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 Southsidershere.
HNHH: Sooo, the questions Iâm gunna ask, Iâm gunna try to keep it to ten minutes, are a range of old and new and itâs all pretty random. To start off, Iâve been to your live shows before, and when you performed âGod Loves Uglyâ you changed the ten letter word âAtmosphereâ to âProstitute.â 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 wordsâ¦No I donât actually have a lot of ten letter words. âProstituteâ was the only one that I ever changed that too, and I only do that from time-to-time, I donât do that every time, I just kinda do it whenever Iâm feeling like a hooker.
HNHH: Ah okay. Iâve been listening to your new album a little bit, âCamera Thiefâ, I think itâs 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 âCamera Thiefâ, and whatâs the entire concept kinda about?
Slug: That song wasâ¦Well itâs the first song because itâs an extension of the last song of the last album. Every one of our records we try to start off at a place thatâ¦âCause 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 âCamera Thiefâ was a song going, are you sure you wanna let me do this? âCause the song itself kinda breaks down what exactly me and Anthony are doingâwe 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 elseâs moments that arenât ours. So that was a song saying youâve obviously decided that you will still let us do this. So itâs kind of a song just announcing what it is weâre actually doing. Itâs funny âcause 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 havenât been fired yet.
HNHH: âCause people can relate.
Slug: Well the thing is, I donât even know if they really can relate. Or if theyâre searching out reasons to convince themselves that they can relate. âCause 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 donât think theyâre relating to us, theyâre searching for their own shit, and theyâre finding it here. And if we werenât here, theyâd find it somewhere else. Itâs starting to make me realize, weâre not the most important part of the sum. Weâre just accidentally where we areâif we didnât exist, these kids would find it in something else. You know what Iâm saying, because theyâll take certain songs and twist the meaning to suit their own needsâand thatâs beautiful, Iâm glad they do that, I would never complain about that, but itâs 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 itâs just a song or a painting, thatâs 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 thatâs 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, theyâre stealing my moments and turning them into what they want it to be. The shit that Iâm usually talk about is not that straight-forward, Iâve made a few straight-forward records but a lot of the shit that we do is cryptic, I know that it is, I donât try to be cryptic but it just is what it is, it just comes out as it comes out. But now Iâm 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 âInceptionâ was when you said, âI keep my dreams inside my dreamsâ, I donât really know what that means, but it sounds so cool.
Slug: It just means that Iâm not gunna show the authorities what I love âcause theyâre just gunna take it away from here. Itâs following âthose cheap police wonât find my wingsâ, theyâre not gunna find what allows me to fly and feel good, I keep it in my head so you canât 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 youâll never be able to take whatâs in my mind.
HNHH: Yeah, and this kinda ties into the camera idea, Iâve 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 guysâ albums, theyâve 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 beâ¦Thatâs a good question.
HNHH: Iâm curious.
Slug: Yeah, I dunno, what my favorite one is, I usually donât like it when weâre 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 weâre below a graveyard.
HNHH: Oh, yeah, now that you say that it kinda makes sense but I didnât know.
Slug: So I love that cover just because of all the implications.
HNHH: Iâm assuming thatâs somewhere nearby where you live?
Slug: Yeah, yeah. Itâs two blocks from the crib. But Southsiders is where I grew up, I grew up on the south side of Minneapolis, but thatâs 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 thereâs a south side, itâs the bottom, itâs the downside, itâs the underground, itâs the struggle sideâand I donât just mean that the people that struggle live on the south side of the city, Iâm not really talking about a geographical thing, itâs more a metaphorical thing. The south side is underground, it could be death, it could be hell. Thatâs kinda what this record is about. I donât have to struggle anymore with paying my phone bill. But now that Iâm at that place where I donât have to do that, Iâm trying to open up my mind and heart to other struggles. A lot of rappers, once they ainât struggling no more, they start rapping about all the shit they have. That shitâs corny to me, why would I rap about the shit Iâve accumulated, instead, if I donât have to worry about my inner struggle anymore, whatâs the outer struggle? âCause the whole world is fucking struggling, so what can I shine some light on, without necessarily becoming a preachy, political rapper, âcause that shit ainât me either. But how do I still play my part in the revolution by reminding people we are all looking for hope, to me, thatâs really what me and Antâs musicâs about, itâs about hope.
HNHH: Definitely. Sad Clown Bad Dub- do you think youâre gunna be dropping any new instalments in that?
Slug: Nah. The Sad Clowns are done. Weâll still do some interesting side projects, and things like that, but we got to number thirteen, thatâs when we were like, okay, thereâs too many of these things. Itâs 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 donât really need to now that the internet exists.
HNHH: Yeah but you guys did it with HeadshotsâI guess it would be the masteredâ¦
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? Thereâs one cassette I saw was going for over $2,000.
Slug: Thatâs 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 itâd 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, Iâm fortunate that it did. As far as where I was at, I was at a dark place when I made that record. I wasnât 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 heâs 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 itâs 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 itâs all good, but I dunno, I wonât say I wonât work with again, but I dunno. Thatâs all about circumstance it just depends on the circumstance. You just gotta let nature take itâs course and shit like that.
HNHH: Do you ever think about retirement? âCause youâre a family man now, thatâs the sense I get.
Slug: I donât 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: Theyâre all good to me, I donât mind any of them. Sevenâs Travels is the one to me I kinda feel guilty about.
Slug: Because it wasnât a real record, it was all the songs that didnât make God Loves Ugly. We had all these songs that got cut, that didnât 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 doesnât sound like an album full of throwaways. So we did âTrying To Find Balanceâ, âAlways Coming Back Home To You.â
HNHH: Those are good tracks.
Slug: Yeah, we made a couple of tracks to make it feel like an album, so that it wouldnât feel like a throwaway. I would say 13-14 of those were just songs that werenât good enough to be on God Loves Ugly.
HNHH: Okay, â7th Street Entryâ, 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 wasnât 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 wasnât literal.
HNHH: Okay, last question, I just wanna know, do you think youâve 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, Iâll see you online.