In the journey that is music, the ultimate destination is obviously us, the listener. We don’t see all the work artists endure to reach this goal-the long hours on tour and the relationships put on hold. Each career becomes a second hand moped-started then stopped and started all over again. Just like the mud-stained bike, it’s not guaranteed for another ride.
Stan B. Robinson is one of those journeymen. With jet black dreadlocks hanging off his shoulders, Stan’s initial scowl towards his audiences alters to a smile. The dude is charismatic as fuck. You’d buy an album from him without even hearing him spit. He’s an emcee’s emcee with the ability to make you laugh like the latest “yo mama” crack or hold down a story like a Morgan Freeman anecdotal voice over.
Known to the rest of the world as Substantial, the music has taken him from his roots in Maryland to the competitive world of the New York underground scene; notoriety in Japan, and then back home. After a seven year wait, his sophomore release, Sacrifice (QN5 Music) attempts to embody its title. The Crew’s Jason H. sat down to talk to Substantial – from his big dog status in the land of the rising sun, his definition of sacrifice and coming home to good ol’ “Murrrland.”
Photo by Eddie Tombs
TSS: So what’s going on man?
Substantial: The same old grind brother.
TSS: Word. Let’s get to it…You’ve been a staple on the New York underground scene for some time but you’re a Maryland native. Did holding it down in New York benefit your career?
Substantial: Definitely. I felt that if I could make a name for myself where it all started, then there would be nothing I couldn’t accomplish.
TSS: But now that you’re back in MD. How do you see the scene with artists such as Wale or Kev Brown emerging, as well as people’s perspectives of the area from shows like “The Wire“?
Substantial: I think the scene is bursting with potential. There are a lot of amazing artists coming out of the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia) area and it’s only a matter of time before the world recognizes who we are. As far as “The Wire“, there’s a lot of truth in that show but that’s only one side of MD. There’s a lot of wonderful things happening here everyday that unfortunately get overshadowed by the negative.
TSS: With that said do you feel you bring the positive then with feel good tracks like “Resurrection of the House Party?”
Substantial: I definitely try to provide some balance. No one is one way all the time. It’s important to have that balance.
TSS: How bout your individual style? As a lyricist how do approach songwriting? Do you try to tackle themes or do you adhere to the emotion of the production?
Substantial: I usually like to write to the beat first. That’s how the topic comes to me a lot of times. I base it on the feel of the music. I feel that’s the best way to compliment the production. I also skat a little to figure out different ways to approach the flow.
TSS: Who then provided these beats to inspire your writing on Sacrifice?
Substantial: My man Algorythm did the most of the beats on it. I also got production from Kno (CunninLynguists), Tonedeff and Deacon of QN5 Music, and my dude Definition from MD laced an all live track on the album as well. There’s a few other producers on the record too. Definitely some variety.
TSS: So hold up a second-let’s talk about the title of the album. Why name it Sacrifice?
Substantial: At the time I came up with the title, I was making a lot of sacrifices in my personal life to make time to do the music, so I felt like it was fitting. The crazy thing is that I struggled for nearly seven years to put the record out and had to make many more sacrifices to reach this point.
TSS: What then was the biggest sacrifice?
Substantial: The time I didn’t spend keeping in touch with my family. There’s nothing worse than being the last one to find out about major family matters. I really didn’t enjoy being out of the loop. They would tell me they didn’t want to bother me with certain things because they knew I was busy with the music. Nothing’s more important than family so I had to make some adjustments and get my life in order.
TSS: So where did you find that common ground for both music and family?
Substantial: Moving back home to MD. When someone needs me now, I’m only a few minutes away instead of several hours. It truly feels good to be home.
TSS: Speaking of away from home, every time your name is mentioned, heads say “Sub is the man in Japan.” How did that title come about and how do you feel about your international success?
Substantial: Basically a producer named Nujabes heard about me through a mutual friend and reached out to me. Next thing you know I was signed to a Japanese label and the love just poured in from there. My international success has honestly been what keeps me working. I’m only now starting to get respect here in the states that can compete with the love I get out there. Hopefully, I’ll make it back to Japan next year. Europe has been in my crosshairs for a minute though. I get some play out there but I’m patiently waiting for a tour to jump off.
TSS: Was it a coincidence that with your Japanese fan base the album cover for Sacrifice depicted Seppuku, or honorable suicide, a known custom in Japan?
Substantial: I struggled to come with an idea for the cover for years. I finally got the idea when I saw photographer Eddie B. Tombs IV’s work online. He had these fashion photos with models in martial arts stances, holding staffs, swords, you name it. And it hit me instantly. I thought it represented the title well and also connected with a lot of my fan base.
TSS: You’re known as a great live act and very personable sometimes comedic with your audience. But what kind of message do you want to get out there to the Hip-Hop masses?
Substantial: I just want people to know that there’s nothing they can’t do. And that there only real limitations are the ones they put on themselves. So when I’m not trying rid the planet of weak rappers I’m trying to provide folks with feel good music to aid them in everyday struggles.