Slug’s slow crawl to the top stops at Mr. Small’s

By By Justin Jacobs

Atmosphere’s Paint the Nation Tour Tonight, 8 p.m. Mr. Small’s, Millvale 412-821-4447 ‘ ‘ ‘ … Atmosphere’s Paint the Nation Tour Tonight, 8 p.m. Mr. Small’s, Millvale 412-821-4447 ‘ ‘ ‘ His fans call him Slug. His family calls him Sean Daley. And a recent naysayer called him the Dave Matthews of hip-hop. ‘ ‘ ‘ One of these is not like the other. ‘ ‘ ‘ For one of the most popular and critically acclaimed underground rappers (if none of the above sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard of his rap duo Atmosphere) to be compared to the king of faux-hippie rock might seem like an insult, but not to Slug. In fact, the Minneapolis MC took it as a compliment. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I could’ve knee-jerked, but I broke it down. Sure, from the independent music nerd perspective, Dave Matthews is the butt of jokes. But looking at the overall picture, he’s got fans that love him. That’s beautiful. He’s got a language and he’s speaking,’ said Slug in a recent interview with The Pitt News. ‘So where does that put me? It means I’ve made it. I’m in the books now.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Talk about seeing the sunny side of life. And for Slug, who’s made his name in indie hip-hop over the last decade for his brutal, truthful and often overtly emotional takes on his own life, having such a positive outlook is a new page in his rhyme book. But then again, it’s hard to be down when the whole underground rap community is pushing you up. ‘ ‘ ‘ Atmosphere’s latest record, last spring’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold, is his most successful to date with partner and producer Anthony ‘Ant’ Davis, having received positive reviews by even the harshest critics (I’m talking to you, Pitchfork). Slug’s also cut down on, as he says, ‘all the drinking, all the f***ing,’ and even elected to bring his 14-year-old son on tour. And now, 15 years, five albums and almost 20 EPs in, Atmosphere is better than ever. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I used to do all the press junkets, so much shit for more exposure … but it doesn’t help the art at all,’ said Slug. ‘At the end of the day, f**k it all. My hands are on the steering wheel, and if I want to crash this airplane, whenever I decide to do it, I can. But I’ll never give the wheel to someone else to fly it higher so more people can see it. If the planes flies higher, it’s because I took it there.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ That do-it-yourself, me-against-the-world mindset has long driven Slug. After releasing a set of intensely personal EPs, Atmosphere put out God Loves Ugly (you can probably guess who Ugly is) in 2002, the duo’s first record to garner some mainstream attention. Aside from piano-driven, earthy and rumbling beats, it was Slug’s self-deprecating rapping that truly separated Atmosphere from the countless, faceless rappers of the underground. The title track begins with, ‘I live my life like the captain of a sinking ship / Hey ma, I promise, I’m gonna be large / Someday I’m gonna stop trying to borrow your car.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ It was that kind of depressive humor that earned Slug an emo-rapper label and the adoration of sad little punkers everywhere. Atmosphere even played the Warped Tour in 2004. ‘ ‘ ‘ But emo never quite fit Slug. Sure, one Atmosphere track is more personal than Young Jeezy’s entire collection, but these aren’t tracks about high school heartbreak. The best Atmosphere tracks resonate with deeper emotions ‘mdash; self-doubt, crippling fear, addiction and desire. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I’ll never lie in my music. I will tell a story, just like someone tells you that Santa Claus is real. I’m a storyteller, not a liar,’ said Slug. ‘Lies have agendas. I don’t have an agenda ‘mdash; I won’t prove shit to anybody. I don’t need to make you think I’m cool or awesome. My stories are observations, thoughts. You might agree or disagree ‘mdash; I don’t mind, either, as long as you hear it and confront it.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ And his fans do hear it. But for Slug, the artist-fan relationship is two-way. Stop by the show tonight and you’ll see him out in the crowd. Onstage he’s like a preacher leading the faithful. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘As a rapper, I’ve got 80,000 bosses instead of one. They’re 19 years old, and as I get older, I see the relationship I have with my fans turning into something a bit more … parental,’ said Slug. ‘I want to make sure that I’m giving these kids just what KRS-One gave me ‘mdash; to not necessarily kiss your boss’s ass, but to challenge your boss to be better. I’m gonna confront you to make you confront yourself.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ For Slug, with a teenage son just beginning to understand what his dad does, there’s another confrontation that’s waiting to happen, and it’s with maybe his biggest fan. Luckily, Slug is ready for it. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘To my son, this is the thing that had daddy gone a lot. Even though he was too young to know what resentment is, there’s probably some of that in him. But after traveling with me, he hears me talk to a fan about how I helped them through something in their life. He sees that connection and he’s proud. As he gets older, we’ll deal with the things he’s tucked away … as long as we keep it open, it’s gonna be fine,’ said Slug. ‘ ‘ ‘ Be it as a father or a rapper, Slug, the perpetually self-hating MC who, for the past decade plus, has been airing his grievances on record, is becoming somewhat of an optimist. That’s a bold move for the guy who made his career on being down on himself. But being clean, being successful and being at peace with his son ‘mdash; this is Slug’s best day. And he doesn’t care if you like it or not. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘For some people, we might be the butt of jokes. Others might not even like rap, they just like Atmosphere. Some get it and some don’t. We’re like syphillis.’