Straight from the Slug’s mouth
The voice of Atmosphere delivers his perspective on hip-hop’s global village
Slug, the voice of hip-hop outfit Atmosphere, knows why people go to hip-hop shows: “Some of you are here because you heard there was going to be girls here. Some of you are here because you like the beats. Some like the rhymes. Some are just here because it’s a hip-hop show, and you don’t get enough of those in your town. Some of you are here because you want to go make sure that I suck so you can continue to talk shit about me.”
On the phone from Minneapolis, Slug, born Sean Daley, hardly paused to reflect while discussing life, rap and a forthcoming tour with longtime collaborator Ant (a.k.a. producer Anthony Davis). In a separate phone interview, it soon became clear that Ant prefers to let his beats do the talking. He summed up his PR skills: “I don’t think I’ve ever said a great quote, but I know I have great quotes in me.”
Loquaciousness aside, Slug understands the hip-hop scene. “I’ll play a show in Australia and Europe, and there will be people who came to the show that don’t even know who the fuck I am,” he said of the difference between international and U.S. fans. “What I’m saying is that I don’t think the kids in Australia take [hip-hop] for granted yet.”
While Ant came clean that he’s “the guy who just drinks the most” when touring, Slug admitted he’s quiet on the road. “I’m a loner. Aside from doing the shows, I don’t really socialize with anybody,” he said. “I shut the fuck down and live inside of my headphones.
“I like to write, and I guess a lot of my writing requires isolation,” confessed Slug. “I always continued to just kind of rap about what the fuck my scene looks like. Now, here I am kind of looking at the scene, on one hand appreciating it more than I’ve ever appreciated it and on the other resenting the shit out of if more than I’ve ever resented it.”
Not unlike politics, the hip-hop scene has its factions. “When I first started going on the road,” Slug reflected, “I noticed a difference between the coasts and the middle. Over the last 10 years or so, the middle is starting to resemble the coasts.”
Changes in hip-hop are akin to evolutions in Atmosphere’s sound. The classic hip-hop tunes on Atmosphere’s latest CD, You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having, both come at you (like “Panic Attack” with its snare-kick backbeat, psychedelic high tones and witty anti-pharmaceutical lyrics) and also ease into things (like the soul-infused, Motown-esque “Angelface”).
“I’m so rooted in Lucy Ford [Atmosphere’s first record] in most people’s minds that when they finally start to hear me dip away from Lucy Ford, they go, ‘He’s evolving finally,’” quipped Slug, “when it’s kind of like, ‘C’mon dog, I was rapping like fucking Del before Lucy Ford.’
“There’s always a part of me that’s never going to stop knowing how to straight-up complain,” he added.
Opinionated? Yes, but definitely not pompous. “You can probably hear a lot of contradiction in my lyrics,” Slug confessed. “A little bit of confusion or not necessarily confidence that the writer knows where the fuck he’s going half the time, and I think that definitely speaks for how my life is right now.”
Slug’s honesty and lack of pretentiousness is what attracts fans to Atmosphere shows. “That’s what’s important: that these kids are surrounded by each other—share energy, share vibes. I mean, I shoot hippies so I can’t really say something like that, but just maybe two of you guys will meet and start a really fresh rap group. … Or even make a baby!”
Slug ended the interview with a small request.
“Oh, you know what? Do me a favor. Tell [Ant] I want to cancel practice tonight.”
“Ah, sounds like a master plan,” Ant later concurred.
SN&R: official hip-hop go-between.