I recently spent an hour and a half of a late Friday afternoon talking with Slug of Atmosphere. We talked via cell phone while he drove to the north side of Minneapolis to buy weed. It took me 20 minutes to get him to stop talking about Ohio being a trailer park with skyscrapers, its hip hop scene being incestuous and my name, Blake, having negative social connotations due to John Hughes films.
I was able to get a few nuggets of interesting banter out of him and this is the gruesomely edited version of that conversation.
Slug: I am going out to buy weed right now, which is kind of a big deal. I don’t buy dime bags obviously. I buy enough to last the household a good month. I probably smoke about a pound a year. But, you know, realistically if you break down the math that’s a lot of fucking money. That’s like cigarettes.
Don’t you already smoke cigarettes?
Slug: I do. So, I’m investing in my lungs. Ironically, I use my lungs for my job. But, I will guarantee you this… there are no rappers that smoke like I smoke, that have the breathe control I have. I don’t give a fuck what anybody says. I do two hour shows, kid. I do that six nights a week, while still smoking two packs a day.
So after becoming a fan of both Atmosphere and Lifter Puller, I have noticed you two referencing each other… is there a story behind that?
Slug: Craig Finn is a fucking biter.
(In laughter) Do you want to comment on that further?
Slug: Man, go read the lyrics! Naw, I’m joking. Craig Finn is fucking amazing. He’s probably in my top 10 musical writers ever. But here’s the thing. Me and that dude have known each other since ’95 maybe. Both of our bands were starting to get known around Minneapolis around the same time. So, me and him started drinking together. His girlfriend and my girlfriend worked together and so they set up this blind hang out between the two of us.
So, we hung out and got beers. Then we started throwing little Easter egg teases at each other in our records. His first one was thrown at me on an EP called The Arts & Entertainment and he called me to tell me about it. It was pretty great, so I decided to throw one back. It went back and forth and then I just fucking named a song “Lift Her Pull Her” by using the verb version of Lifter Puller.
Slug went on to describe the incestuous nature of his Minneapolis scene, by discussing the relation he has with all the members of Lifter Puller.
Dan Monick – Drummer – takes all Slug’s press photos and is one of his three best friends in the world.
Steve Barone – Keyboard/Guitarist – also known as Steve Dude according to Slug was referred to as a great guy.
Tad Kubler – Bassist – is now in The Hold Steady with Craig Finn.
Slug: It’s an incestuous scene.
How can you call Ohio’s scene incestuous, but your own scene incestuous as well?
Slug: Here in Minneapolis, that’s just a metaphor. Where as, in Ohio when you say the scene is incestuous that actually means that DJ is fucking that waitress and they’re siblings.
I’ve been in numerous side projects in this city that have included members of all types of different bands. It’s kind of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. We’ve all played with each other…uhh no no no. [Slug was trying to make a Dip Set “no homo” joke.] What are you supposed to say when you say something like that? No Blake-o. And we all know each other and we’ve all made out with each other’s ex-girlfriends.
Would you ever collaborate with Craig Finn?
Slug: I guarantee we’ve probably joked about it a million times and I don’t remember. But, we’ve never really discussed it intensely. Since [P.O.S.] went and did it behind my back, now I can’t. Because if I do it, it looks like I did it after P.O.S.
That is one of the few things I could say, “Fuck P.O.S.” about. He barely knew the guy and he just did some “hey you want to be on my record type shit” and I’m against that shit! You should only make songs with friends.
[This is the first recorded moment that I lost any say in the direction of the interview as Slug branched off into a rant about only working with friends.]
Slug: What if you make a song with me and in two years you realize that I’m going to jail for rape or something? Then, now I’m always going to be a part of your history. I’m on your fucking record. I became part of what you left behind with the planet.
See like, back in the day man, I jumped on anything I could jump on just to fucking rap. Now it’s kind of like, I only work with friends and people think I’m a dick for that. People hit me up and say “yo, I want to give you this much for a 16” and yada yada yada, but if I don’t know you I ain’t going to do it.
But to be fair, if I do it I probably ain’t going to charge you. It’s like a thing where I don’t really do many collabs, but when I do I hardly charge people. Anyone I do charge, it’s because I know they have a budget and when I do charge I make them give it to charity. I don’t actually collect a check from them. My job in this shit isn’t to make money off of my voice or my rapping, but to figure out how to be good enough business wise, to make my art make my money for me, rather than make the art the money.
[Somehow, Slug turned this into an opportunity to make some statements about why he has made certain moves in his career and how he really does not care what elitist hip hop enthusiasts have to say about it.]
Slug: Sales are one thing, but to me those are called royalties. It’s not like every time you buy a CD I’m popping off. No, you buy a CD and you’re helping me cover the cost of making the damn CD for starters. You’re also helping me cover the cost of bringing the CD to your city, bringing a tour to your city that is also bringing three other rap groups to your city that you may have never experienced. It’s not like I’ve got this incredibly genius business strategy. I ain’t really supposed to get rich off of rapping; I’m supposed to get rich off of everything else that makes itself available to me because I rap.
I really don’t give a fuck if people hate me. The elitists or the underground people that say “ohh fuck him, he’s a sell out.” Naw, actually fuck off. I know what I’m doing. I know what my choruses sound like. I know what my beats sound like. I’ve never paid anyone to play my record. I’ve never played any of the games trying to sell lots of records. The closest I’ve come is making videos, but videos are fun, man. I didn’t make videos so that MTV would play them. Hell, MTV didn’t play the shit. I made them because I wanted a visual to go with the song.
I’m not trying to be Mr. Martyr or High and Mighty or any of that shit. But, at the same time, I can’t front. I know who I am and I know what I’ve accomplished. I’ve got to stop acting like Mr. Humble too. Because I’m not. I’m not humble or a martyr, I’m somewhere in between… I’m hip hop.
When I talked to Brother Ali, he made a comment about you struggling between being biggest star in music, but not so big that you leave the artists on your label behind.
Slug: It’s no secret that I’ve been very cautious about a lot of the big stuff in the industry. I’ve had offers from every label, and not just “hey you want a deal,” but I’ve had serious shit thrown at me. I’ve actually had to stop and contemplate, well “do I just want to get paid and disappear or do I want to stay active in this for the rest of my life?”
I don’t mean stay active in the sense of rapping forever, but I just want to play a role forever. That’s where the whole notion behind Rhymesayers comes from. We don’t want to necessarily put out records by [Atmosphere] forever, but we want to put out records by people forever. So a lot of the choices that I make, as Slug, are to push that agenda.
I keep a leash on my own ceiling. So, no matter what, whether my decision was wrong or right, it was always mine to make. Because I don’t have a problem making mistakes. All the mistakes that have been made by Atmosphere, you can blame me. I’m 100% responsible for all of them and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Have you made mistakes that have been that costly?
Slug: Are you kidding me? I made a video for a song called “National Disgrace.” (Laughs) That was a big mistake.
Let’s be real. I’ve got five or six or seven records now that I’ve allowed to go out of print. I’ve got all these Sad Dub fucking things that [are] use[d] only on tour. It’s like, man, if I would have just given somebody access to this whole catalogue, lets say 88 or Koch and said, “do what you wish with it,” I probably could have got a pretty fat check out of them. There are all kinds things I coulda, shoulda, woulda did that isn’t costly, but at the same time… I didn’t make that money, but I’m sitting in a position where I’m OK. I’m not broke.
You mentioned you used to collaborate just to rap, you’ve had your Sad Clown series, but it seems as though it’s been awhile since you’ve released some b-sides. Is there a lot of music you are just sitting on?
Slug: Since I got home from the last tour in October, me and Anthony have made probably about 100 songs. I’m probably going to put out 16 of them on the next Atmosphere record, but then you’ll also probably see one or two weird little special items of Sad Clowns or whatever that pop up. I haven’t really done the most cameo work.
[Slug got quiet for a moment, and then made a bizarre exotic bird sound at a woman on the street.] The fuck was that?
Slug: That was me waving a strange woman. She’s really attractive though.
Was she a GOACH? Girl Of A Certain Hotness?
Slug: Well, she’s incredibly hot.
Well, that is the thing. She has a weird style to her, but it works completely in her favor.
Slug: Yeah, that could apply to her. Her style isn’t even that weird, but her head is insanely weird. She was just built funny. Sometimes the expiration is bad and you got to take it back. Sometimes it’s like, you know what, the chemicals in this juice box taste fucking weird.
[Slug returned to answering the question about Ali’s statement, then transitioned that into growing up and finding hip hop]
Slug: A lot of the kids that I grew up with were into dumb shit, but hip hop grabbed a couple of us and put us into some other shit. I got to slowly watch me grow apart from these other friends, but back then these other friends nurtured it, man. These friends are like, “you’re doing this thing and you shouldn’t be around us.”
Really? Nobody tried to latch on?
Slug: These are real people, not the kind that show up on rap records or movies. These are real motherfucking dudes with kids and lives and motherfuckers do dirt to get money. So at 19 I saw how a lot of my dirt doing friends gave me the space go and be who I got to be. It’s funny because I will still bump into somebody once in awhile from the neighborhood. I’ll be like “hey, how you doing” and they’ll say “hey, I keep reading about you, big ups man.” Its like, “word, big ups to you, homie because I haven’t been reading about you.”
Do you think you’ll do another Felt record?
Slug: I hope so. Me and Murs are really good friends, but we really bump heads a lot when responsibility and business get involved. We could go hang out in Hawaii with our girlfriends for a month and have no problem. The minute that you bring in any kind of responsibility we bump heads. We’re both so stubborn and set in our ways; we think our way is the way.
I do want to do another and we’ve talked about doing a movie. But, I’m really not looking forward to it because I hate arguing with my best friend.
Who are you planning to tribute to next?
Slug: We’ve picked out the actress, but I can’t tell you who it is.
Why did you get “The Undisputed Truth” tattooed on your neck, besides promotional purposes?
Slug: That wasn’t real. The studio that I was working on my record in, was right above a tattoo shop. The dudes in the shop, they all recognized me, started seeing me come over every day, so they started talking to me about the new record.
Ali said he wanted to make a couple of these [videos] to hype up the record and he asked me and ANT if he could come over to the studio and do them. He was just going to video tape me at the studio talking about the record. But, I had the idea to have them talk to me while I fake like I’m getting a neck tattoo and at the end of the shot it says “The Undisputed Truth.”
I have to say, I’m glad to hear that wasn’t real.
Slug: It’s not like I don’t already have my share of idiot tattoos, but that would be the fucking dumbest tattoo I ever got. You know, I kind of don’t think I’ll ever get another tattoo. I went through my tattoo phase and I’ve got 12 of these bastards on me. I’m starting to have a whole different idea of what these tattoos really represent.
We’re putting this art on our body, but when you’re a 26 year old and you’ve already covered more than 60 percent of your upper torso in tattoos, there’s something more going on here. Especially, when you’re only 26, 24 maybe, you’ve got a lot life ahead of you to decide what you want to put on your body. Why are you already getting the whole thing covered up?
It’s just weird. I just look at some of these tattoos that I’ve got that represent certain things that have happened in my life. I mean I’ve got tattoos based off of… I hate women, you know. What made me think that I wasn’t going to someday learn to love women, in fact, learn to love one woman, in fact, maybe want to get married and have kids.
I got all these back in the day, so my excuse will be, “yeah, but that’s how I felt back then,” but…. Shut the fuck up! Get out of here with that horseshit. These people who cover their bodies are trying to cover their body because they do bad things. I’m covered in tattoos, I’ve got a lot of them, and so it’s not like I’m some prick saying this.
In that Brother Ali clip, I make that statement about women getting tattoos. You should have seen my myspace page blow the fuck up! Every fucking woman in the world who’s got more than one tattoo… “Fuck you, you sexist pig”… “I’ve seen you without a shirt on so who are you to fucking make that statement.” The point is I have these stupid tattoos so I’m allowed to make this statement. Let’s be real, I’m not just talking about women, because some of you men are bitches too.
All these tattoos, I’ve got… I was trying to cover myself up and make something that was ugly, look pretty, look cool. I was trying to make something that was gross and stupid and ugly, suddenly become more interesting. And it’s all bullshit. But, hey, if you stay drunk long enough you’ll believe it works until you sober up.
[Slug, as though he were the interviewer in this conversation, bounced off his own statement and addressed his recent sobriety or the public’s misinterpretation of it.]
Slug: I’m not sober, mind you. A lot of people seem to think that since I picked this new statement of talking against alcohol here and there, that I’m sober. Not sober, man. I’m still a fucking lush.
Yeah, I just heard you say to your girl or whoever in the background that you couldn’t have a beer yet because you haven’t eaten.
Slug: Is that bad?
No, it’s not bad. It’s just… yeah; clearly he’s not sober, just making better decisions.
Slug: I’m just not giving so much of my time to the shit. Now, it’s like drinking gets to last for three hours, where as, back in the day drinking used to last for 10 hours. I would start drinking at six and I would be up drinking until four. Where as, now it’s like “I’m not going to drink today because I’m going to get some shit done instead.”
But, I’m not going to front. I still love alcohol, I love weed.
So [Brother] Ali has his son rapping. Is Jacob trying to stunt like his daddy?
Slug: Naw, Jacob likes Green Day. Jacob likes pop punk that is kind of political, but good enough for a kid to grasp because he’s only 13. What he’ll do is he’ll pick a band that he likes and I’ll say; ok, now we’re going to go the store and get a CD from back in the day where this band stole their whole shit from. That way he can kind of get both.
It’s good that he’s getting that guidance.
Slug: I worked in a record store for 20 years of my life. There’s no way he wouldn’t get that guidance.