Notifi in spotlight after mysterious debut

The breakout Toronto artist candidly discusses his smash hit “Won’t Get Lonely”, Drake comparisons and his desire to deviate from the “Toronto sound”.
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Sitting outside Toronto’s Drake Hotel ahead of a performance for Manifesto, Notifi laughs when asked about his writing process and whether he goes off the top or writes things in his phone.

“Well I have the worst memory first off. I write everything down in a notebook, so I got a bunch of notebooks stacked up at home,” he says. “The only thing I write in my phone is the hooks.”

Notifi’s name has had the city buzzing for some time now. From his smash hit “Won’t Get Lonely” to his latest EP release Collateral, the Toronto-based artist has captured listeners with a mysterious breakout similar to H.E.R. and dvsn before him. Music first, looks later.

Notifi has been praised for his signature R&B trap fusion beats, slick rhymes and unrivalled production. The multidimensional artist immersed himself into a variety of aspects of the music industry from rapping and singing to mixing, producing and engineering, becoming a jack of all trades. 

However, with his latest project Collateral under his belt, Notifi has finally decided to step into the spotlight and lift the cloud of mystery surrounding him giving fans and the music industry a real look at the man behind the music.

At the start of your music career, you opted to be very mysterious in terms of your identity and shied away from the camera. Now that you’re a bit more open, how would you say that transition has worked out for you? Do you feel as though having that time to separate the visual representation of yourself from your music was beneficial in establishing where you are now?

I’d say so. You can only do the mysterious thing for so long, right? People want to know what you look like. People want to know what your interests are outside of music and just who you are. The transition was smooth. It wasn’t major, it wasn’t odd or anything. I’ve gotten to adjust. I mean overall I feel like it made more room for the music ’cause now I can express things more.

You can only do the mysterious thing for so long, right? People want to know what you look like.

Listening to Collateral, each track almost seems as if they were interconnected in a storytelling way. What was the inspiration for the title Collateral? Did it have anything to do with the term collateral damage?

Oh, for sure. That’s exactly what it was based off of. I’ve been at music for 11 years, going on 12, so it was like I’ve had to sacrifice a lot, you know, get rid of certain people, had to just grow up and elevate myself. So, I mean along the way there’s always going to be, you know, collateral damage for lack of a better term. But, that’s just necessary. It was based off of that. And then the track order was very essential. Any good project, doesn’t matter what the length is, the track order is key because you want to engage your listeners from the start and you just want to have them locked into the whole project.

Waves” especially stood out to me on Collateral because on the first listen it sounds like a vibey kind of 3 a.m. downtown driving-around-the-city type of song. However, listening more attentively to the lyrics, it has a deeper, more ominous undertone. For example, you have a line where you sing “hanging off a ledge got demons in my head.” What would you say was your vision with this track and how was the execution process for you?

That record was just more of like a moody record I’d say. ’Cause most people won’t expect that switch up with the beat when it drops with the verse. When I heard that it really caught my attention and so I was like ‘alright we can go have some fun with this one.’ We have more like a R&B feel on the hook and then get into some real gritty melodic rap.

What was the inspiration behind your smash hit “Won’t Get Lonely”?

In terms of the inspiration that’s just years of being in and out of relationships and hearing, “it’s not gonna work” and I “need time and space,” et cetera. That was just the culmination of all those experiences put into that record and it showed because people really gravitated to it and they really enjoyed it.

Your style on “Won’t Get Lonely” has been compared to Drake’s earlier projects. Do you think the constant comparison of artists, especially Toronto artists from similar origins, hinders their ability to be seen in media as unique individuals?

Well, coming from Toronto, of course, where you have Drake and he’s the biggest hip-hop artist in the world, anything coming out of Toronto is automatically going to be either linked to Drake, The Weeknd, or you know, some might say Tory Lanez. So, I mean they kind of branded that as like the Toronto sound, but really we’re just a bunch of individuals making dope music coming out the city.

A lot of artists have said that it can be lonely at the top. Just how lonely, if at all, have you found the music industry to be, now that you’re more in the spotlight?

I’m always kept to myself, but I definitely have a few guys that I keep around. But, in the process of making music, I’m always by myself … I’ve had a lot of people come and go in and out of my life over the past few years and that’s just what it is.

Do you think that kind of revolving door of meeting people, forming some sort of relationship and then them eventually going away influences some your music?

A hundred per cent it does. At the same time, it takes a toll on you, right? Cause you’re thinking like, alright, is this person really there for me? Are they here for the music? Or they just want to have a good time?  How do you differentiate? And it’s kinda like you’ve got to just wait and see what happens. And that’s the part that messes with you mentally I feel.

What were some of the most memorable moments for you during the entire recording process of Collateral?

I record by myself, so anytime I’m recording these records, I’m just vibing out and having a good time it’s all fun. I think I might’ve recorded “Waves” a year ago and then I just sat on it. We had other records that I was doing and then, you know, those didn’t make the cut. I think I did “Honey” maybe two months or three months before we dropped the tape. So it’s just the vibe for me. If it’s not right, then the records don’t get made. That’s just what it is.

Do you table songs until you feel like its right to release them often?

For sure. When I make a track, if I don’t like it from the beginning then I won’t go back in and edit it or do anything. I just move on to the next record. But, lately I’ve been trying to go back into sessions and tweak things and do this and that.

Have there been any stumbling blocks that youve encountered in your career thus far? And if so, how have you overcome them?

Just getting used to the whole business side of the music industry. It’s like before, I’m coming from just making music, now I’m coming from just making music to knowing how to talk to certain people, knowing how to move a certain way so I get what I want to get. You gotta talk to people a certain way because if you don’t, then we might not get that blog, or we might not get that light that we need. You got to grow a real business mentality at the same time as you’re making music.

You mentioned in one interview that you have global goals and bigger visions for your music than just the Toronto sound. What do you consider the Toronto sound to be and what do you see for your music down the road?

The Toronto sound to me is gritty, it’s dark, it’s melodic, it’s city oriented. A lot of artists coming out, when they rap or when they sing they’re talking about their experiences in the areas they’re from in Toronto and to me that’s what it means to be a Toronto artist. I don’t want to just be a Toronto artist. I want to be that artist that’s globally known for being from Toronto and putting on the city in whatever way or manner I might be able to.

Toronto, like many major cities has been known to have a crabs in the bucket mentality when it comes to collaborating and achieving success together. We also have a reputation of being the Screwface capital. How have you been able to navigate through that scene?

Well from my first project Collateral I didn’t have any complaints. We just decided it would be best to just showcase what I have personally before we reached out to anybody else. We’re labeled a Screwface capital but there’s a lot of dope artists willing to collaborate with each other. You’ve gotta be able to get that mentality out your head and just reach out. Definitely got to break that mold ’cause there’s a lot of dope artists in the city that should be working together.

I don’t want to just be a Toronto artist. I want to be that artist that’s globally known for being from Toronto…

Do you think that kind of image is starting to change with a lot of the new up and comers working together?

A lot of these young kids are working together, so that’s dope. I like seeing that they’re from different areas and different hoods that don’t fit together. But, I think we still got a long way to go from artists collaborating in the city.

How has the experience been for you developing a working relationship alongside world renowned DJ Charlie B? And has he offered you any advice that really stuck with you?

Charlie’s always offering me advice. Every time we talk, it’s always something I can learn from and something I can grow on based off of that. To have him as my friend is a real blessing because he’s out there. He’s seeing what it takes, he’s seeing the kind of music that’s popping, he’s in the clubs every night. That’s what he does. So, it’s kind of like he is my eyes and ears on road. In terms of specific advice, it’s more just you always got to keep it moving, you can’t stay stagnant. You always got to want to grow and elevate yourself.

What would you say is your next stepping stone? Any new projects you’re working on?

Right now I’m working on a darker toned project. I’m working on a five or six track project. I’m hoping to drop it first quarter next year maybe March. More videos and content, and hopefully more shows in the new year.

Photos by @asvpshooter supplied courtesy of Notifi’s management

Keysha Watson is a freelance journalist, photographer and hip-hop enthusiast from Toronto. Her work primarily follows music, entertainment, fashion, beauty and culture. She likes albums with introductions, journaling, free shipping and spontaneous vacations.

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