Interview: Atmosphere

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Atmosphere (Minneapolis)
by Kandis Knight

I recently had the chance to sit down with Slug of Atmosphere, aka Seven, aka Sean Daley, at his Uptown Minneapolis home, just before the release of his group’s highly anticipated new album. The undisputed reigning group of the Rhymesayer’s Empire and Twin Cities Hip-Hop, Atmosphere’s latest long-player, Seven’s Travels, was released this Tuesday to hordes of anxiously awaiting beat-heads.

When I arrived at Slug’s humble abode, his cat Lucy greeted me at the door, looking at me quizzically and sticking her nose into the air. I had heard her name (or was that namesake?) immortalized in more than one Atmosphere tune, but I resisted the strong urge to ask the animal any questions.

As Lucy led me up the stairs I heard multiple footsteps and suddenly found myself faced with the smiling visage of Atmosphere affiliated local turntablist Mr. Dibbs. I introduced myself and we begin chatting a little about his upcoming tour plans with Atmosphere. He’s an incredibly sweet, nice and well-spoken guy. Suddenly, I hear Slug’s voice. “I didn’t get a chance to take a shower, is that OK?” “I don’t mind,” I reply.

Lucy kind of smirks at me and it’s obvious she doesn’t mind either. In walks Slug with no shirt on. “Do you mind?” he says. Lucy looks at him and then back at me for my reaction. I take a look at him and see an interesting fusion of JFK Junior’s boyish charm, George Clooney’s GQ factor and Sean Penn’s bad boy appeal that’s instantly riveting. I bite my lip.

“No, be comfortable in your own house,” I murmur.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” he asks.

“No,” I quickly respond—flattered by his consideration.

“Never mind that I’m here, just be you.”

As Slug shuffles through the house, Lucy is still busy trying to keep my attention. Slug sees what’s going down and doesn’t hesitate to tell me that Lucy’s a slut.

We settle in to Slug’s kitchen as the interview begins.

Kandis: So do you think you’ve blown up?

Slug: I can’t tell. Some people tell me that I have and some people tell me that I am about to. Some people tell me that I won’t because I’m “underground.” What is blown up? Selling a million records? OK, well I’m nowhere near that.

Kandis: Do you consider yourself a local celebrity? Do people walk up to you on the streets?

Slug: More people walk up to me on the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York than they do in Minneapolis. I’m bigger in those cities, but I think that’s because people are used to seeing me here. So if someone sees me walking down the street at four in the afternoon drunk they’re like “there he is again.” But if they see me at a restaurant in Los Angeles people are kind of like “Oh my God.” I get more attention in those cities.

Kandis: Do you like the fame?

Slug: No, (obviously annoyed to the point that he gets up and begins shuffling around). As good as I am at talking to people and being social and all of that stupid shit I’m very neurotic about fame. I want money, though. Don’t get me wrong. I want to make enough money to provide for my grandchildren. But if the fame comes with [the money] I’m a little wary. It’s weird saying things like that, though, because I’m [actively] taking steps to become famous, so it’s almost like “What are you doing if you don’t want the fame?” So the whole thing kind of freaks me out. I know why I’m taking these steps to become famous though, because if I can get famous—even just for 15 seconds—then it gives me an opportunity to help some of my friends realize their dreams. (He jiggles his leg in excitement and his pitch heightens.) Eyedea wants to be fucking famous and he can do it completely on his own—I believe in that—but at the same time if I can get a big Rhymesayer’s foot in the door it’s just going to help him and Brother Ali and Musab achieve [widespread success] that much sooner.

Kandis: What do you think of other local Hip-Hop acts?

Slug: I like everyone. I really don’t think anyone sucks. Two years ago I thought a lot of people sucked. I don’t think I’m anywhere near the best emcee in the city right now. I see other people that perform better and write better—but I can’t say names. To me Brother Ali is the best emcee right now and the rest of us are like three feet behind him. I think all that’s left for him to achieve what I have right now is just more grind. He just needs to get on the road as much as he can and he needs to go rap for peanuts. The only thing that separates me from anyone else on the scene right now is just the time and the drive [I’ve already put in]. People don’t realize I quit working a job five years ago and lived off Ramen noodles and women so that I could put all of my effort into [music] 24 hours a day. That and a little bit of luck is the only difference between me and anybody else.

Kandis: What would you tell my little brother Brandon who wants to be an emcee?

Slug: The sacrifices are the part people don’t see. To this day I’m unable to maintain a normal relationship because I’m on the road six months out of the year. I’ve had a girlfriend for the last six years and we break up every time I tour. She can’t handle the fact that I’m on the road all the time. We get back together when I come back home but now I only come home for two weeks. (Searches for next comment, his tone deepens and his demeanor relaxes). And I’m a very. . . woman motivated person. I’m a very relationship motivated person. But am I sacrificing it to go be this little rap guy? The sacrifices are deep—you can’t be a weekend rapper. If you’re going to do it you have to do it all the way. I’d tell a fifteen-year-old to go to college. If my son even looks like he wants to get into Hip-Hop I’m going to do everything I can to persuade him to play golf instead.

Kandis: What happened to the Interscope deal?

[Ed. Note: Atmosphere was rumored to be signing a distribution deal with Interscope (one of the few remaining major labels in the industry and a company with tremendous financial clout) but eventually signed on with prestigious California-punk imprint and indie stalwart Epitaph Records for the release of Seven’s Travels.]

Slug: We changed our minds and realized we didn’t need to do it. We were trying to do it to secure distribution for my friends but we realized we didn’t need to. We were dangling Atmosphere as bait to get [the major labels] interested in giving [all of Rhymesayers] full distribution and everyone bit the bait, everyone was down. Interscope was the strongest with the best offer. At the end of the day though, Siddiq pulled me aside and said, “Are you sure?” and I said “No I’m not” and so we were like fuck it we’re not going to do it.

Kandis: How would you describe your relationship with Siddiq [the overseer of the business end of Rhymesayers entertainment]?

Slug: Siddiq kind of goes back and forth between the roles of big brother and den mother. He gives me the tough love when it’s big brother time and he nurtures me when it’s den mother time. I think he’s one of the few people that understands I’m not crazy or scattered—it’s just that I honestly have no fucking idea what I’m doing or what’s going on. He’s really good at steering me through life. He doesn’t touch the artistry of anything I do, he doesn’t touch my music, but he believes in me.

Kandis: What’s the biggest misconception about you out there?

Slug: For some reason I have this image of being a womanizer. Guys think I’ll make out with their girlfriends. People think I’m very promiscuous and I don’t know how that came about. It could be because I don’t defend myself when people ask those types of questions, or maybe it comes from the music. I always thought it was obvious sarcasm when I talked about stuff like that in my music. I don’t mind people thinking that way as long as it allows me to continue feeding them vegetables underneath all of that stuff.

Kandis: What events in your life were influencing the songs on Seven’s Travels?

Slug: I write a lot of songs and there are some older songs on Seven’s Travels that are about traveling and touring, every story on there is about what I experienced on the road. God Loves Ugly was about me freaking out because I was getting a lot of attention and I thought God must appreciate me for some reason because she was allowing a lot of people to like me. So now Seven’s Travels is about me trying to accept and embrace what I do for a living.

Kandis: What message do you hope your fans get out of Seven’s Travels?

Slug: Be careful what you wish for.

Kandis: How would you persuade someone to buy this CD?

Slug: I don’t know, I would probably tell them not to buy it because I don’t like to toot my own horn. Hypothetically I would tell them to buy the record because it’s [like] vitamins. And I would tell them not to listen to it. Don’t even open it—tuck it away and wait until you have a kid and then when your kid turns sixteen years old, pull it out, unwrap it and tell them to go and listen to it.

Kandis: What do you do to prepare for a tour?

Slug: Drink.

Kandis: Does that help?

Slug: Drinking helps everything. I drink, I fight, I fuck, I do all of the things that I’m not supposed to do to prepare myself for how ungrounded I’m going to be living on the road. I’m sure I’m doing it all wrong. A lot of people do a lot of different things and I would never knock what they do. I lose such a big piece of myself when I’m on the road. I become very unstable, very chaotic. I scare people in the band.

Kandis: What’s life really like on the road?

Slug: It’s very unnatural. Every city becomes the same city, every batch of kids becomes the same batch of kids and every club is just like the last club. [Life on the road] becomes this strange recurring dream because you go through basically an acid trip of emotions every night. You have your highs and lows smashed into a four-hour period [at night] and then when you’re done you’re emotionally exhausted. You go to the hotel room and you stare at the fucking stucco on the ceiling and think about how it looks exactly like the room you slept in last night and you don’t even know what city you were in two days ago. Before you know it it’s three months later and you’re back at home and [the whole time spent on tour] is just this blur and you’re wondering what you missed back home. It’s a strange zone and I wouldn’t suggest anybody [tour the country] for a living. It seems like I’m complaining, but I’m not. I love what I’m doing or else I wouldn’t do it. I’m explaining this [kind of lifestyle] so someone else can read this and get an idea of what it’s like. That way when they go into it they’ll be more prepared. Anyone who travels as much as I do goes through this. It’s a very unnatural thing and dealing with it isn’t taught in school.

Kandis: So you made a video for “Trying to Find a Balance”?

Slug: Yes and I’m scared.

Kandis: Why?

Slug: Because it turned out really good. I mean what’s a video? It’s a commercial. So I made a video for my album and if it works it might get pretty neurotic around here.

Kandis: Do you plan on continuing to live in Minnesota?

Slug: Yes, it’s my foundation, my son is here and my family is here. If I ever get rich I would have one of my friends set aside some room in their home for me and I’d go and stay there for the weekend or something.

Kandis: What famous people have you enjoyed hanging out with?

Slug: KRS ONE, Jack Black, Guru [from the legendary Hip-Hop group Gangstarr]. Guru actually took time to talk to me about [the record industry] and that was really cool. They’re all cool but they’re not as cool as my friends. Wait until after I’ve made love to Christina Ricci and maybe I’ll have a different answer for that question.

Kandis: Would you say local hip-hop is resurging?

Slug: I wouldn’t say resurging because we never really had that initial surge. I think right now we are looking at the real surge. The previous surge was just people doing it, but now when I go to other cities people are talking about Minneapolis and the Minneapolis scene. That’s been going on for a little while but now people are talking about it very seriously. I think since the Brother Ali album people are really starting to look at this place. I can’t wait for these other kids to get famous because we at Rhymesayers appreciate carrying the weight and we’re glad that you guys allow us to—but come on! Someone come and help us carry the fucking weight! I mean this shit is mad heavy; our shoulders are tired.

Kandis: What’s your advice for local crews who dream of attaining your level of success?

Slug: Get in a van and go play free shows. Be ready to sleep on floors and couches. Start with the Midwest. Get your ass down to Kansas City, Lawrence, Chicago, Champaign, go to cities you never heard of, go to all of the festivals and hand out your music for free. Basically understand that for the next year you’re going to lose, lose, lose, and lose. You are going to lose money, food, girlfriends, sleep – you’re going to lose everything. But if you really want it you’ll do it and the best way to decide if it’s what you really want is to go and give everything up for it and see what you can obtain.

Atmosphere
Published in The Source Magazine
By Kandis Knight

TRANSCRIPT

Kandis:

Hey Sean?

Slug:

Yes this is me.

Kandis:

Hey it's Kandi.

Slug:

What tha fuck! How did you get this job?

Kandis:

(laughing)

Slug:

Hold on a second.

Kandis:

Okay.

Slug:

(Talking to someone in the room) "You leaving?"

Slug:

Okay, I'm back.

Kandis:

Humm...got some company bad boy? (Giggling)

Slug:

Yeah....

Kandis:

Of the Australian kind? (snickering).

Slug:

Laughs, no, thats my girlfriend.

Kandis:

Oh, cool, moral support is good. Ready?

Slug:

Yup.

Kandis:

Can you give The Source readers a sense of the indie market and how it differs from the mainstream market?

Slug:

There is more money in the indie market because there are less middle men to pay. There is not too many differences besides that. I think fans generally want to separate the independent and the mainstream markets more often than not because that is how they form their identity as fans. Kids that consider themselves underground kids are usually anti-mainstream because that is how they stay like minded and stay with their friends who also feel the same way. As far as the artists go all of us are just fucking clowns for hire. It doesn't matter who hires us to come and do our thing we are just happy that someone wants to come and hear us. Mainstream or indie, whatever the hell you want to call it, what it all comes down to is everybody is just trying to make some music that they want people to feel. I really do not consider there to be a different set of rules that I get to play by that mainstream artists don't. I think that I generally don't ever feel like I am exploited or manipulated or like there are other people getting rich off of me. Which is something I would have a lot more issues with if I were on a major label.

Kandis:

You do not aspire to be mainstream?

Slug:

I do aspire to have as many people hear me as possible. But I aspire to do it naturally, I aspire to collect those fans on merit not through marketing.

Kandis:

Oh, thats good.

Slug:

That just has to do with my personal beliefs, it has nothing to do with what is better than the other. I want everybody who likes what I do to like to honestly feel like they would like me as a person too. I am not trying to trick people into believing in me or to like my shit by acting a certain way or because I have my shit pumped into their ear hole once an hour 24 hours a day. I believe the people who do listen to me feel like they have a pretty good grasp on who I am as a human being and generally feel like they like me and the people who dont like my shit are probably on point for not liking it because if you do not like my music you would not like me as a person and I don't really want you as a fan.

Kandis:

What was your day like today?

Slug:

Um, you got to understand it is only 1:30 p.m. here. We are sixteen hours ahead of you. I woke up this morning around eight. Went downstairs and got an egg sandwich. Had a couple cigarettes, got on a charter bus which brought us to the airport. Got on a flight from Melborne and came to Adelaide. Just got off the plane, just got on another charter bus and just got to this hotel thirty minutes before you called.

Kandis:

Getting ready for the show?

Slug:

Yes, the sound check is in life four hours. I got to sit through a few more interviews.

Kandis:

(laughs)

Slug:

Oh! I am sorry, I mean let me refrain that, I got to impress a few more journalists.

Kandis:

(laughs)

Slug:

But no, I got to go and set up merch, because I am the merch man on this tour, so is my girlfriend and BK-1 (Brother Ali's Dj).

Kandis:

Oh, tell him I said hello.

Slug:

Ok, I will.

Sounds

Kandis:

What do you have the party room?

Slug:

(Laughs) No, my room is not the party room, my room is the chill room. Ant's room is the party room. I got low lights going, Ant's room is the disco room.

Kandis:

How is the weather there?

Slug:

Oh its beautiful, its only in the sixties, but that is like perfect for me.

Kandis:

So this is like your second time in Australia?

Slug:

Yes, this is the second time.

Kandis:

Alot of people are being introduced to Minneapolis, through your music, how do you feel about that?

Slug:

There is nobody in Minneapolis who is qualified to properly introduce the world to Minneapolis hip-hop because there are 150 different sounds going on as far as hip-hop is concerned. There are so many different types of heads in Minneapolis but they all have to network with each other and be amicable and have respect for one another because we all have to work together in one form or another.

Kandis:

Do you notice this in other cities as well?

Slug:

Yes, there is alot of polarization between the different kinds of hip-hop scenes all over the country. When I go to New York and I walk into the club, they see you, they know you, but they don't really acknowledge you or talk to you and I don't really talk to them. We all acknowledge eachother but it is just not the same, in Minneapolis, everyone has a healthy respect for eachother. There is competitiveness but it is not the kind of competitiveness that becomes detrimental to everyone. Instead it just pushes us all to out do eachother.

Kandis:

So, according to you, there is no real Minneapolis sound?

Slug:

There is no real sound, there is no real Minneapolis sound because there are many different sounds and I think that is fresh but at the same time when you have a publication as large as The Source looking at us there is no one group that can best represent what our sound is because there are many. There is no one in that city that can be picked to best represent our sound. Everybody's got a different thing. Just look at our label, I don't sound like Los Nativos, Los Nativos don't sound like I Self, I Self don't sound like Eyedea, Eyedea don't sound like Ali, you know. But I think that is kinda one of our strengths. I think alot of labels get caught in this cookie cutter sound. We have a sound that represents Minneapolis.

Kandis:

Where do you see your music going in five years as you continue to evolve as an artist and settle deeper into your niche?

Slug:

My whole thing with music and the development of our music is that me and Anthony (Ant, Slug's producer) are just trying to make our version of a Brand Nubian record, we are just trying to make our version of a BDP record, it is not about us trying to bring you that new next shit that ain't nobody ever figured out yet. Instead we try to stay traditional with boom bap and with the way I rhyme I am not out there trying to come up with crazy rhymes about what its like to be a tree on fire. You know what I'm saying? I write about my life.

Kandis:

(Laughs)

Slug:

I write about what is in front of me, and what I observe. I keep it as real as I possibly can. That's all I know. Your not going to get rhymes from me about the streets and having to duck bullets, you might catch a little of me talking about smoking weed. But that is really as close to street shit as I am going to touch. I play with politics a little, as you know. We are just trying to pay our respects to what we grew up on and every album we make is like an ode to the type of hip-hop we grew up on which is conscious rap.

Kandis:

Oh really? Like X-Clan?

Slug:

Quite honestly I do consider myself a part of the conscious hip-hop evolution. The difference might be that with me, and quite a few of my contemporaries, that the revolution is not so much a social thing anymore but it has become an internal thing. Its a personal revolution, because let's face it you can't really save your neighbor if you ain't figured out how to save yourself. Yes we are like the long lost children of X-Clan, or the long lost children of BDP, Big Daddy Kane and alot of these emcees that were a part of this Black Nationalists movement but aside from them teaching me about that, they also taught me alot about self-respect and self pride and how to take care of yourself. Which is kinda of in some weird, bizarre way the direction that my records go.

Kandis:

Your work ethic is remarkable, are you working on your next project already?

Slug:

Me and Anthony started the formal beginnings of working on a new album. We are trying to cultivate a sound that we have both been really interested in. We are trying to see how close we can get to that sound.

Kandis:

Are you and Murs going to do another Felt?

Slug:

Yes, we are, but I am really not at liberty to announce who it is going to be a tribute to, nor am I allowed to say who is going to produce it. I can tell you that it won't be produced by either of the people who produced Felt 1 or Felt 2. In the process of deciding who we were going to dedicate the next Felt to, your name did come up.

Kandis:

Oh God no. Sean, you better not, I would kick both your asses!

Slug:

(Laughs)

Kandis:

How do you feel about being in The Source from an indie rapper's perspective?

Slug:

Well, I just have to say, them being open minded to this, a half of a million records later and selling out tours for years around the country. You can definitely tell there is a new guard taking over and I appreciate that. Not so much because it is good for me, even though it is, but it is good for the readers. They have kinda been going so strongly in one direction with blinders on for so long that anything to shake it up right now is a good thing just because that is going to shake up the readers. Even the readers who are into the direction it has been going in, this is going to be productive for them because they are going to have to think about and deal with some new shit. Regardless of the fact that they are interested in me, regardless of the fact that they are mega late, I would say that I am proud of the fact that they are still trying to evolve and still trying to hold down the title that they have had for so long. Its like them people over there could have become complacent and even if Benzino hadn't had gotten ousted, they could of still remained complacent and kept going in that same direction. The fact that they are trying to push themselves and grow and evolve, to me that is important especially because they are vets. Vets can get complacent they can continue playing that same hit over and over again. To see The Source trying to flip right now, is inspiring to me.

Kandis:

You have been labeled your own genre within hip-hop, called EMO (short for emotional) rap. How do you describe your market?

Slug:

It's not just me, but there is a whole movement of us. We have alot of conscious things to say, we are in tune with society, we are in tune with our surroundings, with politics. The reason why the masses do not know who we are is because we don't allow ourselves to be marketed that way. We are interested in getting people to take us more personal than that. I think the hip-hop nation is distracted by their video games and their playstations and I would really love to see hip-hop go back into that mode where it is searching for its own identity again. I feel like my music is like vitamins for my listeners, this is why they constantly come back.

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