Many people know Substantial from the Extended Famm classic “F.Y.I.R.B (Fuck You I Rhyme Better).” The baritone voiced Maryland native’s work with EFamm and QN5 has only grown since then. After spending the past half decade recording and touring everywhere from New York to Japan all of his hard work will finally culminate in January of 2008 with the release of Sacrifice. Overseas Hip-Hop fans already know that Substantial is an MC of a higher caliber that deserves listeners’ attention, with Sacrifice US fans will no doubt catch on, as well. This week RapReviews sat down with Substantial to find out more about his new album, the sacrifices he’s made in life, and how working in education has changed the way he approaches creating a song.
Adam Bernard: What is the significance of you committing hara-kiri on the album cover?
Substantial: Obviously the album is called Sacrifice. You spend six years working on the same album and you lose a lot of yourself. You start to question why you do what you do. You start to see how self-destructive it can be at times. It’s not like I live a luxurious life, it’s a struggle and it’s very much one of those things where you really feel like you’re killing yourself trying to do this. Holding down a full time job, doing the music full time for the most part, the other 9-5, that 9PM to 5AM, carrying a relationship, all of these things artists go through and in the midst of all of that you still gotta try to sleep. That was one of the things that ultimately made me move from New York because most of the people I associated with in New York were musicians, so I didn’t have a lot of balance. I’d get off work and then I’d be constantly around musicians, so I didn’t have that little getaway a lot of times. Even when I was at work everybody at work knew I did music so that’s all I would be talking about all day. I needed some balance. Ultimately the album is called Sacrifice because of all the sacrifices I’ve made from the time I decided to pick up a microphone. That image basically represents the pain and suffering that sometimes you go through as an artist to create your craft and it’s sad to say but it’s almost necessary because sometimes struggle makes for the best musical inspiration. The more you suffer or the more you struggle sometimes it makes it easier for you to pour your heart out on record.
AB: And the whole reason you moved out of NY is the same reason I can’t move back into it. Every artist and PR person I know would have me out every night of the week.
Sub: Yeah, exactly. And we’re not getting any younger, man. You gotta realize that everything has to be balanced. Don’t get it twisted. I don’t like to say I’m chasing my dream, I very much feel like I’m living my dream. Granted I’m not selling millions of records but I have a very substantial, pun intended, fan base world wide. I may not be as popular as some other artists but a lot of people are familiar with my music and anticipate everything that I put out. There’s a certain loyalty there and I definitely feel like I’m living my dream. People appreciate what I have to say and take the time to seek it out. And just to dive a little more into the cover, to kind of ties into the whole samurai feel, most people don’t know what samurai really represented and how the word samurai itself meant servant. A lot of times as an artist you’re serving, you’re serving your listeners, you’re giving them inspiration, sometimes you’re giving them hope, sometimes you’re just giving them something to relate to so they feel like they’re not alone in the world. That’s the service I provide when I make this music. That’s kind of why I went that direction with the cover. Then to tie it in with the music my instrument of choice, my weapon of choice, is a microphone and a pen, so that’s my sword. The pen is my sword, so that’s why the cover is the way it is.
AB: What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve had to make for your career?
Sub: It’s probably a tie between rest and relaxation. It’s important for you to regenerate. In order to continue doing this correctly you gotta have the energy. A lot of artists don’t eat well. A lot of us eat junk and don’t get a lot of sleep. That’s a horrible thing to do to your body, so you definitely sacrifice a lot of rest which is important to everyday life, so for the most part you’re sacrificing yourself constantly. I don’t think people really look at it that seriously but considering the lives we live and the fact that we don’t have health insurance nine times out of ten it’s pretty serious. At least I’m blessed enough to have a job that I enjoy doing. A lot of artists, we get in situations where we’ll work for whoever will take us and then there’s a few of us who have two careers. I have my music career and my youth work that I do.
AB: You’re teaching, right?
Sub: I’m technically not a teacher even though my boy says teaching is more of a lifestyle than anything because you’re always doing it. I’m Assistant Director of Prevention Services at Covenant House Washington, so I’m more of a supervisor now. Sometimes I facilitate groups with young people, go into different schools, speak with the youth and try to recruit them for our program, which does peer support and pregnancy prevention. I started here as a facilitator working with kids, but recently I was promoted so now I’m supervising staff at two different sites and making sure they have the tools to do their jobs.
AB: Has being in education and seeing Hip-Hop’s influence on the youth caused you to change your lyrics or style up at all?
Sub: Oh yeah, man, without a doubt. I’m a firm believer in balance. As human beings, unfortunately a lot of times we’re hypocrites by nature because it’s really simple, no one is one way all the time, you’re an idiot if you believe that. Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad, sometimes you’re curious, sometimes you just want to be funny so a lot of times you’ll find in my music, even though I’m very much conscious of the youth that listens to this music, I am an adult, so I’m not gonna do every song I do speaking to young people. I’ll probably never do a project where it’s dedicated solely to one group of folks. It’s one of those things where you might buy my album and think this dude says he’s for the kids, but he’s got a song talking about sex. Yes, that’s because I got a wife and best believe we don’t just sit around and look at bills all day. So it balances out. Some people may not want to hear that side of things but that’s my world. At the same time I’ll talk about serious issues, things I see in the world around me, but I see a lot of wack rappers in the world around me and I want to speak on that, too. Some people may not be interested in that because it’s not part of their everyday, but unfortunately as an artist it’s what I gotta deal with everyday so I make sure I got something for them, too. I definitely keep the youth in mind, though. I don’t try to be too preachy with it, I try to hit em from the perspective of I understand why you do this, I know why you’re into this, but you really need to know about the other side of things, too. I try to put it in a way where they’ll be interested in listening to it as opposed to ignoring how they feel completely. I think that’s where a lot of adults and educators mess up, they don’t look at what these kids are into and why they like what they like, they just say you don’t know nothing, this is what I know, let me teach you. You can’t take that approach. You have to give people credit for knowing something. Acknowledge them first, acknowledge their contributions, after you do that they’ll be a little more inclined to listen to you.
AB: Your label, UVInk, used to be associated with Ope Entertainment. What happened to that partnership?
Sub: For the record, me and Sean Williams, my man Ope, we’re still good friends, we still talk, still got some business that we do together, but there were different issues. Since I moved I’ve been getting pulled a lot of different ways so there were certain things he was asking of me and I wasn’t necessarily getting it back to him in a timely fashion because of the things I was juggling. That kind of put a strain on the relationship a little on top of the fact that he was having other difficulties, so he felt it was necessary the he step away and focus on some other things. He’s been a little more interested in film lately. He’s working on a movie right now, Know You Got Sole. And that’s my brother so regardless of what he’s doing I’m always going to have my back and he pretty much has mine. I think part of it also was the amount of stuff we had done prior to me doing the collaborate effort with QN5, he was a little concerned with that because for a long time we had been doing it on our own and he didn’t see it as a necessary thing when we first started discussing it. And a lot of times things don’t happen as fast as you’d like. When you’ve been working on something for five to six years already, which we had been doing with Sacrifice, and then you got a new album you’re trying to make happen things start dragging and you begin to get a little concerned with it. I do acknowledge the fact that he may have felt like I wasn’t acknowledging his concerns, but it was just one of those things. I kind of wish things had played out differently, but at the same time I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Like I said, regardless, that’s still my brother.
AB: Finally, with you being big in Japan, is it ever frustrating when you’re looking to book gigs in the States?
Sub: Actually it’s kind of like 50/50. Some days I feel like that and a lot of days I don’t. I think it’s the most frustrating when it comes to shows. I get a lot of love here, I get a lot of emails and a lot of people hitting me up online showing me support not only from the States, but Europe, as well, but it’s more frustrating at shows when you’re rocking a show and because people aren’t familiar with your stuff some people just aren’t trying to let go. A lot of people show up and try to look for whoever and I tell my joke all the time, you ain’t gonna be cooler than me, I’m on stage! The next 20-30 minutes, that’s mine. You can’t look cooler than me if there’s no spotlight on you so relax, sit back, hear some good music and enjoy the thing. Most of the time when I show up to rock it’s love but a lot of times because people are still trying to get to know me it’s a little laid back. I give em a certain amount of energy but I’m not the stage diving type. My man PackFM will jump in the crowd in a heartbeat, but I’m damn near 220 pounds so you don’t want me stage diving, dawg. The music is gonna be tight, everything’s gonna be there, I’m definitely gonna give you the right vibes, but a lot of times people have to be open minded. I look at it as the bigger my stuff gets in Japan I go out there and get a certain amount of love, I’m not gonna say it’s celebrity treatment but it’s definitely a hell of a lot better than I get here, but it’s kind of cool to come back from that and be a regular Joe. That life is real crazy. We just went there for two weeks, did four or five shows, three in-stores and four studio sessions. That was under two weeks and in five different cities. Sometimes it’s kind of good to have a little downtime here and there to focus on some of these other important things in life.