EPs appear to have overtaken mixtapes in terms of relevance in recent years, with countless artists choosing to move away from the often free mixtape scene, and deliver mini-albums for a small fee. This may limit exposure, but does mean that the final product tends to be more focused. Substantial has been on my radar ever since “Where the Art Is…” was released in 2012, and like other artists associated with Mello Music Group, I’ve gone on to explore their discography in depth. Substantial is no different, although he longer appears to be with Mello Music, releasing this EP on HiPNOTT Records with their production duo The Other Guys. “The Past…” is the first of three EPs, before Substantial’s fourth LP drops later in the year. It’s an interesting way to build momentum, in an era where artists are experimenting with all sorts of marketing and artistic techniques to distribute their music.
“Where the Art Is…” was a very strong album that benefitted from the Mello Music Group machine and their various beat-wizard connections, so I was a little sceptical how this EP would stand up, but any fears are laid to rest by the opening track “Follow the Master”. Little more than a statement of intent to belittle inferior emcees, the pounding production has enough going on to work as an instrumental alone. The Other Guys, fresh off of an exquisite EP with Von Pea (“To: You”), continue to impress and HiPNOTT Records are now a label I’ve started to prioritise when browsing for new Hip-Hop. Speaking of Von Pea, the Tanya Morgan emcee appears on “Late Pass”, a track all about longevity and the two emcees not minding if you discover them years later, as they aren’t going anywhere. I’m glad to hear it guys, as I’m still discovering great music from five years ago – God bless the Internet.
Promoted as soulful boom bap, “The Past…” does show why Substantial has chosen to release an EP to deliver these tracks, as some of the material sees him in cruise control. The second verse of “MLK (Dream Big)” teases the listener of the technical ability that Substantial has in his locker, reminding us how overlooked he remains, even in the underground. But the most striking song (and a big selling point) is “No Turning Back”; the defence of the sadly deceased producer Nujabes, and how Substantial is unhappy with the way some have treated his legacy. It’s refreshing to hear how Substantial has refrained from releasing half-finished material from Nujabes’ vaults, to cash in on his name and how he’s been elevated to a legendary status by many underground Hip-Hop fans after his death. The same thing happened with J Dilla. This genuine approach to his rhymes and overall lack of cursing may alienate some listeners craving a bit more energy or aggression in their rappers, but as an example of mature Hip-Hop for adults, it’s hard to fault “The Past…”. If Substantial can build on this momentum with each EP that he has planned, we’ll be sampling some very good music in a year that is quickly shaping up to be one of the best for Hip-Hop in a LONG time.