Notifi is no different than a five-star chef who’s picky about their ingredients, and what they serve their discriminating guests. Listening to the North Toronto-based rapper and singer talking about beats, it becomes abundantly clear that he doesn’t just place a premium on them. He speaks about them with such passion and relish that we sense he considers beats sacred.
Not any beat, mind you. “When I hear a beat that really moves me, I’m in a state of bliss, or euphoria,” the 24-year-old says. “I feel like, ‘I can’t let this thing go to waste.’ And sometimes, I don’t want to do anything with it, ‘cause I feel I won’t do it justice,” he adds. “I feel like it needs to be left alone for a while before I get to it.”
Kinda like letting chicken pieces marinate in Jamaican jerk seasoning overnight before chucking them on the grill? “Exactly!” he says, laughing. “The beat is everything, the beat is king! When I hear a beat, it dictates what I write, and how the song will turn out. The beat always comes first, and the better the beat, the easier the song comes.”
Notifi received a huge confidence boost three years back when he won Slaight Music’s It’s Your Shot competition, the national songwriting and artist development contest launched in 2000.
“I don’t usually enter contests,” he says. “But I did, and two months later, I got a call saying, ‘You won!’ Winning that contest really let me know that the work you put in and the talent you have is being acknowledged.” After that, world-renowned, Toronto-based DJ Charlie B – the official DJ for Drake’s annual OVO Fest – began managing him. The wordsmith has also been tagged as a “soon-to-be rap star” and “Toronto’s next supernova,” and been written about favourably on tastemaker blogs like Complex and Noisey/VICE.
Cue up his latest track, “Won’t Get Lonely,” and you’ll hear Notifi – sounding very much like a young Drake – spitting rhymes and singing over a stark, eerie beat. To date, the video has been viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube, and streamed more than two million times across all platforms. It epitomizes what’s known as the Toronto Sound, that nocturnal, emotional sound that sits somewhere between R&B and rap. The video, equally moody and dark, was shot by Zac Facts, a Toronto-based director who’s made videos for Tory Lanez, Jessie Reyez, and U.S. heavies like Future and Wiz Khalifa.
“When I hear a beat that really moves me, I’m in a state of bliss, or euphoria.”
It’s no surprise that Notifi lists Torontonians Drake, Tory Lanez, and The Weeknd as influences. “My connection to the 6ix God got tighter when Charlie started managing me,” he says. “[But] the Toronto Sound is up for debate. It’s like half the rappers in the city are on that [Philadelphia-based] Lil Uzi Vert-trap-autotune vibe, and the other half are on a more clean, mainstream tip. Like your Drakes and Weeknds. I have bigger aspirations,” he says confidently. “I want to go global.”
In an interview with Complex magazine, Charlie B raved about his young charge: “He’s multi-faceted in terms of songwriting, producing, as well as performance. His music is universally appealing, whereby he can easily cross over to various genres all the while, but remain true to himself. I’ve been in the industry for a while, and around A-listers at that, and I’ve identified musical qualities that Notifi has that nobody else has.”
Does the critical acclaim offer a fair bit of pressure to deal with? “I don’t feel any pressure,” says Notifi. “I love making music. And I feel blessed to be surrounded by all this amazing energy – whether it’s from my team, who believe in me, and my music, or from people like Charlie B, who’s been around Drake and The Weeknd and has played in clubs around the world.”
Notifi’s family moved to Toronto from Montréal when he was a few months old, and played drums in the church that they attended. He says a few high school friends suggested they “lay down some tracks” in their home studios, and Notifi obliged. He realized he had a gift for rapping and singing, and hasn’t looked back.
“You can’t block inspiration,” he replies when asked where he finds material for his songs. “I mean, I could be inspired by birds chirping. It’s how you take it in and put it into words.”
Clearly, he’s striking a nerve with listeners and putting us on notice. “I think one of the reasons my music goes over well,” he says, “is because people can relate to what I’m saying.”