These are the transcripts of an interview with Slug. The interview was conducted by Hugo on September 9th, 2002. Slug is a well established independent artist, who heads Atmosphere. He has worked with Anticon, the Molemen, El-P and many other well respected artists.
MVRemix: Are major labels gunning for you and you’re ignoring them or is your goal for Rhymesayers to blow up on their own?
Slug: I mean, I’m doing this because I’ve got a new record and because I like to tour and I’m bringing other Rhymesayers artists out. Because its become a doorway for me, now that I’ve been able to get out there and pitch to different communities, it’s a way for me to introduce my brethren to my fans. But no, we’re not touring to try to get on a larger label n’ all. I mean that’s not really my interest. If someone makes me a stupid offer that I can’t turn down, I’m sure I’d give it some thought. But, I’m not going to ever put any work into attempting to be on a larger label. As it happens I got to do it without even having to work at it, haha.
MVRemix: What’s your view on your audience?
Slug: I mean, I think it’s probably…sociologically speaking it’s the same as my view on life or on the population in general. Most of them are probably just as lost and confused as lost and confused or found or focused as I am on any given day. Boys, I want them to buy the CD’s and play them for their girls. Girls, I want them to buy the CD’s just so they’ll make out with me. Just like everybody else. MVRemix: Have you experimented much with drugs?
Slug: Have, not lately, but as a kid. I, you know…did a few things. But, I’ve never sniffed anything in my life. I’ve never done cocaine or speed or meth or any of that kind of shit. But in high school, I think I swallowed acid a couple of times. Ate mushrooms too, but, I outgrew that. All when I was a kid, I just don’t really want to experiment too much with that now. I did try ecstasy a few times over the last couple of years. But, I wouldn’t really suggest that to anybody. That shit was so funny that I have to respect the power of it. Pretty much, solely people get caught up with doing that shit a lot, because it’s just that fun. Anything that’s that fun, you’ve got to take for granted that there’s a trade off there. You’re giving up something in order to have that much fun, and I just don’t know if I’m prepared to give up anything to have that much fun. I’m not really into having a lot of fun, I kind of like being moody and brooding, pissed off and stuff like that. MVRemix: Why haven’t you caved in and left Minneapolis for Chicago or New York?
Slug: Most of all because my family is in Minneapolis. I grew up there, there’s my mom, my brothers, and I have a son there. I’m not really trying to leave my family, I love Hip Hop, but, I love my family more. Plus I always felt that if you can’t do it in your own city, if you can’t accomplish your goals with the people who you worked with or grew up with. What makes you think you’re go into some alien scene and network your way up. That seems so strategic that I don’t really believe in the truth behind it. I’ve never really been one of those guys that thought “Well, if I lived in New York…” Face it, I’m in a city where I’m one of nearly three hundred rappers. I could move to New York and be one of three million? At least this way, I have more of a chance of clawing my way to the top.
MVRemix: A rapper who’s a mutual friend of ours told me recently that you’re light skinned black. Is this true?
Slug: Hahaha. I mean I’m mixed, you know. It’s kind of like, especially in America if you’ve got a little bit of black in you, when the revolution comes, you’re probably gonna get killed just like the rest of the blacks. So, under that guise group…My mother’s white and my father is black/native American. So, it makes me really light skinned. Most people think that I’m Italian or a very tall Spanish kid. Just by looking at me, you can’t really tell by my skin or my hair. But, girls always say that my features look like I’m not white. I don’t know, you know what, lets not talk about that kind of stuff.
MVRemix: Have disgruntled fans ever poured or thrown salt on you thinking you really were a slug?
Slug: No, never.
MVRemix: A lot of your material has been heavily bootlegged. Do you bootleg much yourself?
Slug: I used to bootleg lots of stuff. Just to give stuff to kids who I knew were doing trading and whatnot like that. Because, if I give you a 90 minute tape full of shit that I’m never gonna release. You have to bring me back a 90 minute tape full of shit that I can’t get. So I basically used to take my shit and trade it off. That’s how I really discovered people like Moka Only, or even Company Flow. I first heard them through tapes that I had gathered through trading off my tapes.
MVRemix: Are there still problems between Murs and El-P and Anticon? Does it affect you much if they have problems between themselves?
Slug: If they did have problems between themselves still, it wouldn’t affect me. I mean, I don’t even know if they still have problems because I never really talk about that shit with any of them. I don’t know if they do or not. Maybe they do, but due to the fact that it doesn’t affect me, or it wouldn’t affect me. I don’t think they do, I’ve never really seen any issues. MVRemix: What is it about Christina Ricci that is so attractive to you?
Slug: I guess just the whole package, dude. I know she’s considerably homely to most people, but I’ve always kind of liked that kind of look. I like girls that are awkward looking and whatnot. Her whole package man, her vibe, her appearance, her money. Errr, I’m just kidding about the money part.
MVRemix: I think that’s a good factor
Slug: Yeah, haha, just the whole package. Plus I heard she’s a little bit of an art buff, and I like those girls because they’ve got lots of issues and they like to argue.
MVRemix: Is the “Woman With the Tattooed Hands” in any way real or solely a fictitious track?
Slug: I mean it’s fictitious; it’s a metaphor for that same old shit that everybody has already made songs about. Just trying to find your place within a belief and faith as well as people that you want to have sex with.
MVRemix: Who killed Tupac?
Slug: Hip Hop did.
MVRemix: Who would you diss if you had the opportunity to do so right now?
Slug: The Rolling Stones…nah, fuck that – Led Zepplin. I would diss the fuck out of Led Zepplin. Fuckin’ biters dude, they didn’t bite my shit, but in the name of every fucking blues artist that was making music in the early 60’s, down in the Delta. Fuck Led Zepplin!
MVRemix: If you weren’t a rapper what would you be doing?
Slug: I’d be a courier.
MVRemix: What are you currently working on/have soon to be released?
Slug: Um, ejaculation. Right now I’m just writing, finishing up ‘Se7ens Travels’ and writing for the next release. And, I’m working on a DVD that I might end up releasing, or I might not. I don’t know. I’m in a good place right now because I have the freedom to spend my time working on whatever I want to work on. I set my year up pretty good.
MVRemix: What exactly is the Christina Ricci tribute album?
Slug: It’s a record me and Murs did as a tribute to her.
MVRemix: Any last words?
Slug: Please brush your teeth before you attempt to kiss me.
Slug of Atmosphere Interview – Can’t You Imagine Atmosphere Having Fun?
Would you love hip-hop if the culture was not fun? Music is a form of escapism for both the musician and listener. How many times has something f*cked up happen to you, but you felt just a tiny bit better when you heard a certain song? Some people (including myself) will dig deep into their collection because they need to hear a specific track. Emotionally depressing music and socio-political music can also be pleasurable. The listener relates to the artist on a physical, mental, and emotional level. The artists utilize the entire emotional spectrum. Lovers of hip-hop culture can emotionally, financially, or philosophically depend on the music. Regardless of the song’s style or mood, hip-hop music is rooted in a party. The emcees play with words and rhythmic flows. The producer plays with beats & samples. As hip-hop groups, these artists “play” their music for the listeners. Perhaps, we use the word “play” in this context because the listeners and the artists are having a good time. Would you “throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care” if you were not having fun?
The music of Atmosphere (Slug & Ant) mixes the darkest emotions with the party energy of hip-hop. If you think Atmosphere is not having a great f*cking time these days, you do not know anything about the group. Hailing from Minneapolis (Minnesota), Atmosphere are one of the most respected and successful groups in underground / independent hip-hop. Like Gangstarr and Eric B. & Rakim, the duo consists of one impeccable producer/DJ and a charismatic emcee. The duo’s magnificent chemistry is showcased when Ant’s production intertwines with Slug’s vocals. Born from a racially mixed couple, Slug appears to be a Mid-western white guy who loves music. Friends and fans know that Slug’s respect for hip-hop pumps through his veins. He also happens to be a very talented, unique, and successful emcee. A maelstrom of emotion sweeps through every Atmosphere album. Furious anger, humble gratitude, love for friends / family, and bittersweet sadness can all be found in their expressive concoctions. Slug’s lyrics yield to multiple interpretations, mixed feelings, and sarcastic & ironic humor. He is having the time of his life while he follows his dreams. Fortunately, Slug is doing what he loves and having serious fucking fun!
Atmosphere’s success story is based on creativity, a shrewd business sense, chemistry, and a fervent work ethic. Originally consisting of Spawn, Ant, and Slug, Atmosphere released their “Overcast” LP on their own label, Rhymesayers Entertainment. Spawn eventually left the group and Slug continued to collaborate with a myriad of emcees. During 1999, Rhymesayers established Fifth Element, an independent record store in Minneapolis. Not only did they have a label to create their records, they had a store where they could sell the albums. Released with critically acclaim, the “Lucy Ford” CD mixed 2 separate EP’s together (“Lucy” and “Ford”). Once they released the classic “God Loves Ugly” LP, Atmosphere’s respect was cemented within hip-hop. Songs like “Modern Man’s Hustle”, “F*ck You Lucy”, “Vampires”, and “Flesh” all possessed a signature style. Slug’s introspective lyrics led to multiple interpretations. Ant’s soulful production was accessible but also unique. Listeners found something new every time they replayed their music. The “Sad Clown Bad Dub” DVD documented their successful tour across America (for the “God Loves Ugly” release parties). Slug also teamed up with Murs to release a side project called Felt. Produced by The Grouch, Felt’s “A Tribute To Christina Ricci” possessed a party vibe, in contrast to the darker feelings created by Atmosphere albums. Slug’s balanced diversity proved his maturity as an emcee. Simultaneously, Rhymesayers grew when they released the classic M.I.C. (Monsta Island Czars) “Escape From Monsta Island” LP (featuring MF Doom & MF Grimm’s super group). After years of touring, Atmosphere released another classic LP, “Seven’s Travels” (Rhymesayers / Epitaph). Songs like “Reflections”, “Trying To Find A Balance”, and “National Disgrace” showcased their musical and lyrical growth. The original fans were happy when Rhymesayers released “Headshots: Seven”. The CD was a collection of songs recorded on a 4-track between 1997 and 1998. In 2005, Murs and Slug teamed up again for Felt #2 “A Tribute To Lisa Bonet”. Produced by Ant, the Felt #2 project maintained the party vibe of their previous effort. Songs like “Woman Tonight”, “Dirty Girl”, “The Biggest Lie”, and “Employees Of The Year” were fun, but still rooted within an emotional honesty.
At the tail end of 2005, Atmosphere returns with “You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having”. Slug and Ant have made an incomparable album that does not include one filler track. The duo’s growth is evident within every song. Slug is more focused and precise with his performance. Ant has created up-tempo rhythms with thick boom-bap beats. Although the music possesses an upbeat party-like energy (inspired by mid-90’s hip-hop), Slug’s performance remains poignantly astute and wickedly clever. “Watch Out” is a cunning statement about the typical independent / underground hip-hop fan. On the poignant track “That Night”, Slug rhymes about a true incident when a fan was raped and murdered at an Atmosphere show. In the introspective track “Little Man”, Slug’s verses are written as letters to various important people in his life. The first verse is to his son and the final verse is to himself. The instantly appealing, “Smart Went Crazy” works perfectly even though the subject is not obvious. Sine fans thought Atmosphere could not top “Seven’s Travels”. Atmosphere has done the impossible. They have made another classic LP.
Music has saved many lives. Every emcee uses music for lyrical & emotional communication. Slug has not only has used music to survive, Slug also uses hip-hop as a form of therapy. His dark emotions and showcased vulnerability entertains listeners. Even though hip-hop music was born in poverty, those people within the culture wanted to have a good time. Slug may create emotional music, but he still wants to party. The group have released classic albums, worked on multiple collaborations, toured the world, and maintained creative control of their music. How the hell can you think Atmosphere is not having a good time?
MVRemix: These days, Atmosphere is getting very popular and much more exposure.
Slug: I don’t even know if that is what you would call it. We are accumulating attachments, is what it is. These aren’t fans, they are girlfriends. You know what I mean?
MVRemix: I must say that the new album is excellent! I thought ‘Seven’s Travels’ was dope too. Usually groups do not maintain the same level of quality, but ‘You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having’ is dope.
Slug: Thanks, man. That means a lot since you are from New Jersey! This is New Jersey saying that, so you know you are making me feel good. The New Jersey thing is a cut. That’s serious. For me, growing up in Minneapolis, I look at the East Coast as the hip-hop Mecca. Just to see the kind of support we get from the East Coast, as well as L.A., blows my fucking mind. How the fuck did they get into this?
MVRemix: C Rayz Walz is friend of mine and a dope emcee. He was on the ‘Sad Clown Bad Dub’ DVD. That proves that you have got love on the East Coast.
Slug: I got co-signed by C Rayz Walz! You know, the advocates and the fans, who don’t even walk around with these rappers, pigeonhole me as that guy who makes that soft shit or whatever. It’s funny to me because I’ll get into an argument. They’ll come to my in-store or my show and say, ‘I used to like your shit.’ In my head, I would think, ‘You just paid $15 to see me and you don’t like my shit no more?’ Hey, that’s cool. It’s part of their identity search. Ask them who they favorite rapper is. They’re favorite rapper was probably at my house 2 weeks ago. At one point, I was insecure about how I stood amongst the rest of these emcees. You know, there’s that emcee thing where you want to impress other rappers first. It reached a point. C Rayz probably doesn’t bump my record. I listen to his on occasion, but I don’t roll around the street bumping his. Both of us are bumping old Jungle Brothers music. I’m learning a lot from this shit. I just hope someday, someway, somehow, I’ll be able to apply all this shit to something.
MVRemix: Rhymesayers just released the new Atmosphere album, ‘You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having’. Tell us about the new LP.
Slug: It’s the new record, man. A lot of people are telling us that they really like it. To me, it’s probably the record that had the least amount of problems to make.
MVRemix: The album does flow with an ease.
Slug: Thanks. It kind of made itself. I finally think that me and Ant reached a place where we both accept the fact that this is what we do. We don’t have to worry about doing a good job this time. This is what we do. We made it right on the tail end of Felt #2. We made Felt #2 with Murs. When Murs flew home, me & Ant stayed in the studio and started this album immediately. I was in the studio for about a month and a half between the 2 records. It seems like all of the energy I put into the Felt #2 record was basically depleted in me. I depleted that type of energy with the sex rhymes and party shit. When we started the Atmosphere record, it was almost like a hangover. We had so much fun making the 2nd Felt record, this Atmosphere record was like the day after. In a weird way, when I hear some of it, I think it feels like the day after you did a bunch of drugs. It’s that day that you are sitting there on your couch, the shades are pulled down, you are still taking it in, and saying, ‘Damn! I partied too hard last night!’
MVRemix: What is the meaning behind the title, ‘You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having’?
Slug: Actually, I chose the title because I have been pigeonholed as this guy, who because of the songs I make, you may think I am this brooding upset dude with issues. They think I am the dude who doesn’t like men or women. Like I say, ‘Get away from me!’ They think I’m just sitting here, observing all of you assholes. People get really surprised when they see how happy I really am. They see that I can be a fun dude when you put a couple of beers in me. The irony of the title is that there is no irony in the title. That was really what me and Ant were doing. Even though the songs don’t seem like we’re having fun, you can truly not begin to think of how much fun this really is. We are having the time of our fucking lives! I used to be a courier, dude!
MVRemix: How do you think ‘You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having’ different from ‘Seven’s Travels’?
Slug: Both of them, to me, are concept albums, even though nobody gets the concepts. They are the same concept. Here’s a look into or a few more chapters of what the hell I’ve been doing or thinking about. For ‘Seven’s Travels’, my dumb ass thought that I would make an album about touring. I didn’t stop to think that most of the kids that listen to these records don’t know shit about touring. How the fuck are they supposed to relate to any of this shit? I guess it didn’t matter because I felt that I needed to make that album. Not only that but, touring had become such a big part of my life, what the fuck else am I supposed to write about?
MVRemix: Everybody does travel in some way and ‘Seven’s Travels’ is a good record to travel with.
Slug: That’s true. I kind of hope that is the bond that allows cats to get it. Also, just for my own benefit, I try to keep my raps not so obvious so I don’t get bored. I have concepts inside Twinkies, inside this and that.
MVRemix: On the new album, which song took you the longest to do from conception to completion? Why?
Slug: The song, ‘Pour Me Another’ on the new record, took the longest to do. That was the hardest for me to bite into because it had such a ‘God Loves Ugly’ feel to it. The mood of the song is very similar to the song, ‘Fuck You Lucy’ (from ‘God Loves Ugly’). The mood is so similar that I heard people tell me that we used the same beat! No! We didn’t use the same beat! But, the mood is so similar that people immediately put them together. I think ‘Pour Me Another’ was the hardest to do because the 4-track version of that song was done incredibly well. It captured the moment so good the first time. It captured the mood so good the first time that, when I tried to recreate it in the studio, I thought I was trying too hard.
MVRemix: Do you find that the 4-track demos are often better than the final results created in the recording studio?
Slug: For the first couple of records, yeah. For ‘Overcast’ and ‘Lucy Ford’, definitely, because I didn’t quite learn how to. Now, I take the 4-track version and find the flaws and problems. I still have an okay time re-creating the mood. I usually create it better just because the song had a chance to breathe, have it’s own life, and have it’s own meaning to me.
MVRemix: Is that also the case with songs that you perform live?
Slug: Yeah, it’s just like performing it live. Honestly, live, to me, are my favorite versions of any of these songs. I love the live version of ‘Panic Attack’. I also love the way the mic sounds on the studio version. That is a sound you cannot usually get live, unless you use that real cheap plastic microphone. Just audio wise, there are certain situations where live songs do not come across as good. But, as far as feeling wise, live versions are always the best for me.
MVRemix: In the song ‘Watch Out’, you say, ‘They don’t want to see you climb out of the underground.’ Atmosphere has been getting more exposure & fans throughout the last couple of years. Have you received some criticism from those dedicated to the ‘underground’?
Slug: It’s very common. There is always this kid who says that they used to love us for ‘Overcast’ and ‘Lucy Ford’. We used to be their special secret. Now, they think suburban girls know about us and it ain’t cool. Are you serious? Come to my shows! Wouldn’t you rather come to a show that has a lot of girls at it than a show with a whole bunch of dudes? I throw that at the identity search of the American fucking teenager. Between the ages of 16 and 24, you will define yourself by what you hate, most of the time. That is how you find your like-minded peers and friends. ‘I hate that shit!’, someone says. Another says, ‘I hate it too. Let’s go over here and talk about how much we fucking can’t stand this’. MVRemix: You know what, the Nazis grew that way.
Slug: Yo! I didn’t put that together, but that’s true. Here we go, backpacker rap Nazi! I understand growing up and hating shit When I was a kid, I was mad at L.L. Cool J when ‘Walking With A Panther’ came out. ‘I’m the type of guy…’ I didn’t give a fuck about all of that shit. I was mad! Now, as an older and more mature adult, I see the forest through the trees. It’s important, man. Hopefully, kids go through that little phase of hate until they figure out that it is not what life is all about. They’ll blossom, like the rest of us hopefully will. In the end, it’s just music, man. It’s just music, movies, books, and all of this shit. The other catch to it is, that it’s not even the have-nots that do that. The have-nots do not even get a chance to go out on an identity search. The urban, non-white kids, who are 16 years old, do not have the Internet in their homes for the most part. MVRemix: Yeah, they are busy struggling to go on an identity search.
Slug: Yeah! They’re busy struggling. They have to go get jobs or hustles. Over here in the burbs, their only struggle is basically against their parents or something. It’s almost like they want to rebel against the fact that they are coming from a family that has things. Those kids go out and try to shed that in order to find out who they really are. They do it through art. They do it through music, books, and whatever. If you can’t at least respect the fact that you are in a position to be on an identity search, you are already missing what the identity search is all about. I see why those kids reach a point that they think a group is not cool when everybody knows about the group. These kids don’t want to be identified as part of the masses. They see my video on MTV2 and immediately think that I am Kanye West. They don’t realize that Kanye West is selling 2 million records while I’m lucky if I break 100,000.
MVRemix: Some people think that since you have an album, you have tons of money. Many of these emcees who I interview, have full time jobs that have nothing to do with hip-hop, except for the fact that they are supporting themselves so that they can do hip-hop.
Slug: It’s funny because people look at me and say, ‘You get to do what you love and don’t have a full time job!’ I look at them and say, ‘Dog, are you serious?’ MVRemix: Shit, this is a lifetime job.
Slug: Yes! This is a lifetime job! I don’t get to punch out. It’s not even just the rap shit. I’m taking the little bit of money I make, the little bit of scratch I get, and put it into the record store. That’s another thing I have to pay attention to. Shit! It was easier being a courier.
MVRemix: When creating a track, do you have pre-written lyrics or a set theme? Or, do you write to the music?
Slug: We start in Ant’s basement on the 4-track. I write stuff on my own sometimes. Other times, he’ll give me a beat and I’ll write to it. We don’t really have a real pattern or standard equation. It kind of just happens how it happens. The only thing that is common over time is that we are not really looking for the fly shit. We’ve never been looking for the fly shit. We always look for moods. For me and him, that’s how we live. We live off of moods. We don’t live off of things like, ‘This is my joint! Turn it up!’ I’m in a certain mood to listen to this record, so I dig that record out and play it right now. That’s how we look at our songs. If the mood of my lyrics matches the mood of his music, then we agree that is the song. Whether the song is great or not doesn’t matter, we’ll make it. Later on, we’ll decide what songs go on the record. Essentially, there is not a pattern to how we do it, except for the fact we look for moods.
MVRemix: How did you meet Ant and decide to form Atmosphere? Was there a philosophy behind the group?
Slug: We met through a rapper, who used to call himself Beyond. Now, he’s Musab. I met Musab when he was in a group called Labyrinth. I was at a party and they were there. He was tight. His homies were okay, but they were nice dudes. I started kicking it with them. They were in St. Paul and I lived in Minneapolis, which is across the river. I started going to chill out over their house. We would drink beer, smoke weed, and do all of that shit that aspiring rappers do. Eventually, Musab became my weed dealer. One day, when he was dropping off some weed to me, he said, ‘Dude, come over to Ant’s house with me and make a joint.’ I was with making a song with him. We went over there and made this really horrible song that was on this ‘I kick a verse and you kick a verse’ rap shit. Then, Musab wanted me to get on the chorus for this song called, ‘Black Culture’. I asked, ‘Are you sure that you want me to do the chorus to a song called Black Culture?’ He was like, ‘You’re Black to me.’ At that point, he knew who my family was. He has seen my father and wasn’t on some funny shit. I wanted to do it. I was honored. That was kind of the beginning. I did the hook for ‘Black Culture’ and Ant told me, ‘You have a horrible voice, but you know how to use it.’ I didn’t know what he meant by that. I thought he was saying that I couldn’t rap. He thought that I had lyrics, but a whiney voice. I did at the time too. Ant thought that I had a way to use my whiney voice to my advantage.
MVRemix: Previously, Atmosphere had more members. How did the group form?
Slug: I was rapping with this kid named Spawn. The two of us were in Atmosphere. We used to make our own beats. When me and Spawn would make beats for ourselves, it would take us a year to complete 3 fucking songs because we were lazy. At Ant’s house, I watched Musab and Ant knock out 10 songs in one fucking night! That was what Spawn and I should have been doing. I brought Spawn over and told him, ‘This dude told us that he could rap over his beats!’ We went over there that night and pretty much made a whole record. I thought that this was how it was supposed to be! Prolific! Even if all 15 of these songs are garbage, it didn’t matter because we were learning how to make songs.
MVRemix: How did Ant’s contribution help you as an emcee?
Slug: The real deal was, before Ant made ‘Overcast’ with us, we made about 150 songs before we even allowed ourselves to make a record. I think that is something Ant does to the emcee. It’s the way that he works with the emcee. He taught us how to practice making songs, so when it is time to really make a song, you have a little bit of knowledge of how to structure it, and so on. You know, most rappers don’t even know how to count bars until they get out of the independent game. In Ant’s own way, he produced me for real! He was not just a producer who just makes the beat. He is a Dr. Dre-like producer. He gives the rapper direction. Quite honestly, until then, I sounded like a bad lovechild between Krs-One and Del. I had a whiney voice. It was Ant who taught me how to do this and be comfortable with my own voice.
MVRemix: Why did Spawn leave Atmosphere? Are you still cool with Spawn? Will you work together again?
Slug: Yeah, we’re still cool. He still makes music. It was one of those things. It wasn’t a matter of personal stuff. We did not split up because we didn’t like each other or talent. It was a matter of drive. He went and got married. He was talking about moving to Houston, Texas with his wife. That was where his wife was from. How could we tour as a rap group when you are in Houston? He couldn’t tour like that. He had a full time gig. He was a little bit older than me. We’re looking at a 28 or 29 year old man who was being asked to start up a rap career as if he was 19. He already had a life put together. I was like 25 or 26 at the time. Even for me, it was hard to get props outside of my city. I was like, ‘Fuck this!’ I wanted to do it. I couldn’t be a courier forever. I had dreams to chase. He still raps, but he raps the same way he rapped as an amateur. You know, he never did move to Houston either. He stayed in Minneapolis. He does local shows, but he doesn’t want to give up his life to do it, whereas I sacrificed everything to do this shit.
MVRemix: Hip-hop became your life.
Slug: Yes, it became my life. Honestly, you know what? In the end, I may look at his shit and say, ‘You did it right, dog!’ My man has a good life. He has a wife, kids, good dog, and a good house. Here I am living out of a goddamn suitcase for 8 months out of the year. I can’t maintain a relationship with a girlfriend. I have an 11 year old, who understands everything now, but when he was 6, it was rough.
MVRemix: The song, ‘That Night’ is an emotional track about your response to the tragedy of a fan being raped and murdered at your show. What actually happened? Emotionally, how difficult was it for you to create this song?
Slug: Yeah, that actually happened. It was weird how that song came about. Ant made this beat for me. I said, ‘Dude! The beat is fresh, but it is a little fast. With that kind of speed, it sounds like it is supposed to be on this rah-rah party shit but it is too sad or brooding to do that.’ Ant was like, ‘You have to write a song about something you are not supposed to write a song about.’ I thought about what I was not supposed to write a song about. That was what I came up with. I guess that was an exercise for me. Maybe, Ant wanted to see if I could really push myself to go there. The people in my life saw how big an effect that incident had on me. That incident altered me and a lot of the things that I was doing in my life. It altered a lot of the things that I stood for, the way that I was treating myself, women, and fans. It altered my self-medicating patterns. In the end, I’m glad anybody likes the song. It’s a hard song for me. When I listen to the album, I skip that track and I doubt that I’ll ever perform that song live.
MVRemix: You are in a side-project with Murs called Felt. Grouch produced the entire first Felt EP (‘A Tribute To Christina Ricci’), but Ant produced Felt #2 (‘A Tribute To Lisa Bonet’). Why did this happen?
Slug: When Murs and I decided to do Felt, from the beginning, we decided to use different producers for each album. It was always going to me and him. It’s our project. Whoever we decide to put down with it, we will. It is what it is.
MVRemix: Will there be a Felt #3?
Slug: I would like to see one happen, but it will have to happen naturally. We didn’t plan Felt #1 or Felt #2. They both happened because both of us needed a vacation. We were like, ‘Can I hang out in your city for 2 weeks?’ MVRemix: Did you ever hear the band, Felt? There was another band named Felt. They were from Europe, signed to Cherry Red Records, and led by an artist named Lawrence.
Slug: Nah. Oh, really?
MVRemix: For your current live shows, you are performing with a live band. Was this a difficult adjustment? What are some major differences performing with a band as opposed to a DJ?
Slug: We have a band and a DJ. I’ve got Ant with me. It was real different, man. I spent 4 months with them in a practice space for pretty much 5 nights a week, just to learn it. I have played with bands before, but it was more of a novelty thing. They had to learn my beat. But, with these guys, we went and deconstructed the Atmosphere songs. We brought in the songs that Ant actually took the samples from. For example, we incorporated parts of ‘Woman With The Tattooed Hands’ that are not in the album version, but are in the original song. When you do a band thing, you have to be careful. Whenever I watch rappers with bands, it goes 2 ways. Either they try to be The Roots or they sound like a hippie jam band. I couldn’t fuck with either. I tried to go with something that was actually based on some straight up soul. I didn’t want some virtuoso noodling or ‘I’m so good at my guitar’ bullshit. So, I think we did it right. Most of the people who come, my real friends go, ‘Man, I was nervous at first and didn’t think you would pull it off but it is actually fresh!’ It’s very different. In the end, it could probably be a project that I can keep working on that may not even be a rap project. They are teaching me things, music things. They are teaching me how to use my voice in a way that I never got to fuck with in rap. It is still such a big, open thing to me. I don’t even know what to make of it. The human factor is ill. Having to depend on so many people to come through is the shit. I’m into it. Everyday, there are mistakes made that become part of it. I’m into that. MVRemix: Do you think success and credibility are mutually exclusive?
Slug: Nah, I don’t think that is necessarily true because I see people who seem to be successful and credible in rap. I look at Outkast, Busta Rhymes, and Ludacris. I even look at Eminem now. He pretty much substantiated his credibility. The people who want to discredit Eminem are on some dumb shit. They are mad at the homophobia or misogyny. As far as actual artistry, he’s dope. There’s no way you can take it away from him. I may not listen to his record or that kind of shit. MVRemix: Skill respects skill.
Slug: Skill respects skill, yeah. Redman is successful and credible. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. I think the problem is that people get too hung up on one or the other. I have friends back home who are in these punk bands. They are bitter mad because they are now 33. They have been following this punk wave for so long. They never got successful because they were so worried about people taking away their credibility. I’m like, ‘You worry too much about that.’ There are other people who are so worried about success that they lost their credibility. I think that you just have to be yourself and not worry about either. If it comes to you, it comes to you. You can’t really control your credibility and you can’t really control your success. You can only control yourself and that’s it.
MVRemix: What LPs have you been listening to in the last 3 days? In one of the tracks, you rhyme about a girl who introduces you to new music. Who are some artists you have recently discovered?
Slug: I just rediscovered a band called Talk Talk. Ah! What’s the name of the record that I like? There’s a song on there called ‘Ascension Day’. If you can find that record, that whole record from front to back is amazing! It sounds like some Peter Gabriel meets Portishead meets fucking I don’t even know what. I’m super into it. I still listen to the Spoon record that came out a month ago. As far as rap goes, I listen to everybody once or twice just to study. I haven’t been to into bumping anything that was made after 1993.
MVRemix: Who are some artists or producers you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Slug: I don’t really have a wish list anymore. I used to want to work with this guy and want to work with that guy. I pretty much covered the basics on who I wanted to work with. Also, as I have gotten older, I have refined my ideas about working with other artists. Nowadays, I won’t work with anybody just for money. I won’t work with anybody just because they’re famous. I won’t even work with anybody just because they’re dope. My rule now is that I only work with friends. Even if my friend isn’t that tight, I would rather make a song with my friend than make a song with the dopest rapper in the world, who I don’t know. The song with the rapper I don’t know would sound like a fake collaboration for starters. Also, I don’t want to make a song with you and find out later that you beat your wife, kicked puppies, or some shit. I just don’t want to work with assholes. I don’t want that on my resume.
MVRemix: Word association. When I say a name of a name, you say the first word that pops into your head. So, if I said, ‘Flava Flav’, you may say ‘Clock’, ‘Crack’, or ‘The Surreal Life’. Okay?
Slug: Okay. I’m not that good at this, but I’ll try.
Slug: White girls.
MVRemix: Dead Prez.
Slug: The realness.
MVRemix: Happy Mondays.
Slug: I don’t know. M&M’s. Something about the band Happy Mondays always reminded me of Skittles and M&M’s. I don’t know why. I wonder if they had a real colorful video at one time.
MVRemix: Public Enemy.
Slug: Chuck D.
MVRemix: Phife Dawg.
Slug: Wack. MVRemix: Curtis Mayfield.
Slug: The shit.
MVRemix: George Bush.
Slug: (Wack)… in parenthesis.
MVRemix: Do you think hip-hop has become too focused on what place the emcee represents?
Slug: I don’t know if it is too focused on that. I’m actually kind of excited that the rules of hip-hop, that were established years ago, are still in place in most areas. There is a rule to make people have a good time and forget about their problems. I might add that the back-packers don’t know how to do that. People like me, Aesop, Mr. Lif, and Murs, just remind you of your problems. You have mainstream guys, like Ludacris and 50 Cent, who put shit out that makes you forget about your problems. I have to appreciate that. I have to respect that. To me, in my mind and vision, hip-hop began in some basement of some burned out building in the Bronx. Those people weren’t there to listen to somebody woe over a woman. They were there to fucking throw their hands in the air and forget about their light bill. As far as take your boys with you, that rule is still in place. Represent where you are from is also a rule that is still in place. I’m always going to embrace those three rules. Without them, I don’t know if hip-hop would have made it here. I don’t know if it would have made it as far as it made it. MVRemix: What are some major misconceptions do you think people have of you?
Slug: Just that we are upset and whiney. Yeah, some of the music is like that. People seem to relate to that. Yeah, that’s good for them and it is a bit of a catharsis for me to get shit out. But, in the end, I’m a happy dude, man. I know it sounds corny, but it’s the truth. I’m a happy dude.
MVRemix: Around what time in your career did you and Rhymesayers start to financially survive from hip-hop?
Slug: I quit working for other people and became self-employed in the year 2000. That was because we took every damn dime I made and opened up a record store. We weren’t living off of what we were making. We all had hustles, all legal hustles, but unethical. I’ve been working record retail for so long that I had a couple of industry scams. I was making about $1,200 to $2,000 a month from it. So, I was able to quit my job and go full time with this. I consider that self-employment. Granted, the money wasn’t coming directly to me because of rap. I was making money off of record label people and this and that. I was doing stupid little promo hustles, helping reps, and this or that. It was around 2000. That’s when we opened the store. I didn’t have to live off of the rap money I was making. I was able to take all of the rap money and keep flipping it on top of itself. MVRemix: What’s next for Atmosphere (Ant & Slug)?
Slug: I’ve been working on a new project that has been all just in writing right now. We haven’t started to put beats to it yet, but when we get off this tour, we will. We’ll go home and start working on the new record. I don’t know yet what to say about it because it is still so early. There will probably be another record in us within a year and half. MVRemix: Any collaborations?
Slug: I’ve been trying to track down Tom Waits. I know his son. I would like to sit down and have lunch with Tom. We could sit down and see if we get along. Maybe, if not collaborating, we may discuss some kind of conceptual collaboration that neither of us actually performs, but one that we both help orchestrate. I know some of the people he knows and I know some of the people he needs to know. I really think there is room to get a ‘Storytellers’ thing going on.
MVRemix: Any final words?
Slug: Eat your vegetables and wear your seatbelts.