Editor’s Note: This is an interview from the vault that was done months ago, but after being busy and dealing with life got sidelined. After dusting it off here’s an interview our own MC Till did with Maryland emcee Substantial. This interview was done on Facebook, so to keep fluidity of it in tact, there aren’t a ton of graphics and interruptions. I hope you enjoy.
Substantial released “The Past is Always Present in the Future” earlier this year. It is an album of great substance, style, dope beats, and a challenge to us all. I had the opportunity to chat further about this album with Substantial and left the conversation convinced that his new album is both timely and necessary.
Till: Yo, first off, I have to know. What is your favorite Hip-hop album of all time?
Substantial: I have a 3-way tie. I’m not sure which is my favorite of the 3 but they are as follows:
A Tribe Called Quest – Low End Theory
Redman – Whut?! Thee Album
Common – Resurrection
Till: What captured you about Redmans’ album?
Sub: I love Red’s style. He’s probably the most consistent MC ever next to Black Thought. Always witty. Always sharp. He came with raw energy and delivery from day one.
Till: Okay, someone is learning about Substantial for the first time. What are a few things that define you more than anything else?
Sub: The life I lead off the mic. I live what I write. I speak PEACE because I actively work toward it everyday.
Till: You talk a lot about where you are from. How has that influenced you as a person and musically?
Sub: I am product of my environment. Maryland has a rich history in the arts, resistance, and is filled with working class folks that fight for every penny they make. These things have molded my work ethic as an MC and more importantly as an MC.
Till: That’s dope. So, on “Made in Maryland” You talk about being saved by the mic and the pen. Where might you be now without music? And how has the music influenced you morally?
Sub: Music limited how often I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have had chances to travel because of it since I was young and dudes I chilled with everyday were shot, locked up or worse when I’d come back.
The music/artists I listened to challenged my way of thinking from how I viewed women to what I ate.
Till: What you ate? I’m intrigued? Can you expand on that a bit?
Sub: The Muslims and 5 Percenter MCs I listened to made pork seem like the wackest shit ever. LOL They were echoing the things my uncle and a few of my friends were telling me already. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure at 14 and after consulting with my doctor he suggested I limit my salt intake. Gave up pork shortly after.
Till: 14?! Wow. Thank God for Hip-hop man.
Sub: Real sh*t.
Till: Well, no good transition here so I’ll just jump into it. Your song “MLK” sparked a few questions from a friend and I’m wondering how you would answer these questions: How do you think Dr. King’s legacy has been distorted? And how do his social critiques remain relevant today?
Sub: I think we all are guilty of cherry picking what quote from our fallen leaders fortifies our position of the day. I think that conservative folks love to use MLK as an example to pacify us when we’re upset.
We still fight for equality today. Our schools, our homes our access to certain services are all centered around the mighty dollar and your access to certain resources in this country are still at times limited based on the color of your skin.
Till: “The Mighty Dollar” I worked in the public school system here in Cincinnati and it seemed like the status quo was accepted because interrupting it would mean messing with people’s money. Do you find the same thing happening in Maryland?
Till: Sad man. You rap a lot about social issues on your new album. Doesn’t come across preachy though. How are you in person? I mean do you enjoy discussing social issues with friends and debating with others? Or do you just prefer to put it in your music and let it ride?
Sub: I’m up for discussion and debates as long as potential solutions are on the agenda too.
I’d like to think I’m a pretty balanced person. I enjoy joking around as much as the next person but when it’s time to work, let’s get it done.
Till: I feel that. Well, when it comes to work, you did it up with this new album!!! Your new video for “The Sub Way” is dope just like the song. At one point it sounds like you are channeling the style of Rock from Helta Skeltah. I’m wondering if they influenced you? And who are some of your biggest musical influences as it relates to how you make music today?
Sub: Thank you! Huge fan of Ruck & Rock. Definitely influenced by them and other dope ass MCs with deep voices! LOL A lot of my peers influence me as well. Folks like my friends ToneDef, KOKAYI, Gods’ Illa, and Oddisee to name a few.
Till: Okay, continuing with the style of the album I’m thinking “Party with Purpose” might be my favorite beat on the album. If you had to pick one beat as your favorite which would it be?
Sub: Word. Marcus D killed it! Hard to say but ‘In My Daughter’s Eyes’ was the one I took the most time with. Loved the beat so much I wanted to try and write the perfect song to it.
Till: Really?! That surprises me just because I feel like that beat kind of stands out from the rest. It has more of a synthesized sound to it. Just about every other beat has a more organic, vintage drums, type of feel.
Sub: Word. That’s why that beat was placed in the ‘Future’ section.
Till: Okay, your new album is “The Past is always Present in the Future.” What do you want the listener to hear or get out of this album?
Sub: I want them to think about their own legacy and reflect on what has lead us to this point and start to think about how to brighten the future for all of us.
Till: So, thinking about the song “It Could Happen to You” How might this song take on new meaning over the next few years? Is it prophetic? Does it speak directly to the new administration?
Sub: I guess you could say that considering it was written six months ago. The larger point is that anything is possible but what it comes down to is us. How long are we going LET these things happen? When will the spectators become active participants? Our worst nightmare and greatest dream are both possible.
Till: Yo, that’s a great challenge to all of us. I appreciate you and your music. I appreciate this new album you have given us. And I appreciate your time with this interview!!!
Sub: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.