Atmosphere | You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun They’re Having

As subsequent albums drop and people started tuning in, Slug began losing the need to prove himself, and that gave rise to a confused and introspective yet lyrically tight journey through the self-confidence of an increasingly successful emcee.


From small-time Minnesota area freestyle battles to our favorite über-popular skateboarder’s videogame soundtrack, rapper Slug and producer Ant (of the Rhymesayers group Atmosphere) have covered a lot of ground in the last decade.

And it’s easy to imagine how much fun they’re having.

“Oodles and oodles of O’s, y’know? I love this job. I won’t quit, they’ll have to fire me. And then I’ll go on unemployment.”slug.jpg

The most recent evolution of Atmosphere’s sound includes a live band which accompanies them on tours and performs cuts off the new record as well as old-school favorites with a new flavor. And though Daley hasn’t abandoned the DJ—producer Ant is spinning—the live band is a well-needed change in his career. “I think that for me, I needed to do something different in a really bad way, I really needed to try something different because, I wasn’t scared anymore, and I needed to do something to scare the shit out of myself again, and the live band brought me just that.”

Atmosphere must thrive off their fears. In the past ten years, the Rhymesayers’ crew has assembled a lineup of some of the most talented lyricists and producers in the Midwest, almost every emcee’s capability to thrive over every style is matched by the producer’s variety of style and influence. As expected with so much talent as openers, and this new live band experience, the live shows are starting to bump a lot more heads.

Rapper Sean Daley, better known to indie rockers and backpackers as emcee Slug, is a rare specimen of an ever evolving breed of hip-hop emcee. In a genre full of chest-puffing and name calling, Slug takes a left turn and actually talks about, you know, emotional stuff. The result is a string of albums riddled with depressed lovers and tragic figures; all draped over thick, kick-heavy beats and polished flow. “There’s something about our group where if you like it, it’s a little more personal to you,” Daley muses. “Something people take really personally.”

The personal connection to Atmosphere varies, depending on your mood. Slug’s sometimes self-abusive, drug-addicted, women-loving lyrics can either attract or repel, and yet many turned off by his being “too emotional” or “too big an a-hole” could still respect the fact that it’s just one man with an ability to rhyme and be straightforward and honest. This character trait doesn’t pop up too much in the music biz.

Because of this honesty, both emotionally and musically, Atmosphere has evolved in many ways, and with increasingly little regard to the public opinion. The early Atmosphere album Overcast is gritty and sparse, exhibiting Slug the young emcee flexing his knowledge of hip-hop and going through the normal drive to be the best and be well liked. But as subsequent albums drop and people started tuning in, Slug began losing the need to prove himself, and that gave rise to a confused and introspective yet lyrically tight journey through the self-confidence of an increasingly successful emcee, one we all get a front seat to witness.

God Loves Ugly came when, I mean we were poppin’ off, and we were getting bigger, and I was really confused by that. I had all this fucking press and I had all these people telling me Lucy Ford was a great record and setting it next to their fucking Modest Mouse records and setting it next to their this and that and the other and that confused the fuck out of me.” All their albums bear this confusion out, with songs like “Shrapnel” and “Trying to Find a Balance” (“ In the days of Kings and Queens I was a jester/Treat me like a god, or they treat me like a leper”), and many old-school fans were turned away by this harder edged “crossover” music.

But after the ear-ringing died down from the yelling, the red-faced misanthropes stepped back, took a breath, and went back to the drawing board. In You Can’t Imagine, they actually sound refreshed.

“It’s kind of the nature of it. When I really wanted to be the emcee of the year, is before I realized that wasn’t what it was all about,” reflects Daley. “As I got more and more into all this and started experiencing more and traveling and meeting people, I realized, ‘You know, that’s cool but it’s some identity crisis bullshit’… I want to just make a point and hope people get the point.

“[The album] is my way of kind of saying, you know what? Here it is. This is where it’s at. And even though my debut was ten fucking years ago, it took me this long to finally find myself and be comfortable with myself in this, you know? And to me, even if no one else hears it, the whole album is me and Ant, basically admitting our flaws, as well as showing our strengths.”

And that’s why the album title is actually not as sarcastic as both the cover photo and the band’s often dismayed, often ironic history would imply. Daley admits he has also undergone a personal evolution, offering a surprising look into his new outlook on life. “I’ve gone through the self-medicated, get drunk and smoke pot fun, I’ve gone through the, um, find a new girlfriend every night fun. I’ve gone through a lot of stuff, and now I’m at a point where I’m kinda having genuine fun, meeting people, talking to kids.”

Is this the end of an era for Atmosphere, now that the sad clown can’t frown? Daley jokes, “I’m sure my music’s going to get start to get really bad ’cause I’m happy now,” but then says soberly, “but yeah, if it turns out to be true and the next record is happy and everyone hates it, I’m cool with that, ’cause at least I’ve found happiness. Dammit….I can always go back to driving a truck. Always…”

Better hold on to your day job, for now….

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