Monday, September 26, 2011

Slug of Atmosphere on his moniker, online chess, and staying detached from fame

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 3:40 PM

Sean Daley, more commonly referred to as Slug of Atmosphere, is at a place in his career where he can relax, at least a little bit. The Minneapolis-based emcee, songwriter and co-founder of Rhymesayers Entertainment has “made it.” Along with producer Anthony “Ant” Davis and several other key players, he’s made a permanent imprint on the hip-hop community. After two decades in the business, a slew of successful albums, an arsenal of adoring fans and sold-out tours, Atmosphere is at the forefront of underground music. After all, the Rhymesayers label is almost synonymous with hip-hop, especially in the Midwest, and that’s no easy task. It’s always West Coast this or East Coast that, but thanks to the roster of talented artists such as Brother Ali, Eyedea and Abilities, P.O.S. and, of course, Atmosphere, Rhymesayers is an impenetrable Midwest empire. Currently on “The Family Vacation Tour” with Evidence and Blueprint — which stops by Liberty Hall tonight (Monday, Sept. 26) — Daley had a second to discuss everything from online chess to his top five favorite albums.

The Pitch: Your lyrical content seems highly personal. Do you ever feel like you’re revealing too much?

Sean Daley: Nah, because it’s all fictional.

Really? There’s some autobiographical stuff in there, though.

I mean, no more than any book you read. It’s coming from your hand, your mouth, your eyes, but it’s not like any of those stories were truly autobiographical. They’re used to exemplify the struggle or dichotomy between the genders. Honestly, half the time I was using that gender struggle as a metaphor for how I saw other things. Anybody that thinks I had a girlfriend who was as hard to deal with as Lucy is ridiculous. I had 15 girlfriends that were as hard to deal with as this character, Lucy. I stopped doing fictionalizing in the first person awhile ago. There are two songs I did that are incredibly autobiographical while on past albums like God Loves Ugly, all the songs were metaphors. I adhered to go first person with those two particular songs, but everything else I went narrative all the way.

Who or what influenced you to start making music?

I don’t know. I had an aunt that wasn’t that much older than me that spent a lot of time at my house. Just seeing the way she reacted to certain albums or artists and the fact I thought she was super-cool because she was a teenager and I was a younger kid probably had an impression on me, and that made me want to have something to do with making people react to me the same way I saw her react to Prince. Then the fact that I just loved rock and I’ve always been an attention-seeker.

What made you come out from behind the turntables?

I just wasn’t progressing as a DJ. I started DJ-ing in ‘87. I learned how to transform and I didn’t really progress beyond that. When people started doing flairs and shit, I was just like, ‘I don’t care about that fancy shit.’ I just wanted to blend and stuff. So I figured I would just chill and rap.

Where did the Slug moniker come from?

Oh, it got shortened from Slug-O. That got shortened from Little Slug-O, which was my nickname as a kid.

Did you think Rhymesayers Entertainment would be the empire it is today?

Yes. I was confident in the people. I knew Brother Ali would be great. I knew Eyedea would be great. I didn’t’ know how that was going to happen, but I was confident in the artists.

What are some of your observations on hip-hop today?

I don’t have any complaints. I’m too old to complain about hip-hop. There’s so many more important things to complain about. I mean, the shit I see on CNN makes me cringe. The things that go on in the entertainment world are funny to me. Everyone is so fucking insecure about their place, ya know? It’s like the backpackers bitch about the mainstream because the backpackers are broke. The mainstream bitches about the backpackers because the mainstream is afraid they won’t be respected in five years. Fuck both sides. Fuck the underground. Fuck the overground. Fuck the middle ground. It’s just a bunch of fucking people trying to find their fucking identities. Once you get comfortable with who you are as a person, you’ll stop complaining about all of that other dumb-ass shit.

Do you believe that comes with age?

Yes, I think it does.

Name your top five favorite albums. Go!

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy, To the East Blackwards by X Clan, One for All by Brand Nubian and Death Certificate by Ice Cube.

How do you feel growing up in the Midwest influenced your musical style?

I think most of us in the Midwest kind of became sponges. The East Coast, West Coast, the Geto Boys- we absorbed everybody and so we’re kind of a mishmash of all of that. You can hear a little bit of Nas and KRS One in us. You can hear a little bit of Ice Cube and Digital Underground in us. It’s like we sound like all of our influences.

What does the music you make mean to you on a personal level?

I guess for the most part it’s like a ritual you do to give back to the people who gave it to you. Aside from the fact that we built a business out of it, we’ve turned it into a vehicle for other people to share their stuff. It all come down to this - it’s guided by the governor in me that wants to make sure I give back like KRS and Rakim did to me.

As a human being, how does it feel to be in the position of selling out shows and having thousands of fans who idolize you? Is that kind of a weird feeling?

I stay pretty detached from how many shows I sell out or how many units I move. I focus on the fans and try to be as personable as possible because I understand that’s what they’re here for. At the end of the day when I go back to my house, I don’t think about this shit.

So how do you unwind?

I play online chess. [Laughs.]

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned over the past two decades?

It definitely isn’t anything I learned in the music business. It’s pay attention to how and why you choose to self-medicate.

I feel you there. So how do you self-medicate these days?

I play online chess.

No yoga?

[Laughs.] No, not yet. It’s not trendy enough yet. I’ll do yoga, get a dog and play Frisbee soon, though.

One more generic question: What are the best and worst aspects about touring?

Trying to maintain a healthy day-to-day lifestyle from sleep to food to exercise. That’s easily the worst. The best is the constant distractions when you’re on tour. You don’t get bored. There’s always something to play with and something to do.

I’ve seen you several times, and onstage, you seem like a natural-born emcee. You make it seem so effortless.

You got this all from seeing me perform?

Yes. [Laughs.] It seems easy for you. Do you feel you were just born with this gift or did it evolve from experience?

I’m sure it came with practice and experience. I don’t know too many natural-born emcees. Most of them are practiced emcees. The only person I would say I’ve seen or heard that I would say are natural born emcees are KRS, Nas and Rakim. Everyone else has practiced a lot and cares about their craft a lot.

Best collaboration you’ve done?

I don’t know who. I love making music with Brother Ali and Murs - that’s it. Everybody else I just like.

If you could work with anybody alive or dead, who would it be?

The Fat Boys

[Laughs.] Would you rock the gold chain?

Fuck, yeah!

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