Slug: The Underground Artist
By Henrick A. Karoliszyn
Slug of Atmosphere still doesn’t know what a hit record is. Following over a decade of rapping and underground success, the lyrical mastermind has yet to realize what sells and what doesn’t and he’s perfectly fine with that.
“I don’t listen to urban radio,” he says over the phone. “Me and Ant [Anthony Davis, the other half of Atmosphere] don’t pressure ourselves to make a hit song. We want to make records that are good. How to make a hit song – would I know how to? Maybe I don’t have that yet. I’m a career artist and for me, I’m okay. I can be myself. There’s no fake shit.”
In 1979, a 7-year-old Sean “Slug” Daley used to take car rides with his father in Minneapolis. This is where the eventual Atmosphere member began taking note of songs on the radio. “My dad would listen to Sugar Hill Gang and Earth, Wind and Fire,” he said. “I didn’t think that was rap for me. For me when Run-DMC came out I knew that wasn’t for my dad.”
Without sports picking his interest, Slug turned to hip hop early on after discovering jams from Ice Cube and Chuck D. He became a deejay at thirteen when he wasn’t seeing rappers like X-Clan perform and eventually became a battling MC. At the time, hip-hop was a new thrill he associated himself with. “It was a peer thing,” he said of the game. “And then girls started liking it.”
Of the “girls,” one may or not be the prominent “Lucy” featured in a slew of Atmosphere songs. The recurring designation seems thematic. She is the title of an EP called Lucy Ford and Slug mentions her on almost every Atmosphere album. Speculation has left some believing the name could mean anything from his on/off again girlfriend to his dog.
When asked about this Slug claimed the moniker was not even his original idea and was actually inspired by another rapper. “Common did it with “I Used to Love H.E.R.” and I thought: That’s the ultimate metaphor – rap as a girl.”
Slug felt this sort of allegory was influential due to the hip-hop age he was bred in. “I come from the rap era when artists were ready to attack consciousness,” he said. “I used [Lucy] to do that with governmental, social issues and the music industry.”
With six studio albums as part of Atmosphere, Slug doesn’t take aim at people getting his songs on the web though. “Honestly, half these kids wouldn’t know who I am if not for the Internet. Download my shit if you got it,” he said. He just thinks it will spoil the experience of Atmosphere live.
“I would like people to wait. When you hear a record playing for three months and then see a show it can sometimes falls flat. You hear the songs so many times it’s inevitable. I would rather people get the same feeling I had when I’d see Big Daddy Kane.” When it comes to his own performances, Slug often meets up with show-goers afterwards and he says they usually have a similar reaction.
“I think our fans like us because they know what they’re getting. I’m the same asshole in real life as I am on the album. They also say I’m the same down to earth dude,” he said. Talking about his career with rap cohort, Ant, Slug added they’ve always stayed true to who they are. “We’re blessed because we can be ourselves,” he said.
For their sixth studio album called When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold slated for April 22nd, the rap duo does that with a different sound. Slug said the group wanted to make a tamer record and that the first track of fifteen sets up that tone. “We wanted to make a quieter album, and that was one of the songs that sparked it off,” he said about “Like the Rest of Us.”
But one of the wildest parts of the song list emerges on “The Waitress” track. Says Slug: “Tom Waits beatboxes on it. I’m friends with his son. We’ve known each other for quite a while now, going on five or six years. And I finally asked him, I think literally, ‘Have I known you long enough now to ask if I can get in touch with your dad? Or is that offensive?’
So, I sent him the song and asked if he’d sing the chorus. He sent it back and totally avoided the chorus, but instead beatboxed on it. And it sounds good. It worked. We kept it subtle. I didn’t want to be exploitive. I wanted to make sure it made sense musically, and I think ultimately it really did.” As per the latest release and the future, Slug said that he just wants to remain true to his art. “Whatever hits me,” he said. “That’s the song I want to make.”