Sean Daley aka “Slug” of Atmosphere is at the point in his career where he can decline interviews, look down on the “little people” and not lift another finger in the world of menial jobs. The Minneapolis-based emo rapper help build an empire of underground hip-hop when he co-founded Rhymesayers Entertainment, home to P.O.S., Brother Ali and, of course, Atmosphere. Admittedly, he’s an unstoppable force with endless vision and nonstop determination to make Rhymesayers the best independent label in the world, but he’s also a bit of an egomaniac. Nonetheless, he’s done well for himself. I had a brief conversation with the man to talk about his moniker, his top 5 albums and online chess.
Kyle E. : Who or what influenced you to start making music?
Sean Daley: “I don’t know. I had an aunt that wasn’t that much older than me that spent a lot of time at my house. Just seeing the way she reacted to certain albums or artists and the fact I thought she was super cool because she was a teenager and I was a younger kid probably had an impression on me and that made me want to have something to do with making people react to me the same way I saw her react to Prince. Then the fact that I just loved rock and I’ve always been an attention seeker.”
What made you come out from behind the turntables on grab the mic?
“I just wasn’t progressing as a DJ. I started DJ-ing in ‘87. I learned how to transform and I didn’t really progress beyond that. When people started doing flairs and shit I was just like ‘I don’t care about that fancy shit.’ I just wanted to blend and stuff. So I figured I would just chill and rap.”
Your lyrical content seems highly personal. Do you ever feel like you’re revealing too much?
“Nah, because it’s all fictional.”
Really? There’s some autobiographical stuff in there though.
“I mean, no more than any book you read. It’s coming from your hand, your mouth, your eyes, but it’s not like any of those stories were truly autobiographical. They’re used to exemplify the struggle or dichotomy between the genders. Honestly half the time I was using that gender struggle as a metaphor for how I saw other things. Anybody that thinks I had a girlfriend who was as hard to deal with as Lucy is ridiculous. I had 15 girlfriends that were as hard to deal with as this character, Lucy. I stopped doing fictionalizing in the first person on the new album. There are 2 songs I did that are incredibly autobiographical while on past albums like God Loves Ugly, all the songs were metaphors. I adhered to go first person with those 2 particular songs but everything else I went narrative all the way.”
Did you think Rhymesayers Entertainment would be the empire it is today?
“Yes. I was confident in the people. I knew Brother Ali would be great. I knew Eyedea would be great. I didn’t’ know how that was going to happen, but I was confident in the artists.”
Where did the Slug moniker come from?
“Oh, it got shortened from Slug-O. That got shortened from Little Slug-O which was my nickname as a kid.”
What are some of your observations on hip-hop today?
“I don’t have any complaints. I’m to old to complain about hip-hop. There’s so many more important things to complain about. I mean, the shit I see on CNN makes me cringe. The things that go on in the entertainment world are funny to me. Everyone is so fucking insecure about their place, ya know? It’s like the backpackers bitch about the mainstream because the backpackers are broke. The mainstream bitches about the backpackers because the mainstream is afraid they won’t be respected in 5 years. Fuck both sides. Fuck the underground. Fuck the overground. Fuck the middle ground. It’s just a bunch of fucking people trying to find their fucking identities. Once you get comfortable with who you are as a person, you’ll stop complaining about all of that other dumb ass shit.”
Do you believe that comes with age?
“Yes, I think it does.”
Name you top 5 favorite albums. Go!
“It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy, Fear Of A Black Planet by Public Enemy, To The East Blackwards by X Clan, One For All by Brand Nubian and Death Certificate by Ice Cube.”
How do you feel growing up in the Midwest influenced your musical style?
“I think most of us in the Midwest kind of became sponges. The East Coast, West Coast, The Geto Boys- we absorbed everybody and so we’re kind of a mish mash of all of that. You can hear a little bit of Nas and KRS One in us. You can hear a little bit of Ice Cube and Digital Underground in us. It’s like we sound like all of our influences.”
What does the music you make mean to you on a personal level?
“I guess for the most part it’s like a ritual you do to give back to the people who gave it to you. Aside from the fact that we built a business out of it, we’ve turned it into a vehicle for other people to share their stuff. It all come down to this- it’s guided by the governor in me that wants to make sure I give back like KRS and Rakim did to me.”
As a human being, how does it feel to be in the position of selling out shows and having thousands of fans that idolize you? Is that kind of weird feeling?
“I stay pretty detached from how many shows I sell out or how many units I move. I focus on the fans and try to be as personable as possible because I understand that’s what they’re here for. At the end of the day when I go back to my house, I don’t think about this shit.”
So how do you unwind?
‘I play online chess” [laughs].
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned over the past two decades?
“It definitely isn’t anything I learned in the music business. It’s pay attention to how and why you choose to self-medicate.”
I feel you there. So how do you self medicate these days?
“I play online chess.’
[Laughs] “No, not yet. It’s not trendy enough yet. I’ll do yoga, get a dog and play Frisbee soon though.”
One more generic question- what are the best and worst aspects about touring?
“Trying to maintain a healthy day-to-day lifestyle from sleep to food to exercise. That’s easily the worst. The best is the constant distractions when you’re on tour. You don’t get bored. There’s always something to play with and something to do.”
I’ve seen you several times and on stage, you seem like a natural-born emcee. You make it seem so effortless.
“You got this all from seeing me perform?”
Yes [laughs]. It seems easy for you. Do you feel you were just born with this gift or did it evolve from experience?
“I’m sure it came with practice and experience. I don’t know too many natural-born emcees. Most of them are practiced emcees. The only person I would say I’ve seen or heard that I would say are natural born emcees are KRS, Nas and Rakim. Everyone else has practiced a lot and cares about their craft a lot.”
Best collaboration you’ve done?
“I don’t know who. I love making music with Brother Ali and Murs- that’s it. Everybody else I just like.”
If you could work with anybody alive or dead, who would it be?
“The Fat Boys”
[Laughs]. Would you rock the gold chain?
Atmosphere performing Sunshine at Red Rocks
~Interview by Kyle Eustice ~