The rapper Slug from the hip hop duo Atmosphere is clever, passionate and very facetious. Slug began rapping around 1989 and playing gigs at local Minnesota venues in the early 90s.
“I needed to fit in, and in the neighborhood I grew up in fitting in meant learning how to break dance, and later on it meant learning how to write on garages with spray paint; and that is kind of what lead me to want to be a DJ, which is what lead me to wanting to rap,” said Slug, “It was mostly for neighborhood credentials. But in time it became more than just a hobby.”
Atmosphere started touring in the late 90s, but from what Slug said, that wasn’t intentional. “There was no plan, man. We just baby-stepped our way into this s—.” They have been making hip-hop music for over 20 years and produced seven studio albums for Atmosphere under Slug’s independent record label Rhymesayers. “I still receive the same amount of enjoyment out of creating it and performing it, listening to it,” he said. “If anything’s changed it’s probably just been our techniques. How we capture it, how we perform it, how we create it. All of that is just me attempting to learn and get better and better at it.”
His new album, “Fishing Blues”, got its name when Atmosphere saw a canoe with some stickers on it that said BB King’s Fishing Blues during a photoshoot for the record, they thought it was so funny they decided to use part of it in the title. Slug said when he creates new songs it starts with Ant, Atmosphere’s producer. “He gives me the tracks and I comb through it and when I find one I’m interested in I listen to it over and over again until I figure out what color it is or what vibe it is . . . what kind of story is the music trying to tell,” he said. “And then I go and find a story in my head that I can stick that with.”
Slug is known for making his lyrics personal, as you can hear in the political song “Pure Evil” about police brutality.
“There was a time where it was like ‘these things happen’ but we didn’t hear about them a lot. And then thanks to our smartphones and our social media everybody became more aware of what was going on,” said Slug. “It kind of almost tricked us into believing that this was happening more often but the truth is, it’s rising to the surface more often. And then it hits the point that it’s getting closer to home because it starts actually happening to people you know.”
Those more personal lyrics and the social justice work they do are a big part of his work. But Slug doesn’t believe it’s everyone’s job to do that work. “I don’t believe that all artists have that responsibility. But I do believe that all people have a responsibility to point out when oppression and systemic racism is present in your area…as a member of the community it’s everybody’s responsibility to take care of each other–period,” he said. “As a human I think it’s my responsibility to use any platform that I can get my hands on as a way to signal, boost or point out oppression.”
While some songs are more personal and emotional, others are more humorous and witty. The video for the song “Ringo” for example shows a jester on stage being taunted by the other actors and the happy chorus saying, “Everybody wanna see a falling star.” Slug said it is a caricature based off of different people and experiences. “It’s not so much autobiographical as much as it is kind of a narrative of caution…how even though there is a thin line of being on top of the world and being on rock bottom, it’s okay. You know, you can be that, it’s just the duality of who we are as people.”
In a show of his own duality, his response to whether he wanted to add anything else was, “Eat your vegetables. In fact, learn how to grow your own vegetables and then eat them.”
Atmosphere’s Freshwater Fly Fishermen Tour will be at The Complex on Sept. 30.