Substantial – The Past Is Always Present In The Future (Review)

Reviews, Substantial

Besides having a terrific name, ‘The Past Is Always Present In The Future’ is a breathtaking showcase of thoughtful, intelligent rap music from one of the genres most underappreciated musicians. Maryland MC Substantial has been putting the work in for nearly two decades, and his longstanding career is full of gems as it is, but as we take the first steps into 2017, it’s important that lyrical, technical skill is brought back to the forefront, and Substantial certainly provides.


A cinematic instrumental laced with swelling percussion and funky guitar licks back Substantial as he establishes the album’s dynamic on the absorbing, captivating opener ‘Exposition’. His vocals are both melodic and powerful, and the Maryland MC’s experience and prowess is immediately apparent. The gritty ‘Made In Maryland’ is a standout; the crunchy drums and jazzy keys are brilliantly executed by renowned Baltimore producer Oddisee, and Substantial is also accompanied by fellow MD artist Steph The Sapphic Songstress.

‘No Turning Back 2.0’ is another favourite; the uplifting, inspirational tone of ‘The Past Is Always Present In the Future’ is a direction that is unfortunately seldom heard in today’s rap-market, even on the underground circuit. Substantial displays his remarkably precise flow, and his commanding delivery makes his verses consistently enjoyable. ‘MLK (Dream Big) 2.0′ is flawlessly executed. The soulful production, provided by The Other Guys’, is blessed with heavy punchlines from Sub and See King. The punchlines are witty and concise, but the overall vibe of the track is intelligent and mature, which is an overarching characteristic of the album. ‘Follow The Master’ is the standout of the album; the groovy instrumental and effortlessly, silky vocals are guaranteed to set your head moving, and the energy is perfectly balanced with a sophisticated presence on the mic.

The production on ‘The Past Is Always Present In The Future’ is so impressive, and the crisp, live-feel of ‘Party With Purpose’ is a great example of the inventive and authentic character of the LP; it’s undeniably catchy, but doesn’t struggle for a moment to retain it’s integrity amongst the conscious, thought-provoking material found in Substantial’s writing. ‘No Better Time’ also exemplifies the grown-man rap that SubStan excels at throughout his fifth solo album, and it finds Cyse Starr of the Florida group Cyne contributing a stellar performance. Substantial’s voice makes use of raw, grimey effects on ‘It Could Happen’, and it’s contrastingly partnered by crisp, shimmering production; the deep, steady bassline, glossy keys and sweet vocal samples are professionally executed and this is an musician in his element.

There’s not a slow-point on the album, and the anthemic ‘The 4our 4ours’ continues the exhilerating experience. Maryland lyricist Greenspan impresses on this joint, and it’s great to see such a healthy dose of Maryland artists on the album. It’s an area that can be severely overlooked in the deep pool of rappers fighting for the public’s attention. ‘Tony Stanza’ finds the respected Cunninlynguists affiliate Tonedeff delivering a characteristically animated verse, and the scope and diversity of the production is once again highlighted, with relentless drums and intense bass culminating in an intricate jazz-piano solo after Substantial has dropped his final bar.

Go and get this one immediately; the maturity and introspection are remarkable, and the quality of writing and instrumentation is truly impressive. ‘The Past Is Always Present In The Future’ is a long-running project at seventeen tracks, but there are so many good moments on here that it doesn’t ever become an issue. There are a variety of styles, subjects and vibes on here, and Substantial’s inspiring tone is enthralling and captivating throughout the album; you’d be a fool to let this one slip by.

By Sam Bennett





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