Sean Daley has always embraced darkness in his music, lacing his lyrics with emotional rawness, unvarnished truths and a wicked sense of humor. Better known as Slug, the MC half of long-running Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere, he's no different in conversation.
Atmosphere rolls through Spokane on Tuesday, and the Inlander caught up with Slug, 47, to discuss the inspiration behind several classic Atmosphere tracks.
"Virgo," Mi Vida Local (2018)
The song off Atmosphere's 2018 LP contains sobering observations about climate change or the nuclear apocalypse or whatever else is presently threatening humanity. One line goes, "You can sacrifice me to the weather / If you promise that you'll let my songs live forever."
Slug: "I had been writing a lot about death over the past few years. After your obsession with death is done, what's the next thing? Do you obsess over life again? That song was me trying to dig through that. What can I be obsessed with? What can I be worried about? It made me realize it's OK to write about actual stuff a person my age worries about. It's not super common, in my genre of music, to write things about how I might be in the last generation of grandparents. This is what I'm concerned with in real life. I wrote that as an exercise, or a catalyst, to stop writing about death."
"The Best Day," To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EP's (2010)
A bouncy jingle is juxtaposed with Slug's tendency to place rain clouds in even his sunniest-sounding songs. The message is world-weary yet ultimately hopeful, but not to begin with: "I had a rough day, but that's life, it happens / Woke up on a dark side of my mattress."
Slug: "I was hoping to make that a song with me and [L.A. rapper] Murs. A lot of times, when I did songs with Murs, I would look for songs that were tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic ... So I wrote a verse about having a bad day at work. I can't remember exactly why, but Murs wasn't feeling it. So I chose to finish it myself and do the Atmosphere thing where I write two verses about two different people, and then I write one about me. And if it wasn't going to be a funny song, then it had to be about hope. ... I don't know why people like it. It turned out to be one of our most popular songs, and I have no idea why."
"Shoulda Known," When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (2008)
Slug rhapsodizes on addiction and loving people who are also enslaved by substances.
Slug: "We were working with live musicians on that one. ... Ant [the producer half of Atmosphere] had a concept of how he wanted it to work, but in the studio, everyone was playing and playing and pushing until they all felt like their parts were standing out. That's the thing about musicians, man, they're all a bunch of egotistical [inaudible]. I'm not talking about rappers. We all know rappers suck. But guitar players and keyboard players and shit, man? Everyone's got these egos and wants to hear their own part. So, this was a song where everyone kept turning up their part until they could hear it, but it ended up making a pretty dope recipe. And I can't even tell you if there's guitar on the track. I mean, can you hear it?"
"F—- You Lucy," God Loves Ugly (2002)
Over a mournful, dead-eyed beat, Slug addresses his fictional character, Lucy Ford — the love of his life that forever leaves him spurned — in increasingly resentful terms: "Most of this garbage I write that these people seem to like / Is about you and how I let you infect my life."
Slug: "It's about booze. Yep — alcohol." ♦
Atmosphere with the Lioness, Nikki Jean & DJ Keezy • Tue, Feb. 18 at 7 pm • $27.50 • All ages • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague • sp.knittingfactory.com • 244-3279