Atmosphere’s Slug On The Heartbreaking Life Of A Musician

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    With the exception of Prince and Bob Dylan, Minnesota is seldom mentioned as a hotbed of musical talent. But quietly, the land of 10,000 lakes has boasted one of the most venerable duos in hip-hop in recent memory. Since the release of their first official album, <i>Overcast!, </i>in 1997, MC Sean "Slug" Daley and producer Anthony "Ant" Davis have built one of the most loyal followings in a genre where even the most skilled artists are not guaranteed lasting relevance.<br /><br />Now, with their eight official full-length studio album, <a title="review" href="http://www.xxlmag.com/rap-music/reviews/2014/05/atmosphere-southsiders-album-review/" target="_blank"><i>Southsiders</i></a> dropping earlier this month, the Rhymesayers originators celebrated more than two decades of making music together. And while they will probably never be pop icons, the fact that they can sell out a show at The Palladium in Hollywood in less than a day is a true testament to the type of success every MC should strive for.<br /><br />With their album making waves in the indie community, <em>XXL </em>spoke with Slug about longevity in the game, their single "<a title="kanye" href="http://www.xxlmag.com/rap-music/new-music/2014/04/atmosphere-kanye-west/" target="_blank">Kanye West</a>" and why he fears for his son wanting to be a musician. —<a title="jake" href="https://twitter.com/jsrohn" target="_blank"><em>Jake Rohn</em></a>
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    <b><em>XXL</em>: How has the response been to <i>Southsiders</i> compared to some of your previous albums?</b><br /><strong>Slug: </strong>Some people love it. Some people hate it. And I think that's how the response should be. People who prefer a particular record—when you look at the period in time we made that record—maybe that period in our [lives] speaks to where they are in their [lives] now. You shouldn't expect to have fans that stick with you through everything you make. It should be an evolving door, instead of a revolving door. I've had fans who've come and then left and then come back and then left again. I think, technically, if you always continue to make everybody happy all the time, you're probably not doing it right. But if you're continuing to piss everybody off all the time then you're probably not doing it right there, either. It should be a complicated relationship.<br /><br /><b>But it seems like a lot of fans that were rocking with you from day one have stuck around all along. Do you think the younger fans are more fickle? </b><br />Why would a 17-year-old care about what a 41-year-old is rapping about? Why should any 17-year-old care about what I got to say or what Jay Z or KRS-One has to say? We're all old. So in that regard, when they do care about what you have to say, it's kind of a beautiful thing [to see] that some statements transcend age. And in that regard, I wouldn't expect every fan of <i>When Life Gives You Lemons</i> to like <i>Southsiders,</i> or I wouldn't expect every fan of <i>God Loves Ugly </i>to like <i>Southsiders.</i> 'Cause if you're 23 right now, then maybe you should listen to <i>God Loves Ugly,</i> because that experience that I was writing about might just be closer to the experience that person was having, whereas the experience that I'm writing about right now is coming from a 41-year-old. So I never went into an album expecting, like, "Oh, this is the one that everybody's gonna love."
  • atmosphere kanye west
    <b>At your release party in Los Angeles, when you performed your new single "Kanye West," a lot of people already knew all the words. Has Kanye heard or acknowledged the song since it came out?</b><br />No, and I wouldn't imagine he would. We're so under his radar. For starters, I kind of doubt he has heard the song, or that he would even care about that, not for any other reason than I'm sure he's got much stronger priorities than what some underground rap group from Minneapolis is doing. So I would be really surprised if he knew about the song or if he chose to reach out.<br /><br /><b>But don't forget he did songs with artists like Dilated Peoples, Talib Kweli and Rhymefest back when he was starting to get hot.</b><br />The key word there is "Back." He's really diversified his portfolio. Back then it was just music, whereas now he is a multifaceted business, so that's why I would be surprised—not to say that he doesn't keep his ear to what's going on musically—but I do think even in that regard we're really under the radar. We've been around long enough that a lot of people do know who we are, but we're never going to reach that tipping point where we become more of a mainstream entity. And I don't say that with any sort of resentment. I like our position, but I say that more so it's just realistic.
  • atmosphere slug southsiders
    <b>Over the years you've been considered by many to be a very underrated MC. Who do you consider some of today's most underrated MCs?</b><br />Open Mike Eagle. Brother Ali. Busdriver and gHOst OnE for sure. But I Self Divine is at the top of the list. I would say him first. He is easily the most underrated and under-appreciated MC that I'm aware of.<br /><br /><b>Your September show at The Palladium in Hollywood sold out on the first day. How does it feel to see that kind of response from fans?</b>The show on [September 5] sold out so fast that we were afraid it was gonna piss fans off that they couldn't go. I'm really tired of... I don't want this to sound like a humble brag, so I gotta figure out the correct way to articulate it. It can be frustrating when the shows consistently sell out, because what you're doing is creating a stream of income for scalpers, and I hate that. I'm tired of people that had to pay $100 buying tickets on Craigslist, or even out front, from some knucklehead who's scalping tickets. So when that one sold out so fast we decided the right thing to do was to book another show. And it's our birthday show, so we said, fuck it, let's celebrate our birthdays together. Me and Anthony on the 6th at The Palladium. We'll probably hit the stage around 11 and that way we start the set during Anthony's birthday and we finish the set during my birthday [September 7].
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    <b>As your oldest son has come of age, has he expressed any interest in getting into music?</b><br />Now that he's a grown ass man, I don't feel as confident answering questions about him that he should eventually answer for himself. If he does ever choose to be a rapper I will definitely make sure that he knows that he has my sincerest apology.<br /><br /><b>Why do you say that?</b><br />'Cause it's a heartbreaking life. Music in general, being a musician, is heartbreaking. There's something to be said for being a custodian or a janitor because you only have one boss. But when you make art, you never even know how many bosses you have. You never know who it is that can wreck your day. It's funny, I consider myself self-employed, but the game is so fickle.
  • atmosphere southsiders
    <b>Recently it was announced that Dr. Dre is hip-hop's first billionaire. When you were starting out, did you ever think <a title="juicy" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JZom_gVfuw" target="_blank">hip-hop could take it this far</a>?</b><br />I can't say I ever thought it would take it that far, nor did I ever assume that it wouldn't. I'm proud of him, because out of everybody, he deserves it the most. He is easily the greatest producer in the world of hip-hop, ever. In fact, if I can quote Ant, he said that if you were to make a list of the best, you would have to put Dr. Dre at number one and then there'd be three or four blank spots before you even got to the next person. The next producer doesn't even start until number five. So in that way, now that you're actually making me kind of consider this and figure out where I stand with it. I think it's kind of an amazing thing.<br /><br />Now, on the other hand, I can't even comprehend what the fuck a billion dollars even looks like. To consider that some people are worth that much money but they represent people who have nothing freaks me out. Hip-hop is a culture of struggle and a language of struggle. It's about building something out of nothing, and he definitely built something out of nothing, he built something huge. But what now? What are you gonna do with that money? That's more money than you could spend. That's more money than your children are gonna be able to spend. So it's overwhelming to think about that. There are kids in the fucking hood who are fucking suffering from malnutrition because they're being fed nothing but fucking corn syrup, but some people got a billion fucking dollars?<br /><br />Maybe I'd understand better if I had a billion dollars. I don't. I'm not necessarily rich. I'm upper middle class, but I'm kinda shook on that number. We see a billion and it rolls off the tongue like no big deal, because we've been conditioned to see money and talk about money as if it's no big deal. It's just there. It's a comfortable discussion; it's a comfortable concept. But when you write a billion and see that there are fucking nine zeros in that number, I don't know, man. I don't know how I feel about anybody having that much fucking money. I just really hope that now that there's no doubt about this person's comfort level, he can find his way to become the philanthropist that he has the opportunity to become. I feel like, if anything, that could become the most beautiful part of this story—if not only did Dr. Dre become the first hip-hop billionaire, but the first for-real hip-hop philanthropist. That would be the shit to me. That would be the thing that would make me want to put his face on fucking Mount Rushmore.
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    <b>You've been through quite a few different eras in hip-hop. Which would you say was your favorite?</b><br />This one. The current era. Because this is the era that represents where we've come to. This is where we're at. All these different voices, for better or worse. Whether you're into Young Thug or you're into fucking Latyrx, or El-P, or Danny Brown, or Action Bronson, or fucking Big Daddy Kane—this is where we've come to. Our history is important—because that's how we got here—but where we're at now is the voice of the youth today, and you have to embrace that, because these people are letting you know what these kids are doing, where these kids are going and what these kids are listening to. Everybody from the A$AP Mob to Aesop Rock. It's a full-grown tree now, and it's a beautiful tree, and I'm excited about all of it.<br /><br />Now don't get me wrong, I'm born in 1972, so I grew up on what they'd call "The Golden Age," and that shit informed us. But all the work that dudes did in the '80s was to get to where we are now. People who complain about the music today and the culture today, they're missing the bigger picture. Look—it actually worked. We went through all that shit to get to this place where motherfuckers are allowed to be themselves and let their freak flag fly. It's eccentric, and awkward, and weird, and cool and swag and all this shit. And I think it's a beautiful thing. I put in a lot of fucking work to get this culture to where it is today. KRS-One put in a lot of work to get it to where it is. Biggie, Pac, all these motherfuckers put in all this fucking work to get it here.

Previously: Review: Atmosphere’s Southsiders
Atmosphere Connect With Their Fans At Album Release Show In NYC
15 Of The Greatest Rapper/Producer Duos Of All Time