We talk to Slug, of the underground rap duo known as Atmosphere, about his new album, his old albums, and other randomness.
Atmosphere have a lengthy history within the underground rap scene, and while they've never quite made it to mainstream stardom (there is probably a reason: they don't want too), they've developed large and loyal underground following. The duo, individually known as Slug and Ant, released their debut album Overcast!, then with another member by the name of Spawn, in 1997. Since that time, they've released five more studio albums, sprinkled with plenty of EPs in between, leading up to their most recent effort, Southsiders, which is due out tomorrow, May 6th. With the album release around the corner, we hopped on the phone with the Rhymesayer himself, Slug, to shoot the shit about his new album, his old albums, and some random stuff in between.
Enjoy the conversation below. Pick up a copy of Southsiders here.
HNHH: Sooo, the questions I’m gunna ask, I’m gunna try to keep it to ten minutes, are a range of old and new and it’s all pretty random. To start off, I’ve been to your live shows before, and when you performed “God Loves Ugly” you changed the ten letter word “Atmosphere” to “Prostitute.” So I just wanted to talk to you about your live shows, do you do that at every show and do you have a bank of ten letter words?
Slug: I have a lot of ten letter words…No I don’t actually have a lot of ten letter words. “Prostitute” was the only one that I ever changed that too, and I only do that from time-to-time, I don’t do that every time, I just kinda do it whenever I’m feeling like a hooker.
HNHH: Ah okay. I’ve been listening to your new album a little bit, “Camera Thief”, I think it’s an awesome song and I love the title. I always find you have interesting song titles. I just wanted you to talk a little bit about that song and why you called it “Camera Thief”, and what’s the entire concept kinda about?
Slug: That song was…Well it’s the first song because it’s an extension of the last song of the last album. Every one of our records we try to start off at a place that…’Cause all the albums are kinda tied together in our minds, so with my notes, that was a song basically saying like, look, I will continue to do this for as long as you guys allow me to do this. And “Camera Thief” was a song going, are you sure you wanna let me do this? ‘Cause the song itself kinda breaks down what exactly me and Anthony are doing—we steal moments. We see these things and we steal these moments and we go and make music about it. Sometimes we put our moments in there and sometimes we will put somebody else’s moments that aren’t ours. So that was a song saying you’ve obviously decided that you will still let us do this. So it’s kind of a song just announcing what it is we’re actually doing. It’s funny ‘cause a lot of the shit we deal with in our records, is some of the most inaccessible shit in the world. We talk about things that nobody should fucking care about, and people just keep letting us do it. We haven’t been fired yet.
HNHH: ‘Cause people can relate.
Slug: Well the thing is, I don’t even know if they really can relate. Or if they’re searching out reasons to convince themselves that they can relate. ‘Cause sometimes when I read a review or when I see kids online talking about shit, their interpretations of our songs are so far off the mark, that it makes me go, man, I don’t think they’re relating to us, they’re searching for their own shit, and they’re finding it here. And if we weren’t here, they’d find it somewhere else. It’s starting to make me realize, we’re not the most important part of the sum. We’re just accidentally where we are—if we didn’t exist, these kids would find it in something else. You know what I’m saying, because they’ll take certain songs and twist the meaning to suit their own needs—and that’s beautiful, I’m glad they do that, I would never complain about that, but it’s showing me as artists, the artist is the least important part of the art. The artist was just an idea, but then once that idea is released to the people, whether it’s just a song or a painting, that’s when the people get to make that idea whatever the fuck they want that idea to be. In that regard, all artists, technically, are just fortunate. But that’s not all that song, that song was just me saying, hey, I steal moments, metaphorically I take pictures. But I steal moments and then I take the moments and turn them into whatever I wanna turn them into. But the truth is, the listener is the real camera thief, they’re stealing my moments and turning them into what they want it to be. The shit that I’m usually talk about is not that straight-forward, I’ve made a few straight-forward records but a lot of the shit that we do is cryptic, I know that it is, I don’t try to be cryptic but it just is what it is, it just comes out as it comes out. But now I’m starting to understand how it is that people use us, and I appreciate it.
HNHH: Mhmm, one line that I found was cryptic but just reminded me of “Inception” was when you said, “I keep my dreams inside my dreams”, I don’t really know what that means, but it sounds so cool.
Slug: It just means that I’m not gunna show the authorities what I love ‘cause they’re just gunna take it away from here. It’s following “those cheap police won’t find my wings”, they’re not gunna find what allows me to fly and feel good, I keep it in my head so you can’t take it from me. You can take everything else, you could take my cars, my shoes, you could take my fucking life away from me, but you’ll never be able to take what’s in my mind.
HNHH: Yeah, and this kinda ties into the camera idea, I’ve seen your Instagram and you post a lot of, rather than just a picture of your meal, nice photos, the visual aesthetics are there, and with your guys’ albums, they’ve always had aesthetically-pleasing artwork and you always do something interesting with it. I was wondering which album has your favorite artwork?
Slug: Wow. Um. My favorite artwork would be…That’s a good question.
HNHH: I’m curious.
Slug: Yeah, I dunno, what my favorite one is, I usually don’t like it when we’re on the cover, but I do like the new one, Southsiders. I think Southsiders is probably my favorite right now. I dunno if you can tell, but we’re below a graveyard.
HNHH: Oh, yeah, now that you say that it kinda makes sense but I didn’t know.
Slug: So I love that cover just because of all the implications.
HNHH: I’m assuming that’s somewhere nearby where you live?
Slug: Yeah, yeah. It’s two blocks from the crib. But Southsiders is where I grew up, I grew up on the south side of Minneapolis, but that’s too exclusive, like why would someone from Tulsa, Oklahoma give a fuck about the south side of Minneapolis? So, Southsiders to me actually represents a lot more than just where I live. Everywhere you go there’s a south side, it’s the bottom, it’s the downside, it’s the underground, it’s the struggle side—and I don’t just mean that the people that struggle live on the south side of the city, I’m not really talking about a geographical thing, it’s more a metaphorical thing. The south side is underground, it could be death, it could be hell. That’s kinda what this record is about. I don’t have to struggle anymore with paying my phone bill. But now that I’m at that place where I don’t have to do that, I’m trying to open up my mind and heart to other struggles. A lot of rappers, once they ain’t struggling no more, they start rapping about all the shit they have. That shit’s corny to me, why would I rap about the shit I’ve accumulated, instead, if I don’t have to worry about my inner struggle anymore, what’s the outer struggle? ‘Cause the whole world is fucking struggling, so what can I shine some light on, without necessarily becoming a preachy, political rapper, ‘cause that shit ain’t me either. But how do I still play my part in the revolution by reminding people we are all looking for hope, to me, that’s really what me and Ant’s music’s about, it’s about hope.
HNHH: Definitely. Sad Clown Bad Dub- do you think you’re gunna be dropping any new instalments in that?
Slug: Nah. The Sad Clowns are done. We’ll still do some interesting side projects, and things like that, but we got to number thirteen, that’s when we were like, okay, there’s too many of these things. It’s time to chill. Thirteen is a good number to stop it.
HNHH: Would you ever re-release Sad Clown Bad Dub I or Dub II which are pretty sought after?
Slug: You don’t really need to now that the internet exists.
HNHH: Yeah but you guys did it with Headshots—I guess it would be the mastered…
Slug: Sureeee, but we never claimed Headshots to be a limited edition, where as all the Sad Clowns were limited edition so re-releasing it kinda takes it away from the people that bought it the first time.
HNHH: True. Do you ever look at how much those things are going for online? There’s one cassette I saw was going for over $2,000.
Slug: That’s ridiculous. I would make fun of anybody who paid that much.
HNHH: [Laughs] Okay some more old stuff, I wanna know about when and where you thought of God Loves Ugly, as an album title and just the whole idea, and did you think at the time it’d leave such a lasting imprint on your fanbase?
Slug: Nah, I think as an artist you never really know how people are gunna take what you do, and there was no way to have known that that would have left an imprint on the fanbase, I’m fortunate that it did. As far as where I was at, I was at a dark place when I made that record. I wasn’t healthy, my brain was not healthy, my brain was angry and self-medicating. It was a very hard place, I was living a very hard life though, I was partying too much and I was hanging around fucking people who were not necessarily challenging me to make better decisions with my life.
HNHH: Do you still talk to Spawn (I know he’s not going by Spawn anymore), but are you guys on good terms and would you guys collaborate again or is that done?
Slug: I mean, when we see each other it’s all good, and we talk to each other about once a year. But we bump into each other from time-to-time here in the city and it’s all good, but I dunno, I won’t say I won’t work with again, but I dunno. That’s all about circumstance it just depends on the circumstance. You just gotta let nature take it’s course and shit like that.
HNHH: Do you ever think about retirement? ‘Cause you’re a family man now, that’s the sense I get.
Slug: I don’t think about retirement as much as I think about people firing me from this job. I will do this job until people fire me.
HNHH: Okay, is there any album in your career you consider a misstep?
Slug: They’re all good to me, I don’t mind any of them. Seven’s Travels is the one to me I kinda feel guilty about.
Slug: Because it wasn’t a real record, it was all the songs that didn’t make God Loves Ugly. We had all these songs that got cut, that didn’t make the cut for God Loves Ugly, and then Epitaph, it was a record label, asked us, hey can we license the album, and I was like, sure, so I gave them all the songs and they were like, yeah, we like these. So I was like okay, let me make a few new ones to put on there so it doesn’t sound like an album full of throwaways. So we did “Trying To Find Balance”, “Always Coming Back Home To You.”
HNHH: Those are good tracks.
Slug: Yeah, we made a couple of tracks to make it feel like an album, so that it wouldn’t feel like a throwaway. I would say 13-14 of those were just songs that weren’t good enough to be on God Loves Ugly.
HNHH: Okay, “7th Street Entry”, I love that song and just the story-telling element to it. Were you really responding to someone or was that generally to your haters?
Slug: No that wasn’t specific. I was young and I was coming out of the graffiti culture, so that was just a song about my graffiti world and my rap world coming together, it wasn’t literal.
HNHH: Okay, last question, I just wanna know, do you think you’ve finally made a good record?
Slug: [Laughs] Yeah, right that shit almost sounds convincing
HNHH: [Laughs] Awesome. Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Slug: Thank you, you have yourself a great one, I’ll see you online.