NotNice’s musical odyssey is woven with chart-topping highs and stone-broke lows, but there’s a recurring theme: he’s the go-to producer for established and emerging acts desirous of a hit.
NotNice is the rhythm-maker behind Popcaan‘s 2010 breakout hit, Dream, racks credit for diverting the conversation from Alkaline‘s fake eyeball tattoos to his first banger, Things Mi Love (2013), and stands as the production prodigy behind Spice‘s most commercially successful record, So Mi Like It (2014).
But before he became this ‘King Midas,’ the Waterford, St Catherine, native was just Ainsley Morris, a music follower who used to beat the desk during school breaks, sell CDs, and make scrapbooks from celebrity photos and songbooks in his spare time.
“Mi never go no school fi no music,” Notnice shared on ‘Diwali Broadcast’ on Wednesday, an online quarantine series started by esteemed producer Steven ‘Lenky’ Marsden. “Mi go do automotive engineering and get a diploma in mechanical engineering but mi never go fix no car – a rhythm mi go fix. Mi always love music, but you know yuh madda a cuss yuh seh yuh need fi go learn a trade…so mi really go do that fi please she.”
Earning his moniker from his high school girlfriend because of his player ways, he challenged himself to learn music production by covering all the instrumentals on the 2003 Def Jamaica album, using the FruityLoops software. The effort was an epic fail, but he ultimately honed his own style and started working with rising acts. With Big Ship’s Stephen McGregor reign in the dancehall arena in the late 2000s, NotNice sought ways to distinguish his work and make a good first impression. His big debut did the job; the cool and deadly Remand riddim released in September 2008 with Blak Ryno’s Real Stinga.
But the project almost never saw the light of day.
“Kartel call mi one day, mi nuh know this man like that… him a seh how mi a voice him artiste without him permission. A badness him a deal wid and seh him a go mek him lawyer call mi. (Kartel said) ‘As a matter of fact mi want di file’.”
The Gaza Empire principal was arrested that day and phoned NotNice from jail to ask if his studio setup was mobile. He, too, had plans for the Remand riddim.
“When him come out mi go link him ah him yard,” he said. The result was the confessional Bail 4 Me, which opened the door for NotNice to work on Kartel’s Pon di Gaza album, except, he didn’t know.
“The first day mi link him, we voice four song, di second day him voice four more, and him seh mi bad and him a go sign me. Him go fi a contract, mi sign it same time. I don’t know wah deh pon it… him seh if mi nah go look it over… mi seh, ‘even if mi look it over whatever deh pon it mi a go sign it still so it nuh mek no sense mi look it over.’”
The contract was a 75/25 one-time album deal which saw Notnice producing 16 tracks. Once the recordings were completed in four days, the contract ended.
The NotNice-Portmore Empire magic continued with other riddims like Story Tella (Jah Vinci‘s Money), Fight Fi War (Kartel’s Last Man Standing), Gangster City (Shawn Storm‘s My Life), England Town (Gaza Kim’s Amen), Street Vybz (Merital Family’s When We Party) and S-Class (Popcaan’s Tek Off).
There was, of course, the mega-monster, Romping Shop, with Vybz Kartel and Spice, but NotNice’s reign with the camp soon ended after thugs invaded his property to take his studio equipment, according to him, a faux pas on Kartel’s part.
“Each month him send one hard drive, mi put di files pon him hard drive…one day him tek di hard drive and plug it inna him computer and him nuh see nothing pon it…it was because virus pon him computer why it show up empty…but to him, it look like me a go round him…so him send the man dem a mi yard.”
He parted ways with the camp and started anew with money he’d received from Kartel’s then-manager, Corey Todd. NotNice recalled hard times of living in a small studio with his son, mothered by Popcaan’s sister, Annalecia Sutherland.
He even opened an exotic club in St Mary but the business never earned profit.
Popcaan reached out to him to do some music, but according to NotNice, told him to “join the line” when he returned to Kingston to do the work.
Then came Alkaline, a braggadocious aspiring deejay who had more gimmicks than lyrics.
“One night Alkaline call me, mi know him from him a go school… seh him need material and if mi woulda interested fi produce a song fi him.”
Enter Things Mi Love. The track soared on local charts and paved the way for more collaborations like Move Mountains and Ready. Popcaan then reached out to Notnice to do some work, he agreed, but they still weren’t on solid terms.
Their partnership yielded hits like Never Sober, World Cup, and Ova Dweet, but the friendship was never the same. In April, the two took their unresolved issues to social media, which seemed to be rooted in a payment discrepancy.
NotNice also severed ties with Alkaline as he claimed the deejay had a selfish vendetta.
Despite the hard lessons on loyalty, relationships, and the music business, Notnice’s story is shaped by his own ruling era and a yearning to learn about the industry. With signed acts on his eponymous label and staff comprising a legal team (hint-hint, contract negotiations), he’s still adding chapters to this awe-inspiring story.
NotNice released the mega-star collaboration, We Are, in May. His King Midas album premiered in 2019.