Atmosphere Rising

A one-on-one conversation with Slug of the ever-evolving, ever-influential Minneapolis hip-hop duo

Atmosphere Mi Vida Local, RSE 2019

Since its 1996 inception, Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere — featuring rhythmic rapper Slug (Sean Daley) and acclaimed DJ/producer Ant (Anthony Davis) — have consistently been at the forefront of the genre.  

Presenting Atmosphere’s seventh full-length album, Mi Vida Local (released on their own independent label Rhymesayers), Slug and Ant have created 12 songs saturated in infectious, sampled beats decorated with allegorical lyrics and an introspective style of rapping.

During a recent phone interview with Slug, the 46-year-old rapper spoke about a multitude of subjects pertaining to both his personal life and his musical career.

 

VETERAN ROAD DOGS

Atmosphere relentlessly tours throughout the year and has crafted a special connection with its fans live. Their recent headlining tour with guests deM atlaS, The Lioness and DJ Keezy, has sold out clubs on most nights (including a recent stop in Des Moines, IA on March 22), proving that the group’s fan base has never been stronger.

“We work on making sure that this is a personal experience for as many people as possible. I also make sure to put emphasis on the fact that it’s really not important who’s on the stage, what’s important is who’s not on the stage. When you get a room full of people who have a lot of different ideas in their heads and come from a lot of different spaces… when you get them all together to enjoy something and get on the same page — even for just one night — it creates community.”

 

LAYING DOWN MIDWESTERN ROOTS 

With their Midwestern upbringing, Slug and Ant are very much tied to their community. The Midwest is where they honed their live skills outside of Minnesota.

“It’s where we got to, how do you say…  woodshed our abilities. It was our stomping grounds when we first started getting out of Minneapolis to show people what we were trying to do. The first places we got to go close in proximity were Fargo, Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa City, Madison and Milwaukee. Those were the people who got to see us practice, basically.

But does our connection with those cities mean what it is because of how I view them inward? (It’s) not so much about how I’m viewed by the city, but how I view into the city. I’ve kind of watched these cities change and grow over the last 20 years. I have to re-familiarize myself with what’s going on every couple of years because my favorite taco place is gone now!”

Illustration by Kelley Simms

FROM EMO RAP TO DAD RAP

Slug first coined the phrase “emo rap” in 1997 to reflect his vocal style and lyrics at the time. As Slug has gotten older and more ensconced in his family life, he admits that he has come to terms with his “dad rap” moniker.   

“Honestly, it’s not even a joke. I fully-fledged embraced the idea of dad rap about ten years ago when we made an album called When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, which came out in 2008, it was pushed back from certain audiences because it was quieter, it was all tall narratives and stories, there wasn’t a lot of arrogance, aggression or competitiveness on that album. I was doing exactly the opposite of what was going on in the landscape of rap at the time. When people pushed back on it, I was a little confused because if I think this is cool, how can I be the only one? A lot of our audience eventually did figure out how to embrace the album.

But at the time when I was trying to figure it out, I accidentally invented a term called “emo rap” back in the ’90s to describe what we were. Then years later people started embracing the term. But when I first started using it, people would tease me and make fun of me for stealing the tag “emo” and putting it on rap. Then with dad rap, the same thing happened. People started cracking jokes about it, like who wants to hear dad’s rapping in cargo shorts? Then Jay Z made a dad rap record and then suddenly dad rap is the new frontier.”  

 

ONE HAPPY FAMILY

Slug and Ant, along with Musab Saad (Sab the Artist) and Brent Sayers (Siddiq), created the independent record label Rhymesayers in Minneapolis in 1995. The well-revered underground hip-hop company has released every one of Atmosphere’s records, while also boasting a quality roster of several up and coming hip-hop artists.

“I definitely often get to feel like a version of a den mother, especially due to my experiences and how long I’ve been doing this. I have a lot of information in my head that is sharable. With an artist like deM atlaS or The Lioness, I am viable to offer, show or talk about some of these experiences.  

What I also do is to know when to fall back and let people have their experiences or figure it out on their own. I’m there, I’m available but I don’t want to be overbearing. I was the oldest of three siblings in a single parent household, so there’s a lot of parental nature inside of me. And I’ve watched in the past how I’ve ruined friendships like that being overly parental. So nowadays I’m much more cautious about how much of that I inflict upon my friends.”

Atmosphere

PERFORMING IS LIKE THERAPY

For concertgoers, getting together at a show enjoying the music and forgetting about kids, work or whatever it may be, is almost like a healing process. Slug agrees that it’s also therapeutic for him as well.

“At this stage, it’s almost like I’ve been to therapy so many times that I’m a professional and that I know how to manipulate the therapist. So I have to be careful nowadays where I can’t lean on it to save me like I could in the past. In the past, I could get on stage and anything that was bothering me would suddenly disappear for the next hour.

I used to go on stage and just let it all out. And what happens is, you open yourself up for the universe to take advantage of you. I’m just a lot more cautious now about working out my own issues while on stage. I’d rather figure out how to help these people either understand what it is I’m trying to say, or help them work their stuff out. I was never afraid to try anything. I was never afraid to fall on my face and I feel like people are attracted to people that fall on their face. Chevy Chase made a whole career out of that shit.”

 

Kelley Simms

Kelley Simms is a Des Moines-based freelance writer and a graphic designer/illustrator at a daily newspaper. His bylines have appeared in many diverse publications such as The New York Post, Outburn Magazine, BraveWords, Powerplay Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Hails and Horns Magazine, Consequence of Sound and Illinois Entertainer. Reach him on Twitter @simmsbury or check out his website at KelleySimms.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *