Exclusive: Slug - The RAPstation Interview

Atmosphere is probably the biggest independent hip-hop act ever to emerge out of the Midwest. Comprised of emcee Slug (Sean Daley) and producer Ant (Anthony Davis), the Rhymesayers heavy-hitters have been selling out shows for decades. Slug co-founded Rhymsayers Entertainment in 1995 along with Ant, Musab Saad and Brent Sayers. It boasts a colorful roster of artists ranging from Aesop Rock to Brother Ali to P.O.S. of Doomtree. Currently on studio album number 6, Atmosphere has embarked on a massive national tour with Slightly Stoopid and The Living Legends' Eligh and Grouch. He took a few minutes to talk addiction, hip-hop and his accomplishments. RAPstation: Artists like Macklemore and Eligh are very candid about their struggles with addiction. Do you think that could be a new trend in hip-hop? Slug (Sean Daley): No. I think you're going to have all sides of the coin. The thing about hip-hop is it has this beautiful tendency to represent all parts of humanity. It always has. Even back in the day, you had rappers who rapped about the ills of the streets, you had rappers that glorified the ills of the streets, ills of domestic dispute relationships, and then you had rappers that glorified that shit. Drugs, alcohol, whatever, you're going to have people who express a positive side and a negative side. I don’t really think you can look at any of this and think we're going into a certain era. I don’t think hip-hop works that way. It just follows humanity. Here's the deal. Humanity is on drugs. And some of humanity is trying to break free of addiction and going sober. Just like rap, rap is going to be on drugs, but some of it is going to break free. Macklemore is huge, but I don't think him being big and him trying to tell people, 'hey, addiction is hard,' I don't think that's going to stop kids from doing drugs, maybe a couple will be like, 'yo, here's another reason for me not to,' but for the most part, people have been experimenting with mind altering substances for thousands of years. That's never going to go away. If anything, maybe as we advance as a species, maybe we'll be smarter about how we experiment, but you're never going to get away from them. I feel like kids in our generation and younger are stuck in this mysticism where it's cool to be fucked up all the time. It's not even our generation though. My parents were fucked up. It's never going to go away. Right now, you are more conscious than ever. You are noticing it, you are tuned into it and you see it. Weren't you angry after Eyedea passed away? It didn't need to happen. Here's the problem though. You can't blame the substance. You can be mad that your friend or family member or yourself was experiencing pain, but what's the point of being mad at that? You just have to take what you can learn from it and apply it to the rest of your surroundings. What's the video for "Ain't Nobody" about? You want to know something funny? That video and that song don't have anything to do with each other. And it's funny that people try to find this meaning in it. I mean, I think it's great. I think it's due to the fact that my audience loves to find the meaning in shit, but there was no tie it. The woman that made this video was making it for a band that fronted on her and gave it to us last minute. We didn't even have a song picked out for it. Now I see people look at it and they're looking for the racial thing or they're looking for the drug thing or they're looking for whatever, it's like whatever you find is more telling about who you are. Yeah, you have 400 comments on YouTube trying to figure it out. Most of the time when people think they've figured it out, what they're really trying to do is figure out their own shit. The video wasn't made for any other purpose other than having a visual component. Do you remember the day you quit your job at the record store and were able to solely concentrate on a music career? In theory, sure, but no, I don't literally remember it. It was just so long ago. In theory, I'm sure it was weird. It was probably great. No, actually probably not. I was probably scared. How old were you? That was 1999 so I was 27. But aren't you proud of all you've accomplished? I don't know if I'm proud of myself, but I do know that I enjoy playing a role in this shit. I enjoy this music shit, but I'm also very frustrated by it most of the time. It's just my life. It's not really just one feeling I can share to describe how this feels. It's every feeling and it's the nemesis of that feeling. It's all of them. It's like sure, I'm proud, but I'm also embarrassed. But I'm also frustrated. But I'm also excited. And I love seeing people attain their goals and I love when I can attain my goals, but I also see how much work people put into it and it's hard. Sometimes I wonder if it was worth it or not. Has your songwriting process changed over the years? I basically sit in the basement with beats and play them over and over and over until I get an idea. It's probably similar to how most old people write. You're not old! Stop saying that because that means I'm old. How did you end up playing with Slightly Stoopid? I saw them play and how they connect with the audience. It was very familiar with me. It's a different genre, but they still made it a personal experience for these kids. I'm friends with a few of the people in their crew so it wasn't a difficult decision. Did you ask Eligh and Grouch to go? We gave a very small handful of suggestions. We wrote a few names down on a piece of paper and they wrote a few names down on a piece of paper, and then we compared pieces of paper. Grouch and Eligh happened to be on both pieces of paper. Your songs heavily rely on women as metaphors. Are women your weakness? I have no weaknesses. I am married. I've been married for a while. As a writer, I'm kind of lazy so I just took the easy route. Characters that have been explored by writers in the past so it was easy to just kind of fall into it. I'm not sure why. I really don't know why. It just organically happened that way. When you hear old stuff like "Trying to Find a Balance," do you still feel the same way you did then? I have not heard that song in close to 10 years. The only time I hear my music is when I'm making it and I have to study it to make sure it's ok. Then when I put it out, I don't listen to it anymore except for when I perform it. Are you a perfectionist in the studio or more lax? I guess I'm both. It's all about the feelings. Sometimes I have to perfect the feeling and sometimes it just is what it is. By Kyle Eustice for RAPstation.com