NORTH BRENTWOOD – Surrounded by local artifacts and artwork plastered all over the walls of the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center (PGAAMCC), rapper Substantial said he felt at home. With over 30 guests in attendance for the release of his first full instrumental project, the artist released a huge smile as the crowd sung along on command.
“I just love the idea of every time I do a release, I am basically able to celebrate in the community I grew up in,” Substantial said. “…Just the idea that it is closer to home so it gives my family, friends and the few fans I have in this area [to celebrate].”
The county native, 39, tried something different for his fifth solo LP. The MC, real name Stan Robinson, is taking a break from his rapping personal to tap into his past experiences with production, which started at Suitland’s Center for Visual & Performing Arts as a teenager, to release “The Garden”, his first full instrumental project, on June 23.
A student advocate/educator by day at Suitland High School, Substantial has a long history in the rap game. In 2008, he earned recognition for his single “It’s You (I Think)”, which won the MTV “Winning Freshman Video” award. According to the music-streaming service, Spotify, Substantial has over 11,500 monthly listeners, with the largest numbers coming from Singapore and London.
For the past year, Substantial was producing music for other artists while assisting his wife, Rachelle Etienne-Robinson, with a side project for a family friend. Out of those moments came the inspiration of creating a full instrumental album with classic hip-hop and soul influencing.
The whole project became “slightly new territory” for the rap veteran. Aside to working only on beat creation, he became inspired at the Bronx Botanical Garden to practice his photography, including photos of flowers growing as the album cover art. The music contains elements of jazz with the mix of modern rap tones, Substantial said. Fans can expect a full project that attempts to connect more music together instrumentally than much of the repetitive nature of today’s urban sound. “The Garden” does include one vocal track from Substantial called “Beyond the Stage” featuring signer Stephanie Gayle.
“The project, for me, is really about growth and I finally feel like I am grown into the producer I wanted to be for a very long time,” Substantial said. “So, in terms of the vibe and the mindset, there was a lot of focus on song structure… I was just on my zen and really zoned out and engulfed myself into the music.”
During the project’s development, Substantial and his family dealt with several personal tragedies, including the death of his father-in-law, Frank Etienne. Instead of stopping or pushing back the release date to cope, Substantial said he “embraced everything” and allowed all the pain he was feeling becomes part of the music.
“It is therapeutic but it is not me trying to run away from it,” Substantial said. “It is me really embracing this great change that has happened and seeing how it makes the music more beautiful. [Also], seeing how that pain translates into an instrumental where I am not expressing myself verbally and letting you know how I am feeling.”
For the album release, it was all about keeping it local to his home county and accessible to friends and family, Substantial said. It is not the first time Substantial released an album with PGAAMCC as they collaborated for the release of “The Past Is Always Present in the Future” last year.
Children roamed the halls of the museum while Virginia-based rapper Awon performed and DJ Jav entertained guests with his music-mixing. Fans and family from all over the east coast came to listen and enjoy the completion of the album.
“When he started talking about this instrumental project, I [told him] ‘ok, meh, that is cool, but you are a rapper though’” Host Sherm The Barber said. “But when he played it for me, like really, this is properly one of the dopest instrumental projects I’ve heard.”
Jenny Do, 21, traveled from Wilmington, Delaware to the release party and enjoyed listening to “The Garden.” As a fan of Substantial’s for over seven years, Do was “pumped” to listen to the new music and meeting him after his performance.
“I thought it was great,” Do said. “Obviously, Substantial is a great rapper but he is great to vibe to. On top of having great lyrics and a great voice, he really thinks about the meaning that goes to his work; From lyrics to beats to rap, it is very thorough and that is what makes him one of the great artists out.”
Going forward, the Cheverly-born lyricist plans to continue his day job as a student advocate, counseling students on their future goals and aspirations, while still thinking about the future of his music career. Despite being one-year shy of turning 40, more instrumental work and completing a full solo album, producing and lyrically, are already in Substantial’s future plans.
“For me, it is all about legacy and the music outlives us,” Substantial said. “You’re making something that may be here for hundreds and thousands of years hopefully. So you start to think about it and how your legacy will inspire others and that is where my mind is.”