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The fusion of jazz and hip-hop is nothing new, so Baltimore rapper Substantial and Seattle producer Marcus D. don’t break new ground on their new album, Bop Alloy. The blending of genres was especially prevalent 20 years ago, when Gangstarr, A Tribe Called Quest and others sustained careers by rhyming over piano keys and wind instruments. Ultimately, Bop Alloy isn’t a first-round knockout, but a win by decision. Substantial and Marcus D. respectfully use a very familiar formula to create a soothing opus, safe enough to play on Sundays, yet street enough to blast on the block.
To know Substantial is to know his chameleonic approach to music. His last project — the 10-track Substantial/Burns EP — lived conceptually in the mid-1990s boom bap era, when Black Moon and Wu-Tang Clan roamed the rough terrain. That album, released in October, was punctuated by the melodic “Logicool,” and “The Memo,” which dared rappers to be different. Substantial’s next full-length album, Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, will be overseen by prominent D.C. producer Oddisee, and contain previously unreachable lyrical cadence, Substantial says. With Bop Alloy, however, Substantial says he wanted to create an album safe enough to play with your lady in the car.
Initially, it appears as if Bop Alloy is merely about relaxation and sleep stimulation, but the instrumentals are rife with pressure-packed barbs and rhythmic lessons. “The Art of Work,” with its acoustic guitar riff, is a three-minute jab to overrated, Internet-based rappers. “You got a shitty attitude, throw a fit quick/the only folks who know you spit sick are the fools who rap wit’ you,” Substantial raps. “That don’t make you valuable, build up your fan base/man face it, your resume is laughable.” The atmospheric “Star Child” stands as a hypnotic and heartfelt lullaby to his 2-year-old daughter, Serenity. On the quiet “Tokyo Twilight,” Substantial pays homage to the Far East, a second home of sorts.
Bop Alloy has figuratively seen the light of day, but it’s arguably the last time it will see the sun. Substantial and Marcus D. have created a delectable, nocturnal project that is best served with chilled wine.
Substantial & Marcus D. Are Bop Alloy is available here, and digitally on Bandcamp.