a very original sorta brotherhood, because we aren’t even in the same country, that’s tough you know, so it’s different that way – as much as they are real people and friends, they have helped watch out for us – but on very mutually respected terms. You know what I’m saying? If that makes sense. You know when like the older and wiser Dude like Rakaa offers up industry advice? Feel me? Like that. But we are our own thing, our own unit. and we make our own music – and they see that. Older brothers will be critical, and they truly feel like, family – always trying to do our entire family and camp proud.
What can listeners expect from your upcoming project ‘Used to be Dark’?
Roshin: Advancement of the craft, I think we’re stronger in all capacities on this record. When we heard Exhibit C we were all really inspired to make the lyrics and beats hit you with that undeniable “this is dope rap music” sound. Every few years there’s that album or song that makes you remember being 14 and why you started doing this to begin with. Blu was like that when he dropped, same with Lupe when he first started coming out. We just had a lot of fun making these joints, just going in a writing and beat making so even though melodic cuts really kick, really knock.
Bronze: A turning point.
Anything else you would like to add?
Notes: Shout out the whole NTS camp, Elicser, Book & Paul from Beatface, JR/Motioneer, Lo/M3, Adam Hilborn/PeeKayArtDept, our Brothers Lee Gaul & Benjamin Young Hart/GWY, Eric Boucher, D-Sisive, Fundament/DK, Gav/Remix, Arowbe/TNR, Mamoud, Toby, Dilated & ALC, Fash, Rittz …and everybody supporting good music!