Atmosphere’s Slug talks lyrics, storytelling and the Midwest

“My life is definitely better than it was 10 years ago. Let’s face it; if I was closing down the bar every night and going home with fucking random women at 36, that would be kind of pathetic,” says Sean Daley, better known as Slug, the gregariously self-deprecating half of the Minnesotan emcee-dj duo Atmosphere. After 15 years in the game, their newest, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, has a level of focus absent in previous work. “I think the greatest change is that both of us have gotten older, and within having gotten older, priorities shift and change, and I think we both feel as if we need to be communicating something,” Slug says. “We don’t really like to make pointless shit. I mean, we do like to make pointless shit, we just don’t like to put that shit on the record.”
He, Ant and the band will be heading back to Urbana on Wednesday, ready to populate the Canopy Club with rough-handed wanderers, workers and waitresses. New to Lemons is a shift to the third person rather than characters springing out of the multitudes of Slug.
“They’re the same characters that have been in all of my songs; they’re the people around me, they’re the people in my city, the people I encounter,” he says. “I’ve got my years in, I’ve put my time in, I’ve got my seniority in this, but it’s the same as if I was working in a factory and I’ve got my seniority in that; that’s how I see what me and Ant do. In the entertainment world, if you were to break it down, we’re in the blue-collar sector.”
“I have the writing skills of the average eighth grader. I never really learned how to write in third person. I never really learned how to put resolution at the end of the song. I got tired of people coming up to me and treating me like all those old songs were true stories. It was like in my head, I was just writing songs with a point. I was using myself as the character because that’s what I was trained to do by Slick Rick and Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane and
KRS-One,” he says. “In this weird pseudo-keep-it-real mentality times that we live in in hip-hop, people expect your songs to be real if you say ‘me’ or ‘I’ — they really believe that you lived that. They weren’t allowing those old songs for me to be stories; everybody thought they were autobiographical, and it was frustrating. It’s like, ‘Look man, if these songs were real, I’d be dead from alcohol poisoning.’ If those songs were real, you probably wouldn’t like me as a person, and so I wanted to shed a little of that, to make it a little more obvious that the songs that we make are not true stories, no more than 50 Cent songs are true stories.”
Slug sees a lot of himself in the CU crowd. “It’s a college crowd, but it’s also Midwest. There’s a certain type of pride that comes along with that because I’m from Minneapolis, which isn’t that different from any town in Illinois. There’s a handful of people there that look at us and say, ‘And if they can do it, we can do it.’ I think there’s a camaraderie side of that. Most of these Midwest towns, there’s a different kind of connection than there is if you go to Florida or if you go to L.A. or if you go to New York. I think the connection is we all kind of came up with the insecurity that we’re from a town that nobody’s ever heard of.”

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