Creating Umoja with Substantial

J Dilla’s death changed a lot of hip hop artists' lives. But for Substantial, an MC from Balitmore, Maryland it really hit home. No stranger to pain & ill health himself, Substantial was tragically diagnosed with cancer in 2011. The inspiration he learnt from Dilla who still produced in hospital despite his health, encouraged Substantial to move forward and to not take life for granted, no matter the circumstances. Substantial made international acclaim with his album ‘To This Union A Sun Was Born.’ The album was produced by Nujabes and Monorisick of Hyde Out Productions, and was so well received it became a Top 10 album in Japan 2001.

Now cancer-free and fully recovered, Substantial is due to drop his third solo album ‘Home is where the art is’ through Mello Music Group in September. We chat to Substantial about working with Oddisee, his upcoming album and what it was like meeting MaDukes.  Margaret Tra writes.

You used to be homeless? Please tell us about that.

While I was in college, I ran into some rough times and while attempting to find an apartment an unforeseen "bump in the road" landed me on various friends’ couches/floors for nearly three months. I wasn't forced to sleep on the streets, but not having an actual address or real home to do homework, can make or break a person. Thank god for friends and family.

What was it like working with Nujabes?

It was a one of a kind experience. Challenging, because we didn't agree on everything musically but still managed to make some great tunes. Awesome because I have a lot of fond memories of him that deal with his more human side outside of the music. He's definitely part of the reason I think differently. He helped me gain a global perspective very early in my career.

What was it like meeting MaDukes? Did Dilla’s making beats in hospital inspire you?

It's rare that a man gets to meet his hero or the person who physically made him. (Laughs) I enjoyed speaking with her. It was humbling, I told her how her son's work ethic, even while being hospitalised, forever changed my life. His story gave me new found determination, and made me cherish my time here even more.

Are you working on any new projects now?

I just finished third solo album, ‘Home Is Where The Art Is’. It drops on September 4, 2012 on Mello Music Group. I'm also working on new music for my groups, Bop Alloy & FANOMM.

You recently worked with Oddisee, do you have any favourite collaboration?

Educational & humbling. I try to surround myself with people who know what I don't. Knowledge is power and when it comes to his craft, few are more knowledgeable than Odd (Oddisee).  My favourite collaboration with him is a song; on my new album he produced called Umoja, which is the Swahili word for unity. It's a very powerful song about achieving unity through my relationship with my wife, family and community.

You went through a pretty horrific ordeal in terms of your health, have you recovered?

Yeah... anytime a doctor utters the word "Precancerous", sh** gets real pretty quick, especially when your family's history with various forms of cancer is as vast as mine. Thankfully, I'm cancer-free and fully recovered.

Musically who influences you?

Native Tongues, Common, The Roots, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Nujabes, my QN5 and old UV family, Gods'Illa... too many to name them all.

How does it feel to have a top 10 album in Japan? How did that even start?

Awesome! To see that in print was, and still is mind blowing. I can't even explain it, really. I'm just grateful for the opportunity Nujabes gave me.

What stimulates your soul?

God, family, & art.