Slug from Atmosphere: "We've Grown Past the Underground Rap Identity Crisis"
Minneapolis-bred Atmosphere aptly fits into that "old-school" indie rap category. Since 1989, the group has released six studio albums and 10 extended plays, touched base on some deep societal issues, and has kept a fanbase while consistently evolving; difficult to do during a time like the 90s when musical consistency was everything.
Wikimedia Commons Atmosphere rapper Slug.
Atmosphere consists of rapper Slug (Sean Daley) and DJ/producer Ant (Anthony Davis), and the latter has produced every Atmosphere record with the exception of a few tracks on the album Lucy Ford. Former member and co-founder Spawn (Derek Turner) left the group three years after the release of the group's first album Overcast.
Slug is famous for his introspective style and allegorical usage of women and relationships in his rhymes, most particularly in his earlier songwriting. But Slug doesn't feel it's important to explain his reasoning behind his work; he prefers to leave that interpretation up to the listener. For example, his ongoing character "Lucy." In his earlier works, it's believed that Lucy was a reference to ex-girlfriends.
Atmosphere's 2001 album was named Lucy Ford: The Atmosphere EPs, with a heavy concentration on ladies. One time Slug himself even said that Lucy was a representation of the dichotomy between himself and women; maybe even translating from "Lucy Ford" to "Lucifer" as a demonization between himself and his dependency on drugs, sex and alcohol. Make sense, when you think about 2002's God Loves Ugly song "Fuck You Lucy."
His 2008 album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is perhaps one of the band's most well-known albums, less of a navel-gazing experience and far more dark. Last July, Atmosphere dropped their new single "Bob Seger," and on May 6 the new album Southsiders will be released. Other track names include "January on Lake Street," "The World Might Not Live Through the Night" and "Kanye West. It's quite the progression from the act's last album, The Family Sign, which was about Atmosphere's growing family (he's now a father of three).
Along with the duo's relentless touring habits and their label Rhymesayers, Atmosphere is pushing the boundaries of what indie rap can be.
Even with Slug's prominent lyrical themes, I wasn't expecting the rapper/songwriter to be such a character on the phone -- and I say "character" in a good way. His lengthy responses intrigued me, and he embraced controversy with enthusiasm and measured thoughtfulness.
Prior to Atmosphere's performance this Saturday at Tempe Beach Park (where they'll co-headline an outdoor concert with Iration, Rebelution, and others), Up On the Sun talked with Slug about the meeting point between mainstream and indie rap, how (and why) the duo's sound has evolved, and why he would live in Tucson but not Phoenix.
You guys will be playing with Iration, Pepper, and Rebelution. What do you think is a common thread between those bands and Atmosphere?
I would suggest...you have people who just want to enjoy themselves and have a good time. In different scenes and genres you get different types of personality traits. One of those things that separates us from some of our rap contemporaries is that a lot of our audience doesn't really care about whose wearing what clothes or whose got brand new shoes on and whose cooler than who.
People just come to dance and let it out. That's not to say that doesn't span across hip-hop, but with underground rap where we come from, or the indie world of rap, there's a lot of people who don't really want to let their hair down. So we've been fortunate enough to not get stuck inside of. I don't care about what I'm wearing or how I look, so we're fortunate that we have an audience that relates to me like that.
Now, when I see that...we went on tour with Slightly Stoopid last summer and I saw how our audiences were similar in that way. They were there for good music and vibes and a buzz. And probably hopefully get laid that night! So as opposed to when we tour with you know independent rap groups there's a coolness factor there.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to shit on that. I relate to that coolness factor because I grew up in rap. But as I've gotten older and had more experiences and met more people I've abandoned that and learned how to embrace people for the pleasure and the pain that comes with it and not worry so much about self.
So that's a long way to answer something I could've been more direct with. But a show like this one is the fact that none of us are trying to out-cool each other. I think these are all bands that realize that the sum of the parts of the greater than us. We're just another part to the sum.