You’d figure the first emcee signed to a label named Tyrannosaurus Records would have to be a monster. Notar is that monster. With lyrical skills honed at some of NYC’s toughest weekly freestyle events, and an intense rock band backing him, Notar has been making a name for himself with his high energy live performances, and making Counting Crows frontman, and Tyrannosaurus Records owner, Adam Duritz look like a genius for signing him to a deal. Notar, who used to spend his days working at his family’s Connecticut grocery store, just released his full length debut album, Devil’s Playground, and this week RapReviews caught up with him to find out more about the album, his many Sunday and Monday nights spent at freestyle events in NYC, and the advice Duritz gave him that he’s trying to take.

Adam Bernard: You are a veteran of the New York City freestyle and battle scenes. You’re a lifer at Freestyle Mondays. You thank End of the Weak in your liner notes. How did coming up in those scenes help you develop as an emcee and as an artist overall?

Notar: I think coming up on those scenes, it was training, it was practice. Observing amazing talent and a wide spectrum of talent; Big Zoo at EOW, or any of my boys at Freestyle Mondays. I learned shit from the guys that aren’t as good just as much as I learned from the guys that are good, and on that platform you have both things, pure unbelievable talent, and talent that’s being developed. The first time I rocked at EOW I was nowhere near the skill level I’m at now, and that’s what it’s all about, it’s about going there, it’s about dedicating my Sundays or my Mondays to going down, and even if I don’t get up and rip I’m always learning, I’m always watching. Those two places really helped me, they provided a platform for me to hone my skills, to sharpen my sword and be ready for what’s happening now. I love those two spots and that’s why I thank them in the liner notes and I continue to thank them in my own head every day.

AB: I thought it was funny how as soon as I told my people I was interviewing you last year EVERYONE mentioned how they knew you. Personally, it annoys me when I get a press release about a rapper from New York and no one I know has heard of them. I’m like “is this person REALLY from New York? They haven’t been to ANY of the local events.”

N: Yeah, when you build a house you gotta start from the ground up and those were my foundations, that was my New York foundation. That’s when I decided to really jump into the scene and what two better places to do it? A lot of people that I know either go to EOW or Freestyle Mondays, but I’ve always gone to both. I love both nights. They’re so different, but once again they provide that training for both areas. It’s really dope. I love it.

AB: And that training has worked you up to Devil’s Playground. I remember you telling me back in November that you were planning on making it a thematic album encapsulating the concept of temptation. In what ways do you feel like you’ve done that, or did you change what it was going to be halfway through?

N: It basically encapsulates everything the devil would laugh at, or find funny, and I used my own life to represent that in the best way that I could. I’m very honest with the lyrics and I really don’t hold anything back. There are definitely outlines of encapsulating temptation if you listen to “Devil’s Playground” or even “Choose to Run.” I don’t think it’s the underlying premise for the whole album, by any means, but I definitely think that I stayed true to doing what I needed to do as far as relaying that message and getting that point across.

AB: There’s a song about your father on Devil’s Playground. How was that worked into the concept of the album?

N: Once again, it’s something that I feel the devil probably laughed at. My dad and his dad (passing away) in the same short span of time. I tried to write as if the devil was laughing at my situation because it kinda goes off the theme of one man’s pleasure is another man’s pain. The good and evil. What am I gonna do with that? Am I gonna crumble because that happened, or am I gonna get up and keep fighting. Those songs aren’t hard to write because they’re from the heart, the only thing that’s actually hard to do is listen to them.

AB: I can imagine. Are they tough to perform, as well?

N: You can’t fake that honesty, so yeah, it’s definitely difficult to allow people in like that. The hardest thing for this full record for me was letting go of it, in every capacity; performing, packaging it, letting it go, because I’ve held it pretty dear to me and pretty close to me, for a while, just like the concepts within it, so to let the world listen to it and to let it out knowing how honest and vulnerable I am on it is definitely difficult, but it’s something that I needed to do. It’s definitely therapeutic in it’s own way, kinda letting it go, moving forward.

AB: The title track makes the Devil’s Playground sound like quite the interesting nightclub. Is this almost a push-pull type of deal for you? Do you love, as well as love to hate, the Devil’s Playground?

N: Well, you know, you fall… that’s a really good question, number one. I forget how clever you are you son of a bitch {*laughs*}. Basically, I have a love for nightlife, I have a love for going to the club, I have a love for staying at the bar and getting completely annihilated. I do have a love for that and that is something that I probably won’t stop doing anytime soon. However, I’m a Gemini, and there are two sides. There is a duality. You’re looking at good and evil, nice and treacherous. These are things I push and pull with every day. I’m a push and pull character, but I think we all are. If you see me at 8AM in the gym running five miles and doing everything I can to get in shape and then you see me at night at the bar with no off button on my shoulder, it’s the same person, but in two different scenes. So yeah, I do love it. I love both sides. Do I praise the devil? By no means. I try and keep everything under control, everything in moderation, but you do find a push and pull throughout the album, but you find it within my personality, as well, so if that’s what you got from it then I’m definitely doing my job.

AB: It does give an overall picture of a full person rather than just one angle.

N: The day I become a caricature of myself is the day I’ll stop doing this. You gotta be honest. You gotta be vulnerable. You want your music to not only help you let go of certain things, you also want it to inspire and help other people. Why put it out if you don’t want to help other people and inspire other people as well as yourself? I’m not doing it for fame. I’m not doing it for money. I’m doing it to really put this out. I’m an artist.

AB: If the horrible caricature thing happens you have to then release one album so it can go ten times platinum.

N: Exactly. I won’t name any names, but exactly.

AB: Your music mixes rock and hip-hop, but not in the nu-metal way. Were there any artists you looked to when you were developing your sound?

N: Not really. I listen to everything I can get my hands on. Anything that puts the chills down the back of my neck is the stuff that I use and take with me. I don’t necessarily try and replicate, or duplicate, any of that. Having said that, obviously there’s nothing new under the sun. I just try to draw from all my inspirations and use my musical knowledge to the best of my ability to put forth what I find to be my music. That’s really the best way I can answer it.

AB: Adam Duritz first heard you when a mutual friend played your demo tape for him. How different is the music of Devil’s Playground from the music that was on that demo tape?

N: Definitely different. That early stuff was still honest in its lyricism, but the texture of it, the aesthetic value, was definitely different. I was still looking for producers, I was still looking for a way to make that big cinematic movie type project, and I just didn’t have the tools then to do it, I didn’t have the access. I think here, with Devil’s Playground, you see that I’ve finally found my niche as far as the access and it’s really only the beginning of where I want to go.

AB: Being that you’re working with Adam Duritz, who’s been through this entire ride of coming up and finding mainstream success and dealing with it, what kind of advice has he given to you, or in what ways has he maybe pointed you in the right direction?

N: The best advice Adam’s given me as it relates to this record, and the release of this record, is to just be happy, appreciate it. You did an enormous amount of work, sacrificed tons and tons of time, relationships, effort, and you need to really enjoy it. Me, I have trouble sitting back and enjoying it. I’m always looking to get back to work, I’m always looking to do the next thing, because I don’t want the wave to stop. I want to keep doing it. That fuels me, that keeps me going. It’s hard for people to say your work is done now, let’s just see what happens with it. Adam’s been really great at keeping me calm, cool, collected with everything. He really is my big brother. He’s my family. He gives me sound advice and keeps me levelheaded to the fullest.

AB: Finally, I’m guessing you haven’t had to stock a shelf at your family’s grocery store in a minute.

N: I actually haven’t and I really don’t look to go back and stock shelves anytime soon. I’m a family man, so I’ll always go back and help where I can and do whatever I can to support my family because I swear my family has always come first for me, but as far as a profession I’m not looking to go back and do that, at least not unless I’m really really needed and then I drop all this in a second to go back there and help out.

AB: Any chance you might do a live show in front of the store?

N: That might happen. I’m kinda preferring the roof. Maybe a show at the top of Whitneyville (Food Center) might be in the near future.