Using retro-leaning, jazz-influenced hip-hop, Substantial and Marcus D teamed up as Bop Alloy to create a highly unique album this year. Although it might not be for everybody, those who appreciate jazz and enjoy the smooth outcome of jazz-hop will love what Bop Alloy has done on its debut, self-titled album. The duo crafts melodies and lyrics that are equally well-suited for relaxed or intent listening. I got a chance to catch up with the duo recently to chat about their experience as Bop Alloy, and the legacy of the recently passed producer, Nujabes.
Hit the skip to read what the two musicians had to say:
Potholes In My Blog: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. How is life treating you right now?
Substantial: Everything’s good, man – can’t complain.
Marcus D: No complaints.
PIMB: Talk to us a bit about your early days in hip-hop. Who were some of your big influences when you were growing up?
Substantial: A little bit of everything. I grew up listening to Run-D.M.C., Rakim, and Big Daddy Kane and stuff like that. Over the last ten years I’ve been big into Common, The Roots, and even some artists who don’t make hip-hop – Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder – just artists who come from the soul.
MD: When I started getting into hip-hop, I was really into Substantial actually, and Nujabes. Nujabes was probably my biggest influence as a producer. When I was younger I got a mixtape from my brother with some Eminem, Fabolous, and Royce – and that was probably my real entrance into hip-hop before I started getting into the jazzier hip-hop.
PIMB: Much of your music has a very smooth, jazzy vibe to it. What is it about this type of music that attracts you?
Substantial: Most people don’t know, I’ve been producing off and on since I was 15 years old. So when I first started really getting into production, I would spend a lot of time digging through soul records and rock records. But the stuff I used to play the most – not even for samples, just in my downtime – was jazz. You know, some Miles Davis. I’ve got a pretty decent Miles collection on wax. I was just at the vinyl shop this morning talking to the owner about this box set of Miles’ work that they’ve got for like $300. So to me, jazz has always been there, just as a dope background to life.
MD: When I was younger I started playing piano and classical music, but I always wanted to get into jazz. I started playing jazz piano when I was about ten, and from there, once I got into hip-hop, I just always started finding ways to slip in some jazz to the records. I like it because I can put a contemporary flip on something that isn’t necessarily from this generation.
PIMB: Marcus, you mentioned that you played a lot of your own instruments. When you produce records do you use live instrumentation or are you flipping samples?
MD: I do a lot of both. With this next album I want to try to do a lot more live instrumentation. I like the sound of live instruments more – you can’t really beat the sound of a nice warm vinyl record. There will definitely be a large array of live instrumentation and sampling.
PIMB: Can you tell us a bit about the early days of Hyde Out and what it was like to be part of such a unique movement in hip-hop?
Substantial: It was interesting, man. Nujabes first reached out to me in 1999. Hyde Out back then was much smaller. I was the first solo artist to sign with them. At the time though Nujabes had worked with a bunch of heads already. He had done a lot of work with Funky DL from the UK. He made it real clear that he wanted to do a whole record. Just that process – I was living out there for a full month the first time I went. Being in the studio with Nujabes four to five days per week, and spending all my time with the dude was awesome. We were able to get lot of classic records out. It was an amazing learning experience for me. We meet fans who get surprised that we worked with Nujabes, as if he’s some sort of God. But when I started with him, he didn’t have the name that he does now, so it was more of a risk. I was just going out to meet with some dude who sent me a beat tape. But it all worked out in the long run. Definitely no regrets.
PIMB: Clearly you were very close with Nujabes. Can you speak about his legacy in hip-hop, and the influence that he’s had on the musical world as a whole?
Substantial: I think the legacy Nujabes leaves behind is that he was daring to be different. He definitely had a unique way of viewing hip-hop. I think sometimes people don’t necessarily treat hip-hop as music, and Nujabes was very much a musician. If there was something he was interested in, it wasn’t enough for him to know just a little bit about it; he had to be a student. If there was an instrument that he liked and he couldn’t play it, give him like two or three years and he would have it.
MD: For me, being probably one of the first people that I know of to start listening to his stuff, I was really influenced by it. It was right before I started making my own hip-hop. The way that he produced things and made things fit together even when they seemed like they shouldn’t was unbelievable. He gave me a new way to look at things now when I’m producing. There are lots of producers coming up now all over the place who have been heavily influenced by him. I know that the Bop Alloy sound is the type of stuff that people wanted to hear – as in hearing Substantial over beats that sound more like that old Hyde Out music.
PIMB: Let’s dig into Bop Alloy. How did you and Marcus D first meet up?
MD: On my first album, Survival of the Fittest, I hit up Substantial through MySpace to see if he wanted to do a track for my album. He said he was interested. I sent him the beat, and he sent it back with vocals, and it was just an instant classic to me. The chemistry was right there from the beginning. From there we just started building a catalog and it eventually turned into Bop Alloy.
PIMB: What is Bop Alloy? How did you come up with this name?
Substantial: Our manager stepped to us and said that we definitely needed a name other than Substantial and Marcus D. I spent the night brainstorming and came up with about ten names based on our influences – jazz and hip-hop. The one name that jumped out to us was Bop Alloy. Bop is short for be-bop from jazz, and Alloy comes from fusion, as in our jazz and hip-hop fusion. That’s really all it means, so it’s nothing too complicated.
PIMB: Many of the tracks on the new album, such as “Why The World Weeps” tackle important issues that are affecting our country and our globe. Why do you feel that it’s so important to spread intelligent messages through your music?
Substantial: I’m big into balance. I think that when people listen to hip-hop on the radio they are exposed to so much of just one type of hip-hop. They get a whole lot of that particular style of rap music, but not a whole lot of hip-hop. The whole essence of hip-hop is much greater. A lot of times when I set out to write a song, I’m not trying to do something that’s never been done before, I just want to address something that’s important to me. If it’s original – great! If it’s something that someone’s already done before, that’s fine too – it’ll just be my perspective of it. I get daily reminders of how blessed we are. But sometimes we get caught up in our materialism and things that don’t really matter.
PIMB: What are your plans for the rest of 2010 and on into 2011? Will you be touring for Bop Alloy?
Substantial: We’re working on it, man. Marcus and I were talking about it. We’ve been building with Kokayi a lot, and he has some things that he’s trying to include is in. We’ve also been trying to build with Apani B. We’re crossing our fingers and hoping that pans out, but the industry right now is so fickle, you never really know what’s going to happen. We’ve got some shows lined up; we’re just waiting for final confirmation before we announce it to the world. We also want to shoot a couple videos for the album, so that’ll be coming around soon.
PIMB: Any last words for the fans out there?
MD: Just, keep an eye out for the album. Try and get the physical copy if you can. The artwork and packaging are extremely innovative. We definitely encourage people to buy the physical copies because there’s just something special about that tangibility.
Substantial: Peace to all the fans worldwide. Keep supporting. For us to make the music that we like, it always helps to have supporters like you. We appreciate all the love and we’ll keep making that real music.