This year, Boston Calling asks Notez to perform in its festival

Cliff Notez on stage last year.

Last year, local multidimensional artist Cliff Notez played a key role in organizing Boston Answering, a concert hosted at the Strand Theatre designed as a response to Boston Calling and the festival’s omission of Boston-based talent, particularly hip-hop and R&B artists, on its bill.

In a turn of events, when Boston Calling announced its lineup for the 2020 edition of the festival last week, Cliff Notez’s name was on the flyer.
The rapper/filmmaker/producer from Dorchester told the Reporter in an interview that while he was thrilled and grateful, his initial reaction to the news was “complicated.”

“At first, it was a shock when I got the phone call,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t realize who’s paying attention and who’s looking at what we’re doing. Oftentimes it feels like I’m just working in a vacuum...But it kind of told me that maybe we’re doing something right.”

After earning honors for Best New Artist at the 2018 Boston Music Awards, Notez released his sophomore album, “Why the Wild Things Are,” in September of last year to critical acclaim. And with the success of Boston Answering, Boston Calling organizers likely had no choice but to take notice this time around.

“I think we got our message across for sure, but do I think we’re done working? No. There’s still a lot more work to do. And I think they realized they have a lot of work to do, too,” said Notez, who added that the experience has made him realize “it’s hard to satisfy everybody.”

To the festival’s credit, this year’s bill includes a host of other local talent, including producer/MC DJ Real P – who “does great things for the city, noted Notez – and the genre-bending group Camp Blood. Notez praised the latter, a band that blends elements of rap, punk, and metal, for their artistic boldness.

“I think what they do is really important, especially in terms of pushing the dial. Tyler the Creator said some stuff the other day about winning a Grammy for a hip-hop album despite his album being anything but hip hop. They’re doing kind of the same thing in terms of challenging you and pushing the dial on what your expectations are.”

Seeing Boston’s vibrant hip-hop scene better represented at Boston Calling is certainly a victory, but Notez emphasized that it’s only a first step. He wants to make sure more of his peers have the same opportunity he has earned: “We don’t want to walk through this door and let it shut behind us; we want to leave the door open and then go on to break down the door and the door frame.”

In the coming months, Notez will grapple with the reality of sharing a stage with Brittany Howard and Foo Fighters, artists he’s admired for years. And while Notez said he wishes he could “bring the whole city on stage” with him, he knows his set will need to be balanced to accommodate stage and time restrictions.

But his band will definitely be there to back him, as well as saxophonist Tim Hall and other musicians from Hipstory, the record label/media company he founded.

“I’m excited to be in front of a lot of people performing songs I love, with people I love, and with people I love in the crowd,” he said.

Notez said that he had had had an emotional roller coaster of a week; as an avid basketball player and Kobe Bryant superfan, news of the NBA icon’s untimely death hit hard. 

“I literally listened to him twice a week, watching old interviews. I’ve been studying him since I was a kid.”

But Bryant’s passing has also imbued Notez with a revitalized sense of purpose, he said.

“One thing he left with me is just the knowledge that the work is never done. I have so much more work to do, and if I care about it I have so much more to achieve. [Boston Calling] is a great accomplishment but this isn’t the last one and I don’t want it to be the last one. Kobe always had such determination to keep going, keep getting better, keep pushing, and on top of that, he pushed everyone else around him.

“That’s one thing I learned from him at an early age, especially with basketball, is that he’s only as good as the people alongside him. I’m happy that the rest of my crew is also growing, the rest of my crew is being shined on.”

Cliff Notez is slated to perform on Sun., May 24, the final day of the three-day festival. Tickets and more information at bostoncalling.com.

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