Interview: Sean ‘Slug’ Daley of Atmosphere
Sean "Slug" Daley and Anthony "Ant" Davis, the dynamic duo best known to Hip-Hop fans as Atmosphere, are godfathers to a blazing alternative Hip-Hop scene that can no longer be labeled "underground". The Rhymesayers community, a Minneapolis-based Hip-Hop label and musician collective buoyed by a vocal appreciation for and emphasis on one's friends, family and audience, has exploded in recent years with many acts taking flight through the support of their friends and label mates.
Having distinguished themselves with a consistently evolving body of work that unabashedly champions the underdog and runs the entire spectrum of human emotion within a brutally honest narrative, Atmosphere trade their sample surgery for stripped instrumentation on their powerfully connective latest release The Family Sign (available now on Rhymesayers Entertainment). The preeminent independent Hip-Hop duo strip away loops and samples in favor of slide guitar, piano, and often a single drum beat in the process of cultivating a starkly mature release that embraces a bold sentimentality with Slug's trademark unflinching honesty.
Riding the crest of a tremendous legacy and responsibility as de facto godfather of the Rhymesayers crew, Daley finds himself blending a renewed depth of family values with professional drive on The Family Sign, the focus on themes of personal value and cherished relationships. One of those relationships, presently perhaps the most important, involves the album's cover model: Daley's year-old son. The days on the road aren't easy on Sean at the moment, as his quest to continue building the empire he's devoted his life to thus far demands that he be away from home during these formative times.
Watch Atmosphere perform powerful renditions of new tracks "If You Can Save Me Now," "The Last To Say" and "I Don't Need Brighter Days" in the 89.3 The Current studio:
On a day off between shows, I caught up with Sean to discuss Bin Laden's death, the pain of being away from family and the inner workings of his musical relationship with Ant.
CraveOnline: You're a couple weeks into the Atmosphere tour – how is this working out with the baby at home? A month or so on the road, then back home for a spell, rinse and repeat through November?
This is the first stretch, and man, it's pretty hard already. We've only been out for two weeks, and I'm sitting here looking at the year schedule like ….fuck. I forgot how crazy it was to be a new parent. So here I am trying to apply the life that I have right now to being a new parent as well, and it… [long pause] It's kinda beating me up. I wish I was at home right now. No disrespect to the shows that we're playing and the people we're seeing – we're having a great time, but I wish I was at home hanging out with the baby.
CraveOnline: It's understandable. It's a different feeling when worlds of things can happen when you're away, whether it's Bin Laden getting killed, or whatever the case may be. These are the times when who and what you surround yourself with has an impact on your reality, your perception of it all.
Fuckin… Bin Laden got killed. There's so much skepticism you want to apply to the whole thing. It's a weird thing – I was in a cab yesterday, and the driver was like 'Do you think they really did it?' And I was like, do you really think that they didn't? Let's say he's not dead… they've at least got him locked up somewhere, if he's not. There's no way they could come up with a statement like that if he was just somewhere chillin', cause he could just pop up and refute that. But I was watching the news, and I had my wife on the phone, we were watching together. Seeing the celebration start was so weird to me, like… you guys are celebrating death right now. I get it, a lot of people hate this guy; he's the villain of this era. But it's such a weird thing to see people come out like it's time for a parade or some shit.
In context, do we know how many American lives we lost in this quote-unquote "effort to get him"? How much money we spent to chase this guy down? This is a lose-lose situation! We didn't win shit. You got your objective, but we still lost. Everything. We still live in an era of terror. The fear is still being used against you as a people. We lost.
CraveOnline: Then you look at the fact that you can't bring nail clippers on a plane and some guy is grabbing your balls at the airport, all in the name of "fighting terror". And I just heard some pundit say that at the end of the day, with all the money we spent tracking him down between 9/11 and now we could've put every American through college and given each one of us universal health care.
With that much fuckin' money I believe they could've brought Ghandi back to life. It's craziness. You guys are celebrating like y'all won something. Y'all didn't win shit. That's like saying someone hit a beautiful 3-pointer at the end of the game, even though they got us by about 20 points.
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CraveOnline: I wonder if this will change the American climate at all. It's not likely, though, because fear is a big business. I was talking to Brother Ali a few months back, and we were discussing the shit he still gets for the song "Uncle Sam Goddamn". Whatever the national agenda is, outside the narrative of what we're being sold, once you publicly identify what that is, you're on the radar. And depending on the color of your skin and your heritage, that might prove difficult for you in the future.
It's one of those things where if you've got the opportunity to share some truth, and you don't because you're afraid of what might happen to you, then you lose. I get put in a lot of positions where I get to speak the truth. So it's kind of my responsibility to say some things here and there. But my objective at the end of the day is to sell some records, so I can gain more resources, so I can continue putting out my friends' music.
At the end of the day, there's a machine at work here, but still – I'm being given the opportunity. I'm being given a microphone. Whether it's on stage or in an interview or wherever. But you can't be afraid of getting your name on a list. Because if that's what's gotta happen in order for you to speak the truth, and you shy away from saying some truth because of that… that's the whole point, isn't it? That's how they get you to shut the fuck up and not speak the truth. So you're just playing into their fucking game.
CraveOnline: The Family Sign is a significant piece in your catalogue, particularly for the vulnerability associated with a good number of the content. Was it difficult to get the nerve up to sing the chorus on "Something So"?
Nah, I had the chorus before anything else on that song. When Anthony first played me that beat, we both were like 'Wow, that shit is really cool.' It reminded me of Pink Floyd or something, and also a little bit of Prince, the way the synth comes in. You'd think that aint the right synth for a song like this, but it works! That reminded me of Prince.
Then I decided I wanted to write about…. birth. He was like 'Shit, yeah, do that.' So I took the beat and just sat there and played it and played it and played it, until the chorus happened. Then when I had the chorus it was like, alright, is this good enough? Cause I know Anthony's a chorus guy. He needs a solid chorus. And this isn't really a hook chorus, it's more a break between verses. So I was nervous that he wasn't gonna cosign it, so I didn't take it to him until I had the verses too. Then I got it all together and gave it to him, and he didn't say shit.
CraveOnline: How does that co-sign process work between you guys? Do you have veto power over one another across the board?
It's a funny thing. Yeah, we do. I would never veto his beat, though, but I'll try something, and if I don't feel comfortable with what I did, I'll veto it. But every so often he'll be like 'Put the beat on the backburner, let's try to use it later cause I really like it,' and I'm like 'Yeah, sure.' But we both know it never happens. It's really weird that anything would get pulled back to life.
Once an exercise is made and it leaves a bad taste in our mouths, it's not coming back. And it's unfortunate, because a lot of great beats don't get to be heard for that purpose. Or even lyrics, same thing applies. But we collect 'em. We still treat 'em like our children, they're just the ones that we lock up in the basement. Chain 'em to a radiator and feed 'em Saltine crackers. [laughs]