| Slug says: "I would rather you already know I'm kind of a dork before we ever actually have the opportunity to meet. And it doesn't work with everybody, but there are a group of kids out there that already know I'm just a fucking talking shoe basically." (Photo by Dan Monick)
Stop me if you've heard this one before: So there's this white guy, walks up to a mic and starts rhyming some sick style. Dude's so white he's from Minneapolis - the Midwest, for chrissake - but he's got undeniable skills. And one badass DJ bringing the beats.
Anyway, there's no real punchline to this because Slug, despite his complexion and whimsical moniker, is no joke. Even though he likes to joke around.
"I come off kinda sarcastic like a dick," he says, "but you gotta understand I'm smiling all the time - but you can't tell."
He does and he may be - and sometimes you really can't. Sean "Slug" Daly, one-half of the hip-hop duo Atmosphere, is the media-appointed poster boy for an uprise of "emo-rap," a careless term that translates to "sensitive white rhyme" and means nothing.
"I understand that it's the journalist's job to explain something in the least amount of words as possible, and I also know that this is how you guys get laid," he says. "And so the cooler you guys come off in print, the cooler the people in your community think you are, and the cooler, you know, the bands think you are, and it ups the chances of getting laid.
"Honestly, though, there's that same emotionalness to Ghostface Killah, compared to a lot of his peers, and I dare anybody to call him emo-rap to his face," he continues. There's a lot of cats that have it, it's just something that I think you give a person like me or an Aesop Rock. You go, 'We don't want to put these guys in the same category as Ghostface, we gotta give them something new and different.' So they come up with a word that really probably should have been come up with way before we existed."
The joke, then, is on anyone too lazy to listen to what Slug is saying when he waxes poetic on matters of the heart. Although his rhymes often bleed caustic resentment, when Slug talks trash about women, he doesn't degrade them. He comes across as love-lorn - bitter, even - but never misogynistic. Relationships suck. Life is fucked up. His lyrical vulnerability doesn't make Atmosphere hit any less hard, and it's certainly no less hip-hop, in the real sense of the term that no one hesitates to apply to other "sensitive" MCs such as Common or Mos Def.
"I don't really feel apart and separate from the MCs that I like," Slug says. "The difference between me and Dre from Outkast is just that he has a better voice and he knows how to use it better, but as far as subject matter, I don't really think we're a far cry from each other. I think the difference is maybe just how he presents it, and you know, he probably had his own different set of situations that inspired where he's at."
with MR. DIBBS, MICRANOTS, BROTHER ALI & DJ BK1, DEEJAYBIRD, ODD JOBS, DJ KLASSEN & SCUBA
Wednesday, November 26
$15 advance, $18 door
He notes that a lot of the kids at an Atmosphere show are "those kids that have the privilege to actually search for their identity," yet his smart style reaches a more marginal hip-hop audience that is so urbanized they don't have the privilege to search for their identity because they're too busy worrying about tomorrow. It isn't about the bling or the bitches but the music and the message. "I won't waste three words on saying something that I don't want to back up 100 percent," he says.
Overcast! may have been a relatively underground phenomenon in 1997, but three Atmosphere albums later, you can bet your ass that baby's been burned from computers and into the consciousness of heads Midwest and beyond. And the major labels have since come a'callin', pursuing Slug like aggressive groupies. Instead of consummating the dirty deal, Slug and his contemporaries founded the Rhymesayers label.
"If at 21, Def Jam would have stepped at me and been like, 'Hey we wanna do three records for you,' I probably would have been like, 'Fuck yeah!' But living in Minneapolis and being completely intimidated and afraid of the industry, we just kinda did it this way, you know, because it seemed like that's what made the most sense," he says. "It doesn't make sense for us to go and fuck with anybody just because a) we're not gonna feel as good about ourselves, and b) we're not gonna make as much money. We do much better financially this way than we could ever do dealing with a major. Unless we went nine times platinum. And then that changes the whole game too because then I'm not allowed to eat at Burger King anymore. And I love Burger King." •