Los Angeles hip-hop duo Substance Abuse return to hip-hop with their remix EP, Background Music: The Redux. Consisting of emcee Subz and Eso Tre, Substance Abuse present a work that re-imagines some of the classic tracks first introduced on their critically acclaimed sophomore effort, “Background Music”.
Substance Abuse stick to their trade mark style of socially conscious content. The track “Rear View” featuring KRS-One, tackles the futility of trying to embrace a time period that is gone and never will be again, while still affirming some of the timeless values that people cherished during that era. Rear View: The Chase Remix embodies a new take on the track played on DJ Premier’s Live From HeadQCourterz radio show as well as many other reputable outlets.
“Background Music” refers to the state of hip hop today, explains Eso “where the music seems deracinated of the personality and edge that it once had.” It also refers to how our music is construed by the masses, people who generally seem to favor the popular over the obscure. Real hip-hop has been forced to play the “background” to club and dance music that seems devoid of any message or staying power.
After gaining much acclaim for their collaboration with MF Doom on the infectious single “Profitless Thoughts,” Substance Abuse released their debut Overproof in 2006. The album featured Saafir, Kool Keith, Motion Man, Kutmasta Kurt, Rasco, Thes-One, and MF Doom and received critical acclaim from outlets such as YRB, URB, Scratch Magazine, and 944. That album was followed by the classic “Background Music”, featuring Tash, Sadat X, Percee P, Myka Nyne, MC Eiht, KRS-One, and Max Julien (The Mack).
What looms in the background of today’s music scene are people who are fed up with the current state of affairs and want change. If you’re one of them, check out Background Music: The Redux
- Rear View featuring KRS ONE - Substance Abuse
What is your background? tell us where you grew up and some information about your upbringing/experiences as a youth:
Subz: Grew up in LA, all city public school kid. Spent my time skateboarding, writing graffiti, and going to parties, shows, undergrounds and raves.
Eso Tre: We were influenced by the era when hip hop was more house party music than club music, i.e. the “forties and blunts” epoch of hip hop. There was a mandate for dope beats and dope lyricism, and that shaped how we approached the music we would eventually make. There were also a lot of creative types around us, whether playing the guitar or doing graffiti, so it seemed natural for us to follow a creative path also. Ours just happened to be rhyming.
At what moment did you know that music was part of your life and what feelings did you have towards making an active impact with your music?
Subz: Ever since I can remember pops would take me to the record store with him and I’d pick out albums I was into.
Eso Tre: Public Enemy was the first group that really hit me hard. Gangster rap, which I also love, was big at the time but there was something more alluring to me about being able to inject consciousness into the music. P.E. had a message, but they still had an edge to them, and I always thought that’s the kind of dichotomy we would want to have as a musicians also.
What artists inspired/influences you and if you could collaborate with any artist (alive or passed) who would it be and why?
Eso Tre: I think Organized Konfusion and De La Soul are really our two biggest influences. Organized I think because of their talent for incorporating elevated language without compromising the vibe in the music, De La because of their knack for spitting rhymes with depth and double meanings. De La was always an enigma to me because they had hit songs where they were talking about really profound stuff, which is hard to do. I would also say Nas had a really big impact on us, because he showed us it was possible to be lyrical and still have widespread appeal. If there’s anyone I would like to work with, I would say it would definitely have to be him.
What do you think about the current state of hip hop/mainstream music?
Subz: It’s weak.
Eso Tre: I think there are dope cats out there who really care about lyricism, and there are dudes just trying to make hits for the club. There are some peeps talented enough to do both, and there is nothing wrong with prioritizing one approach to music over the other. The only thing that bothers me about the game right now is the lack of avenues for people who really care about the lyrical aspect of hip hop. For a while it seemed like if you weren’t making something for the Top 40, you weren’t on the map at all. But now you got dudes like Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q that seemed to have opened it up for the art of rhyming to once again to be accepted by the mainstream, which is an immensely positive development.
Currently, what projects do you have in the works that you are most excited about?
Eso Tre: A new album, one that represents our boldest attempt yet to bridge the gap between the styles of yore and the hip hop of modern times.
What are your short term career goals within the next 6-10 months?
Eso Tre: We just dropped a dope EP called “Background Music: The Redux”, which re-imagines some of the cuts off of our sophomore album “Background Music”. Going to push that to the fullest.
What are your long term career goals within the next 2-5 years?
Subz: Be the rap game Barry Gordy.
Eso Tre: To increase our social media followers of course! Nah f’real, we just want people to know that we are in it for the long haul. Our goal has always been to be hailed as emissaries of a universal, timeless sound. I think in the next few years people that slept on us will be playing catch up.
If you had one song out of the catalogue you have created to show a person what song would it be and why?
Subz: Rear View Remix because of it honesty and aggressive dopeness.
Eso Tre: I would say “West Los”, because it really describes the reality we grew up in. Not just geographically, but ideologically. The L.A. we knew wasn’t Boyz N The Hood, nor was it 90210. There was a grey area somewhere in between, one that I think escaped a lot of popular culture at the time. I think that song does a good job of depicting the things that we saw as youngsters.
To the person who had never heard of you what is it about your music and story that you would tell them to entice them to be a supporter?
Subz: We’re all heart, not coming from a place of pretention or materialism. We care about the craft without being stuck on the past.
Eso Tre: If they want to capture that feeling again that their first dose of hip hop gave them, regardless of what era you grew up in, then we’re here to provide that. We called our most recent effort “Background Music” to poke fun at what hip hop had become in a lot of ways: music that you could listen to while getting your teeth drilled. It’s not supposed to just be there, it’s supposed to evoke an emotional response and engage the listener. If you listen to our music you will get that feeling back. The question for the modern hip hop listener is if whether this feeling is something that they want, or if they’re just content with being numb. You can’t give a steak to someone who’s been reared off of Gerber food. But if you’re looking for a real meal, we got that for you.
If your music could be described in five words what would those five words be?
Subz: Lyrics, Truth, Vibes, Futurism, Deep
Eso Tre: Unique, honest, heartfelt, spontaneous, and funny. I say funny because we always try to inject a dose of humor into this excessively stoic rap game. People need to lighten up a bit and stop taking themselves so seriously.
What do you bring to the game that is unique and different?
Eso Tre: Sincerity. Every rapper claims to be real but few depict a life and existence that everyone can relate to. In real life there are wins and losses, roadblocks, obstacles, and victories that are appreciated but not always exactly what we wanted. It’s easy to be a rapper that promotes voyeurism. It’s harder to be someone who talks about what they go through on the daily, and isn’t afraid to address the doubts and fears they have. We talk about the highs and lows all of us feel from one time to another. Music is a coping mechanism for us. We hope that when people listen to our music it helps give them solace about whatever they’re going through too.
To the aspiring artist who is considering a career as a musician what lessons or advice would you give them to inspire them or to uplift them in the journey?
Eso Tre: Do not believe the “gatekeepers” know what dope is. Just because someone is supposedly a reputable tastemaker or critic doesn’t mean they know more about hip hop than you do. Sometimes the most influential people out there sleep on stuff that’s truly great, and it takes the masses to elevate something that they were quick to overlook. It is very easy to get discouraged when Joe Blow’s video has 50 million hits on youtube and yours has 500. But it is often spectacle, not quality, that garners people’s interest today, especially in an over-saturated market. If you’re getting slept on it’s not because you aren’t good, it’s because you haven’t done anything to catch people’s attention.
What are your social media profiles and where can people purchase/download your music?
Subz: The main site is www.substanceabusehiphop.com
Eso Tre: peep the links below
What are your final words you would like to say to people that you have left out?
Subz: Support our music and share it with loved ones.
Eso Tre: We remember everyone, and appreciate everyone that has given us a platform for our music and ideas over the years. If we don’t mention you here or there, it doesn’t mean we’ve forgot about you. And we hope that you never forget about us.