Interview: Slug of Atmosphere

30 10 2009

Granted, this was an interview I did a little more or less than a year ago, but hey, most of you never read it then, so why not read it now? It’s pretty much the entire transcript, so print it out, go to the bathroom and learn about one of hip-hop’s best artists ever. Yeah, that’s right. EVER.

I’m from Chicago, and when I was in 8th grade I remember listening to your song “Travel” in my sister’s car and I’m wondering: that song is more than 10 years old, and with all of the years and success since then, when you go back to a place like the Metro, where your career started; do you get a different feeling now than you did when you wrote “Travel?”
S: Well I mean I’m sure, not that I can necessarily pinpoint if I do or not I would just assume I do. I don’t remember what I felt like when I wrote “Travel.” To be quite honest that was a lot of beers ago, I was definitely, you know, kind of more in a phase of being kinda a young dummy where I was all about kickin it, partying, this-that so I really don’t have a lot of recollections of what anything felt like back in the day of Overcast or “Travel,” so I’m just gonna go safe and say, yeah, I’m sure it feels a little different now.

Back then I probably felt like an employee of the Metro or I felt like, wow, look where we are, where as now I was at the Metro a few months ago and it was definitely very comfortable and I feel like I am definitely in my comfort zone, you know what I mean? Back then I was on some like I gotta prove that I’m supposed to be here where as now I’m trying to prove that, you know, there’s good people in the world? I don’t know.

R&R: Your song “Little Math You,” did you write that song for the younger you, for fans that are like Matthew, or for the state of hip-hop?
S: I mean it definitely wasn’t for the younger me, I don’t think I fit the characterization that’s going on in “Little Math You.” I grew up in a very, let’s see, hip-hop was very embraced in the area that I grew up in. You know, those of us that were into it as kids were supposed to be into it because our older cousins were into it and they opened the doorway to us.

I wrote “Little Math You” for the kids that I meet at my shows who deal with the identity crisis of the fact that they are from the ’burbs, they do feel ostracized by certain genres of rap or certain identities in rap, but they feel comfortable coming to the Atmosphere show. And I wrote that song basically to say you know what I’m glad you feel comfortable coming to this show. The song kinda champions that kid in a way saying look man if you feel what’s going on then that’s all you gotta worry about. You ain’t gotta worry about who’s accepting you or who feels like you ain’t real, whatever. You know, you’re here and you’re feeling it and that’s as real as it gets.

R&R: You’ve collaborated with a ton of artists like Murs and Brother Ali, but never really with what most casual listeners would call mainstream. Is there any reason for that in particular?
S: For the most part I try to stick to a basic rule of collaboration and that is: I gotta be friends with the person I’m making music with. And I really just haven’t been able to strike up a friendship with Lloyd Banks yet. You know what I mean? It’s like our paths haven’t crossed like that, and that’s pretty much all it is it’s a matter of path and nature.

R&R: Is there love between mainstream and underground?
S: I think that there is a peaceful co-existence. I think only the fans separate it. You know if you get in my car and see what’s in my CD player, for the most part I listen mostly mainstream rap. I usually study my friends records when they come out but I don’t roll around bumping to Aesop Rock, these are my homies and so it almost would be weird if I was driving around bumping their shit. So when I listen to shit it’s generally Redman or Prodigy, but I don’t know if Redman is rolling around listening to Murs. But I do know that I think all of us are like yo, we’re rappers; some of us are blue collar, some of us are white collar, some of us ain’t even got a collar.

When you hear an emcee separate himself from either mainstream or a mainstream emcee separate himself from underground I always saw that as an identity crisis and I myself had that identity crisis. I went through that in my first couple of records where it was like, “Underground til death, do or die,” you know that’s how you make your claim and whatever but once you hit a certain age you gotta be like you know what man it’s music. Now my music fits into this bucket your music fits into that bucket but I’m not gonna sit out here and say your music sucks or mine is better because to me that’s a sign of insecurity.

R&R: You’ve heard Kanye’s song “Drive Slow,” and I know it’s a sample for the song “Wildflower,” but when you heard it were you like, “Damn, I did that song 10 years ago.”
S: I mean the Kanye shit was hotter because it was time for that. You know maybe if Ant saved that sample and you put it on You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having it might have fits the times better. But there’s no really way to tell how that shit’s going to work out. You find a thing that you think is a hot sample and used but that ain’t got nothing to do with the listeners, it’s all subjective to the listener. To us its nature but to the listener is subjective: They like it or they don’t. And if you the right time that’s just the way it is. I guarantee there are kids out there that have flipped samples we used, flipped it before us and theirs is still unheard of and they’re like, “Man we flipped the same sample Atmosphere flipped on “Watch Out,” how come nobody ever fucking listened to our shit.” It’s all timing.

I like when that happens though because on the rare occasion that I do spin out in my city, it gives me an opportunity to fuckin put one of my own shits up in the mix, you know what I am saying? I can go from a Kanye shit and then go into some Dynospectrum for 15 bars before I get out, just to be like “ooohh.”

R&R: Who in and out of Rhymesayers always continues to impress you?
S: Brother Ali always impresses me. I’m usually always impressed with Jay and Nas both of ‘em. I’m usually impressed with any cameo that Busta Rhymes makes anywhere. I’m a fan of Redman and always will be, I’m a fan of Prodigy and I always will be. I’m generally impressed with Aesop Rock and LP, Murs.

I mean it’s a hard call when you start talking about people you know it’s like, when I hear their records I hear something different that what their fans hear. I hear the real person, and it’s like, “Yeah that is exactly who that dude is.” So it’s easy for me to be impressed by my friends because I’m like, “Yeah, you put your shit out there and you put your heart out there and I heard it.”

R&R: If you were to listen to Lucy Ford and When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold back-to-back, how would you describe the difference between Slug then and Slug now?
S: Slug on Lucy Ford was a fucking amateur. The voice was thin, there wasn’t a whole lot of confidence in there, I was still trying to prove to myself that this is what I’m supposed to be doing and I can hear that. There’s a lot of fucking off-beat shit in there that I wish wasn’t on there like that. I didn’t know how to use stacks and overdubs correctly. It’s very, very amateurish but at the same time the words still meant a lot to me when I word them words. Even though I might be embarrassed by a lot of the technical aspects of that record I still stand next to those lyrics.

R&R: Ok, so you’re at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter says that before he lets you in he needs a mix of your best shit. What are some of the tracks you give him?
S: Shit. I don’t even know man, I’d probably… yeah, I’d probably just hand him Strictly Leakage, the whole album and be like here man, sniff this.

R&R: Over the years some people have called you “emo-rap,” what is your reaction to that?
S: Yeah of course I’ve heard it and honestly you know my reaction has changed over the years. Initially the funny thing is we made that up. We did it as a joke, Urb magazine did an interview me way back in the day when we were working the Deep Puddle Dynamics record and I dropped the E-bomb then. And I dropped it as a joke, and people never heard that phrase before. Emo rock was starting to get bigger because the shit like Sunny Day Real Estate and these bands that were starting to get that genre of punk more attention and so as a joke I called us “emo rap,” actually I called us “cynical, minimalistic emo rap” and after that it started getting throw around a lot and I went through my phase of “Damn, I didn’t mean to do all that, it was just a fuckin’ joke,” but now it’s like, “I don’t give a fuck, I don’t care what people call me,” because I know where I sit, I know who I am, I know what I’m making, I know what I’m doing.

Whatever people gotta, whether it be like a cynical kid that loves rap that wants to use it as a means to diss us its like, “Yeah, go for it homie,” if that’s how you gotta carve out your identity is by making sure people know that there’s certain things you don’t like, then handle that. But for the kids that want to use it as a joke, I get that because I used it as a joke. And then as far as journalists using it I understand, cats gotta use the least amount of words to try and describe stuff so that people can understand what they talking about. It’s an easy fall back, you know what I mean? I ain’t mad at it, I don’t care.

R&R: When you finally pen your last lyric, what are you gonna take a way from all of this?
S: Honestly man I’m just trying to make KRS-One proud, I’m just trying to make sure that I did for somebody what them cats did for me when I was 17 years old. If I can pass it on to a 17-year-old so that when he grows up and he’s doing it, he’s looking at it like, “Yo I gotta do what Slug did for me,” then that’s all I look for.




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