writing << music

[originally published in Beyond Race Magazine]
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straight slugin’

Slug, Atmosphere, MC

The video for “Shoulda Known”—the first single off Atmosphere’s new album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold—is some kind of weird heroin-chic vignette featuring scantily-clad hipster lesbians making-out and masturbating (in a PG-13, basic-cable kosher sort of way). So, for a group known to appeal to young female hip-hop fans looking for lyrics that delve more into feelings than feeling, where exactly did all the scantily-clad masturbating lesbians come from? “We actually never intended for that video to get played—that was going to be a viral thing. But when MTV2 picked it up, we were all like ‘Really? Wow, maybe we should have put more thought into this,’” explains emcee Sean “Slug” Daley from his home in Minneapolis. “I commissioned this woman to make the video.  I just gave her two rules. One: you can’t show drugs. And two: it can’t be a boy–girl couple. You got to go either girl–girl or boy–boy. She chose to go girl–girl.  Maybe she thought hip-hop just wasn’t ready for a boy–boy video—and she was probably right. I thought if you went boy-boy, it would freak people out and it would be interesting to watch people’s reactions to that. But from checking all the e-mail and MySpace messages—I check all of that shit myself—some people thought it was being stereotypical and trying to appeal to 15-year-old boys, but I’ve also gotten messages from gay and lesbian groups, and it’s been positive. The most interesting criticism I’ve gotten has been that people think it looks too much like an American Apparel ad.“

For more than 15 years, Sean—along with producer Anthony “Ant” Davis—have given voice to a more thoughtful flavor of hip-hop as midwest indie hip-hop royalty, Atmosphere. Fans in search of a different kind of emcee (the kind that wouldn’t fear having two dudes making out in a video) have found a hero in Slug’s witty tales of the non-Thug Life. He’s kinda the anti-Fiddy, but still claims “I try to stay away from ‘smart.’ We usually go for mood and feeling. I don’t like smart music. I don’t like people who make smart music. I don’t like the pretentiousness of it.”

And perhaps by avoiding both pretentiousness and big-money clichés, Sean has accomplished that rare hip-hop feat, in that he’s a rapper who is still fresh on his fifth album (with another dozen or so mix-tape type deals thrown in for good measure) and as he enters his mid-thirties manages to still speak to a considerably younger audience. “I am getting more and more curious about my audience. I’ll be 36 this year, I wonder what I’m saying that an 18-year-old can relate to. But once I hit the stage, the connection is totally there. But then after the show, I’m like, ‘Man, how much longer are they going to let me do this before they fire me? Or before they hire somebody younger to take my place?’” Fortunately, with commercial hip-hop airwaves filled with songs teaching kids the ins and outs of “super soaking” and talentless shit heads still trying to think of new words to rhyme with “grill,” there won’t be any shortage of ears looking to hear the alternative.

[album review of atmosphere's When Life Gives You Lemons… here]