On the intro track of West Coast duo, Substance Abuse’s Background Music a female voice exclaims, “they sound totally throwback, like 1998.” This is either a little jab at people who overuse the word throwback (the lady’s tone sort of suggests so), or perhaps it means that they haven’t changed their sound since ’98, the year they dropped their debut EP. Either way, Substance Abuse (tied with Greg Porn as the most Google-proof name in hip-hop) walks a tightrope on the fine line of nostalgia hip-hop and dated flows, concepts, and production.
Substance Abuse features two MCs, Subz and Eso Tre, and they are both average-at-best MCs. On “How Many” the two showcase their mediocrity by attempting a double-time flow over an up-tempo beat. The two struggle with flows throughout the album, but they don’t really have any presence on the microphone either (Subz especially). For the most part, the album’s production is solid, if not unimaginative. One of the album’s best beats, “Young Hollywood,” is squandered by a lame song concept (underground rappers griping about how shallow and pathetic people are in Hollywood, complete with dated-Kevin Federline references).
What’s most puzzling about Substance Abuse and Background Music is the fact that they were able to acquire guest features from the likes of KRS-One, MC Eiht and Tash (of Tha Alkaholiks). Their 2006 album also featured names like MF DOOM, Kool Keith and Rasco, so obviously someone likes these guys. The album’s lone song I would consider “very good” is “West Los,” which features a swooping bass line and frantic sirens during one of the album’s best hooks. But for the most part, at its best Background Music is average and forgettable, and at its worst, Substance Abuse comes off amateurish, despite their big name co-signs.
– Zach Gase