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Name: Adam Bernard
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About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Stacking The Deck with Substantial
Friday, March 01, 2019

Stacking The Deck is a feature exclusive to Adam’s World where I bring packs of 1991 Pro Set Superstars MusiCards to artists, and we discuss who they find in each pack.

Over the course of the past of the past two decades Substantial has established himself as one of the biggest names in indie hip-hop. He’s toured the globe, worked with legends, and is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Last year Substantial released The Garden, a project where he focused solely on the production side of things. The reaction from his fan base was pure support, and it’s a fan base that continues to grow.

“To see two of my tracks in the last year see 2 million streams, and to really build up my listenership – my listenership has increased tremendously since introducing my production – it’s been a welcome challenge. I’ve enjoyed it, man. I’m thriving right now, so that’s great.”

In the coming days Substantial will be releasing an EP titled Recompositions, which is the first project he’s done where it’s entirely him – the writing, the vocals, and the production. Recompositions will be six tracks, and include remixes of songs he’s previously recorded, and re-takes on topics he’s covered in the past.


Currently, Substantial – who is also a full time teacher – is working on his next full-length solo effort, and is putting together a project with his nephew, Wealth, titled Bridges. “He’s mid-20s, I’m 40 … It’s an interesting dynamic. Bridging this divide we see between the young and old hip-hop generations.”

I caught up with Substantial at the Think Coffee on the corner of Bleecker and Bowery to open up some packs of MusiCards, and the artists we found sparked conversations about a memorable amusement park ride, the song that makes him two-step while in line at the drug store, and the hip-hop career he dreamed of before becoming an emcee and producer.



Billy Idol

We’ll start with Billy Idol. The memory that comes to mind when I think of Billy Idol is the song “Rebel Yell,” and it’s mainly because where I’m from in the DMV area (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) there are two major amusements parks, and one of them is called Kings Dominion.

Wait a minute, it’s called Kings Dominion? Like the school from Deadly Class?!?!

Right. {laughs}

So it’s called Kings Dominion, and they have a roller coaster there that was called the Rebel Yell, so whenever when we would get on the roller coaster, it’s like we were walking up, and I’d be singing “Rebel Yell,” just fuckin’ losin’ it. It’s crazy because where I’m from is like, it’s the hood, but certain songs everyone knows, so every time we’d get on that ride I had him in my ear.

It’s classic childhood memory shit. As soon as I saw (the card) that’s the first thing I thought of.



Keith Sweat

It’s funny, man, one thing with Keith Sweat, because of his style of singing, I heard a comedian, I forgot which comedian, compare him to a goat. I love Keith Sweat’s music, so it was some disrespectful shit, but it was pretty fuckin’ funny.

But the main thing I associate with him outside of music is New Jack City – the wedding scene. He was the wedding singer, and that’s a fucked up scene, because that’s the scene where Wesley Snipes uses the little girl as a shield when they’re shooting at him.

Again, people see him, and they see the S-Curl, and they think of the ballads, and I’m sure their mind goes elsewhere, but I see the wedding scene in New Jack City and I’m like, “Fuck, the little girl! Nooo!”

And music-wise he had that album in ’96 that had a bevy of singles.

Yeah, he was killin' it, and I think he was a Wall Street dude, if I’m not mistaken, like banking, or something like that. I’ve heard interesting stories about him.

There was also LSG.

I was just thinking about that! With Johnny Gill and Gerald Levert, rest in peace. Classic shit. My wife has that album in her collection.

It was a great album. I’m not afraid to admit it. I own it, too.

A classic moment in modern R&B. Modern R&B of that time, I should say.

Recently some young R&B guy tried to say something about being the king of R&B, and Keith Sweat didn’t take too kindly to it. The fact that I don’t remember the young guy’s name is kind of all you need to know about him.

It says it all, man. R&B is starting to take on some of that hip-hop bravado shit, and it’s just hilarious because guys who’ve barely done a fuckin’ thing are trying to claim dominance in a game they’ve barely had a hit or two in.

It’s like, know your lane, don’t flex on people. I don’t think the ladies like it that much when you’re trying to pick a fight.

Right, especially a fight you’re losing.



Hall & Oates

It sometimes takes you being in a convenience store, or a Duane Reade, or CVS, and they’re just playing random shit, like soft rock, it’s not always the best shit, but then “One On One” comes on by Hall & Oates.

You forget how good these dudes (were). They’ve made some great shit, and that particular song, like the youngins say nowadays, it’s the fuckin’ vibe. I love that song. It’s one of those songs I had somehow forgotten about for a second, because we take in so much music that sometimes great music just slips your mind, but I’m hanging out with my kids, running errands, and I run into a drug store real quick to grab a couple things, and they play that shit, and I’m like two-stepping while on line. It’s just a great fuckin’ record.

You mentioned that we take in so much on a regular basis now. How is it making music for people who take in so much music on a regular basis?

It was challenging, but I feel like right now I’m in a great space, so I’m up to the task. I got a certain regimen. I almost look at it as working out.

At first I was just making the music, and I was like, “I feel like you guys need to pay more attention, and stay with it longer,” and then one day I woke up and was like stop fuckin’ crying, man.

Basically, a long time ago I stopped making records thinking, “This is gonna be the record that changes everything … I’ma do this, and when people hear THIS song everything’s gonna change.” That was the younger me, and I’ve had that song in my catalogue so many times, and I’ve seen people not give a fuck about it so many times.

So now there is less hesitation to put stuff out. Like trying to get a big build up? I make shit, I share it.

Now there are no labels in the mix, it’s just me putting my stuff out to people who love what I do, and it’s crazy to post stuff, or share stuff, and put it out there, and see people who’ve been listening to me for a decade, or two decades, say, “Dude, you’re still getting better. You’re doing things I didn’t even think you could do. You’re producing now?”

And you’re like, actually I’ve been producing for …

… a very long time, but I’ve had the pleasure of working with some legends.

Name drop!

Nujabes, rest in peace. Kno from CunninLynguists, Oddisee, Tonedeff, it goes on and on, there’s a lot of folks. Shout out to my homey Algorythm, The Other Guys, and Marcus D, of course. So many talented dudes who are great producers, and have very successful careers outside of what they’ve done with me.



Forbidden

I know nothing about this band. I just remember Forbidden was one of those girls on MySpace who was everyone’s friend. She had like a million friends. It was like her and Tila Tequila. Let’s talk a little bit about social media, because it seems like such a huge responsibility sometimes.

It is.

How do you deal with that, because clearly you’re doing it the right way since you’re expanding your listenership, whereas a lot of people just bother folks on social media.

I try to make my stuff, all social media, very personal, and very personable. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% an open book, but I share my family life, I share the content I’m creating, and the work I’m doing in the community. I share all these different avenues, and then I also do a lot of research. I read. I’m a student of my craft, be it music, or my company, Substantial Art & Music. We actually do social media marketing workshops for companies, and for other artists.

I try to be as responsible as I can with social media, because I know what type of power it has, I see how it influences the youngins I work with, and I’ve tried to get it to work for me without exploiting bullshit that I know can draw more attention. That’s the hardest part – when you know how it works, and you’re fairly good at it, and as a person who’s been active in my community I know the hot button topics that come up every day dealing with race; I have an opinion on all of that, but the problem is I’m also a creative who is selling my content through this same thing, so if I hop on every conversation, yeah it gets me a lot of likes, yeah it gets me more followers, but I don’t want my page to generate … there’s no easy way to say this … I don’t want to exploit my people’s pain to get me more fans.

I still talk about what we’re dealing with, but sometimes people look at my page and feel like I don’t post enough about those things, but because I know how social media works I know that I’d be capitalizing off of it, so I try to be responsible with how much I post about it.

We’re also so quick to judge before we have the information fully. People jump on the bandwagon of every topic that comes out and they don’t have the full story yet.

There are a lot of people who just read a headline are like, “I’m gonna re-tweet this because I agree with it!”

They didn’t even click the link.

Click the link, read the article, then go read some other articles.

Social media is a job in itself. It requires a lot of discipline. I’ve been lucky that I’ve made it work very well for me.

It’s not luck. You put a lot of work into it.

Thank you.

Some things are lucky, some things are effort, and we tend to get lucky when we put in a lot of effort. Weird coincidence.

Yes. That’s a great quote.

You can have it!



Big Daddy Kane

Of course, Kane is one of the greatest. He is arguably one of the Top 5 greatest hip-hop performers I’ve seen in my life. Maybe Top 3, now that I think about it.

I’ve met him, and he’s a super humble dude, and he’s a superior artist when it comes to his particular craft, so I have the utmost respect for him as a hip-hop legend.

The funny part of it is, watching him as a kid, as dope as his rhymes were, as dope as his production was, before I wanted to rap I wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to be a hip-hop dancer.

I was part of a little crew, there were three of us, and we had four routines, so my goal wasn’t to be Kane, it was to be Scoob and Scrap (Kane’s dancers), and if it wasn’t Scoob and Scrap, it was Leg 1 and Leg 2, they were MC Lyte’s dancers, (or) Trouble T Roy (who was one of Heavy D’s dancers), all of these amazing hip-hop dancers.

For every rapper that I knew, the rappers who were the best dancers, those were the ones I really fucked with, because at my heart, at my core, that’s what I saw myself doing when I was a kid. I was breakin’ really young, and then kinda transitioned to just the straight up hip-hop minus some of the breakin’ moves.

So when I think of Kane, that’s what I think about.

Also, on my album The Past Is Always Present In The Future there’s a song called “Follow The Master,” and in that album, when you get the physical version of it, in the liner notes I have a quote from various people to go with every song, and the quote I have for “Follow The Master” is from Big Daddy Kane, it’s one of my favorite lines from him – “I work like a slave to become a master.”

That’s such a great line.

He was a superior lyricist.

And it’s not like “we have to flip triple entendres.”

One bar.

He was an amazing writer. He’s still an amazing writer.

One of the greatest to ever do it.


For more Substantial, check out iamsubstantial.com, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, Bandcamp, and YouTube.

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