Of Slugs and Atmosphere

For the capacity crowd on Sept. 12, it was all about the music. For the countless fans around the world, it’s all about the music. For Slug (Sean Daley), the front man for Atmosphere, it has always been all about the music.

As far back as high school, when he founded the Rhymesayers crew with two friends, Spawn (Derek Turner) and Stress (Siddiq Ali), Slug has been more than dedicated to the music. He has assumed the role of both DJ and emcee, gaining notoriety for the latter, and his musical entourage has expanded, gaining a large fan base in his native Minneapolis.

His collaborations read like a comprehensive guide to underground hip-hop, and he has touched and influenced many in his career. Rhymesayers Entertainment is now synonymous with top-quality innovative hip-hop, respected wherever they touch down.

His work deals with both deeply personal relationships and incredibly uninhibited views on the world, with countless topics, free of the restrictions of convention and occasionally reason. From God Loves Ugly, which delved deeply into the twisted state of mind known to a lonely man (and the woman who left him), to Felt, a recent collaboration with Murs that attributes it’s inspiration to Christina Ricci, Slug has a way of narrating with conviction and style, winning him dedicated supporters. He returns the dedication with a desire to never misrepresent himself, to never cheat his fans with a façade.

He told me that he doesn’t consider himself to have an image, an issue that has been receiving increased attention with his rising popularity and his new record contract. He is what he says, and when he rhymes he is being himself, free of the (youthful) desire to come across as the hardest or the tightest.

Watching him perform, one could wonder how this could even be an issue.

He exudes confidence, and is at ease on stage, accompanying each rhyme with body language that is both arrogant and powerful, lacking any awkward motion. His subject matter may lay his insecurities out plain to see, yet by his own admission, he simply wishes “to be the man on the mic/to be the man on your mind/to be the man who made you push rewind.”

When asked about his recent signing to Epitaph records, a label known almost exclusively for punk rock, boasting bands such as Rancid, Pennywise, and Bad Religion, he echoed the sentiments expressed in an Epitaph press release.

” They’re real. They don’t necessarily tell me what I want to hear,” he explains after choosing Epitaph, along with Sage Francis, another well-respected underground emcee.

Long-standing core values of punk rock include integrity, strength and independence from current trends, making underground hip-hop and punk rock amazingly comfortable bedmates.

Although Atmosphere’s new album, Seven’s Travels, is being released on the Epitaph label, the album was completed prior to signing. The new album represents more than just the first release on a new label, it represents a new day for hip hop and punk rock alike, a step towards a truer sense of unity than either genre could garner on their own. The do it yourself movement, long characterized by hard work with little to no pay-off, is becoming a powerful force with a wide base to build on, free of previous inhibitions based on pigeonholing a particular sound.

Drawing from his past, his independent releases (the Headshots series of mix tapes, Vol. Se7en in particular), his love for traveling and the expanse of stories it provides and “Gulliver’s Travels,” the new album promises a rich store of lyrical innovation and topics ranging from self to love to all the bizarre manifestations of a Slug’s mind.

Slugis fervently passionate about the new album and touring, saying he loves being involved with the music. Even when he must eventually put down the mic, he will still be involved behind the scenes, promoting, organizing and doing what he does best: sharing his passion for music.

When it comes to corporate sponsorship, file-sharing and the recent exploitation of rap music on a wide commercial scale, he responds as any Slug fan would expect, by laughing.

“It might hurt the labels, but, so?” he says.

His qualms with file-sharing lie in the lack of a personal touch, one present in mix tapes and CDs given between friends. He regrets the absence of the conversation that comes with mix tapes made specifically for a certain person. As for the wide-spread overexposure of rap and hip hop, Slug sees it as inevitable, yet points out that soon there will be a generation of kids who grew up on hip-hop coming into power and shaping the world in their image. He sees this as a great responsibility on himself, and any others who rhyme to be heard. When it comes to accepting money from the big guys, he is more pragmatic

“I want you to steal from the devil,” he begins cryptically.

“If you take that money, and bring a X Brand banner with you on tour, and then you go and buy a Bentley, then fuck you. However, if that money allows you to bring one or two extra crews with you (on tour), then take it and use it.”

Slug represents what hip-hop is becoming for a lot of people. He is independent, he is skilled and he is always pushing the envelope, not satisfied with typical rhymes or traditional beats. He has myriad of styles, supporters all over the world and is now being taken very seriously by the industry that neglected him for so long.

With talent and perseverance, Atmosphere has bridged the gap between underground and mainstream, between punk rock and hip hop, between sanity and the insane.

And it all started in high school, when his love for music and his ambition to rhyme came together to lay the plans for an empire only now plain to see. What the future holds is uncertain, yet one thing that will not change is Atmosphere’s dedication to beats and rhymes. For Slug, and indeed the whole Rhymesayers crew, it’s all about the music.

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