Q&A: Slug of Atmosphere, Part 1 (FILTER Exclusive)
By Andrew Courtien, Photos by Rodji Muñoz on April 6, 2011
Atmosphere, the preeminent independent hip-hop duo comprised MC Slug and producer Ant, reassert their status as legends of the genre with the release of their most realized, streamlined effort to date, The Family Sign, due April 12 on Rhymesayers Entertainment. Slug and Ant have distinguished themselves from their peers by composing albums encompassing the entire spectrum of human emotion while tethering each piece to a central aural aesthetic.
Preceding the release of the new album is the release of the collaborative effort between photographer Dan Monick and Slug, the book Seven Years with Atmosphere & Rhymesayers is shedding some light on Atmosphere's mark and impact not only in the hip-hop world, but through all genres across the board. Culminating a common ground for "indie" scenesters, underground rap enthusiasts and a new young following, this duo is continuously raising the bar. FILTER caught up with Slug before his book signing at Turntable Lab in Los Angeles, talking about not only his upcoming release but the collaboration to present this compilation of photos and stories. Follow along with Part 1 of this two-part series of the interview with half of the legendary hip-hop duo.
Between the album art, title and songs, there seems to be a concept behind The Family Sign. What was the idea behind it?
I don’t know how to describe the concept. I think all of our records are all concept records in my head. The concept is me and where I am in my life. I think this is just kind of picking it from where the last one left off. It’s a batch of songs that describe where I’ve been and what I’ve been through since the last record. If I had to describe where I’ve been, I guess I would say this record illustrates some of my new philosophies that I apply to my life. Which is: I’m just trying to shrink down the amount of people that I know. There was a time in my life when I was all about kicking it, going out, getting wasted, meeting people, going to their parties... I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m like, you know what? I’ve got too many acquaintances. I’m at the point where I want to just focus on my “close close” friends, and my family. So I guess this album is about that and the idea of just love and appreciation.
You never seem to have other artists doing any sort of guest verse, or guest hook. This album is no exception to that. Is there a reason?
It’s really rare that I will put someone else on my records; you have to be a good friend of mine. Maybe I take music too serious, but I feel personally attached to the music I make. If I had someone I didn’t really know on my record, it would take away from that personal relationship and turns it into a commodity, a product. I do guest verses for people but I don’t ask for money; I just do it cause you’re my friend and if I like the song you’re making. I just can’t imagine saying, "I’ll give you a sixteen for twenty-five hundred." It seems so impersonal. I can’t relate to that. It’s not that we are being exclusive, it’s just how we feel about our music.
The video that you put out for “Just For Show” is interesting because it changes the perspective of the song when it’s seen through the dog's eyes, and really makes you rethink what the song can be about, and that it can be taken to mean multiple things…
It’s funny because a lot of people think that that song is about a relationship at first, and I can see how people can think that. But it’s kind of more about my relationship with my audience. The people that come up to me and go, “You were way cooler 10 years ago, I’m not so into new stuff." I can relate and understand because I have type of relationship with a lot of artists, too; that I appreciate their earlier stuff more than their newer stuff. We all grow. Artists grow in one way and the audience grows another. But at the same time, you are telling me this while you are at my show… Why are you here? You don’t really mean what you’re saying because you wouldn’t be here wasting your money.
I guess it’s cool that they are being critical, at least, rather than passive listeners, right?
Oh yeah, I think it’s important. The fans that leave are just as important as the fans that stick with it. Let’s face it: At the end of the day—not to sound corny—but I’m just a grain of sand on the beach. We’re all very minute in terms of the grand scheme of life. You gotta find your identity and if part of your identity means you don’t like my music anymore or that guy's music anymore, that’s just as important as you liking my music. Your identity is far more important than our music. We use what we consume to help define us. Art is a big part of that: The books we read, the music we like and the movies we see—all of this helps secure our identity. But at the end of the day, that book you love or that music you like is really not as important as your life. So yeah, I appreciate the fans that hate as much as the fans that love because at the end of the day you’re having a reaction to something that I did. That’s cool, and I really can’t expect anything more than that. In fact, that alone is so profound that that’s what takes that little speck of sand on this world that I am and gives me purpose.
It seems natural, though, since you’ve been at this for so long that you’ve seen yourself grow up and you’ve seen your audience come and go and change.
Yeah. I mean, I also have a teenage son and so I get to see the world through his eyes, too. It reminds me of what I was like as a teenager. I think a lot of us grow up and lose touch of when we were trying to be revolutionaries or trying to buck the system, or when we wanted to throw crab apples at cop cars. So having a teenage son, and also to have a relationship with teenage fans, gives me a little more perspective into youth than some other guy my age.
Seven: Seven Years with Atmosphere and Rhymesayers just came out. It’s a photo book that spans all the way back to 1997–1998. It almost acts as a family photo album, or a yearbook. What’s it like looking back?
It’s weird 'cause when I look at the photos, it was about 13 years ago, but it looks like a lot longer ago. You know, it’s like, “Oh my gosh.” I look so young in those photos; I’ve aged so much in the past 13 years. My memory feels like it’s a lot longer ago, so it’s a pretty weird book to look through because it feels like 30 years, not 13. Thirteen is not that long but, looking through the book, it definitely makes me realize that 13 years is a long time. Especially considering how much life I’ve been fortunate to live in the last 13 years. So I like it. I’m glad someone was there to document all of that, because it would be real easy for me to forget some of those things, you know? It’d be real easy to forget where I was and what I was doing this whole career. So having that there to show me those early stages, it's a good thing to keep me in check. I like it.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the of our interview with Slug of Atmosphere, appearing on FILTERmagazine.com on April 12.