Difficult to believe that this LP is now 12 years old. At the time it was produced both drum n’ bass and big beat were approaching critical mass whilst the genre formerly known as ‘trip hop’ was slowly transforming itself into ‘chill out’ and losing any semblance of 'da funk' in the process. An appalling invented pigeonhole it may have been but ‘trip hop’ is possibly the only way to describe the eight tracks and nine interludes that comprise Substances.
Parisian DJ Cam pays homage not only to his hip hop roots on this LP but also the city’s jazz heritage and it’s a smoky, late night cellar bop that infuses all of the tracks especially those like Friends & Enemies with its Malcolm X speech sample and Blue Note piano riff and the weary, bleary eyed blues of Angel Dust. Innervisions begins with a double bass riff that gradually expands via harp, piano and strings into a beautiful voyage around Cam’s internal headspace, Hip Hop Pioneers pays tribute to the likes of Premier, Guru, Jeru, Group Home, Eric B and Rakim and Public Enemy who get name-checked on the sleeve. Guru is obviously an influence on Substances yet here Cam burrows much deeper into the subterranean heart of jazz than his US counterparts.
Elsewhere the LP uses Kakoli Sengupta’s haunting vocals to provide Eastern textures to tracks such as Meera and Lost Kingdom. This a mood piece LP for the wee small hours with only Sound System Children’s pulsating John Carpenter a la Jean-Luc Godard soundtrack and closing track Twilight Zone’s string drenched drum n’ bass upping the tempo to a stoned head-noddin’ pace.
French hip hop was ‘de rigeur’ in the mid-90s but whereas the likes of Dimitri and Daft Punk managed to transcend their Gallic roots to become global players, DJ Cam never really became more than a cult star and trendy name to drop in Jazz Café/Straight No Chaser circles. A pity because at his best, Cam effortlessly fused the past, present and future of ‘urban’ music better than almost anybody.