By Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER – Slug thinks he’s going to get fired. The Minnesota rapper, one half of the group Atmosphere, has had a career that most would find envious. Nearing thirty years rapping and nearly a dozen albums in what’s often thought of as a young man’s game, Slug is worried it will all go away.
“We had no idea this would go as far as it did,” he explains. “There’s this weird feeling that you’re going to get fired. I used to have that feeling back when I had jobs. Even though I had a great work ethic and did more than was expected of me because I had pride. So it’s ridiculous to think that I’m going to get fired. It’s in my DNA. I co-own a record label, I co-own a music festival, I own a touring and merchandizing company and I’m scared someone is going to come take it away from me. I have real estate. It reminds me to log in everyday and work on my craft.”
This motivation, with a healthy dose of self-reflection that’s often mirrored in his music, has allowed him to grow and change while staying true to his own vision. He’s moved from the earnest, heart-on-the-sleeve personal writing of his earlier work to a weathered storyteller, who’s point of view and philosophy comes out through slice of life stories. “It wasn’t until Lemons. When I was making (When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold) I had become aware of some of the hazards of keeping things a little too real. I had people who were coming to me and telling me I had hurt them through my writing. And I realized I shouldn’t have the agency to embarrass another person or hurt another person in my city just because I’m trying to write a song. So with Lemons I was shedding that type of rapping and going more into trying to only write from my own perspective, The only person that I’m allowed to hurt with my writing is myself and with that I was writing more fiction and obviously using my perspective to write who these characters are.”
Even in the earlier albums, stories were a significant part of Slug’s writing. This comes from his early inspirations. He explains, “I was taught that by rappers, when I was a kid my favourite rappers told stories. Slick Rick, he told stories. Very problematic stories but at the time we didn’t realize how problematic they were. Dana Dane. Some of my favourite rappers were these guys who were super cool guys but also would tell stories that would show the flaw in being the super cool guy. Dana Dane and Slick Rick both specifically were a huge impact on my writing, or my rapping I should say, because I hate to refer to it as my writing, because I really liked that they were super cool and put up the image of a super cool guy but here and there they were actually just dorks acting cool and I related to that.”
Taking these stories on the road on a Canadian tour might seem like a weird idea in the dead of winter, but Slug balks at that concern: “The dead of winter would be January; we’re coming in March which is the end of winter, which is actually a great time to come to Canada. When people are so sick of the winter they’re looking for any excuse to go out and have a good time.”
Atmosphere performs March 5 at the Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver) and March 6 at the Capital Ballroom (Victoria)Capital Ballroom, Commodore Ballroom, Rap