Funny how time flies by. Already it is eleven long hip-hop years since Minneapolis, Minnesota hip-hop duo Atmosphere, comprised of producer Ant and emcee Slug (L-R in photo left), responsible for putting the Twin Cities firmly on the hip-hop map, dropped their debut album, 1997's Overcast!.
Last Tuesday they dropped their fifth studio album (and finest release to date): When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold on Rhymesayers Entertainment.
As you can imagine with this brand new album just dropping, both members of Atmosphere are pretty busy, caught up in their current tour which hits LA and San Francisco next week. They will stay that way for much of the year as they promote this new release. But in the past few days I had the opportunity to catch up with Slug, via email, to ask him about hip-hop, the new album, the word on a future Felt (with MURS) album, and how it feels to be going strong eleven long hip-hop years later. Did he ever envision himself being where he is now in his career? "Ha. Yeah. I think our expiration date was somewhere in 2002 but I'm not complaining," he replied. "I'll keep going 'til I get fired or replaced by a younger stronger, more attractive idiot."
"Our approach musically was different. We wanted to find a bigger but more minimal sound for this album," he says of how When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is unlike previous Atmosphere releases, adding that, "Lyrically, I wanted to write about other people's problems for once." The new 15 track album (avail in two different packaged CD versions) is rich in ever-engaging, flawed character driven, tales, many tackling the issues of parenthood, like "In Her Music Box" and "Shoulda Known." In the latter song Slug raps:
Shoulda known better than to fuck with you
Ain't got nothing but too much to lose
Lost in the rush don't know what to do
That drug got you like I want you
I asked him what the drug, if any, in question was in the song? Was it meth that he was addressing? "Actually, I'm addressing being addicted to people who make poor decisions. Being addicted to drama. And the moment of clarity that comes when you realize that you can't blame those drama-addicts. You have to take responsibility for self. No more Captain-Save-A-Homie." And on the topic of crystal meth does he see any end in sight for the current US epidemic of the drug? "I don't see an end to any drug epidemics," replied Slug. "Get off the meth, and get on the Zoloft? Only difference is one is sold by a mom and pop dealer and the other is corporate."
Video to the song "Guarantees" from When Life Gives You Lemons...
The song "In Her Music Box" is perhaps the most vivid and powerfully moving on the new album. Slug takes us on a ride with a playa wannabe father and his young impressionable daughter that he cares deeply for seated in the back seat of young daddy's prized whip. Gangsta rap blasts from the car's speakers, and the listener hears about the bad relationship between the father and the baby's mama who works the night shift, with whom he constantly argues about money and life. And Slug is at his best when he tackles the tale of the poor struggling American -- the poor hard working folks struggling just to barely scrape by. Not a pretty picture, but a real one in an America where Slug sees, he says, the division between the rich and the poor just getting wider and wider.
daddies drive around mommies work night shift
sweet dreams sleep little precious
lay down in that music box
escape in the sound of that music box
turn that buick off
Besides their obvious talent, Atmosphere have helped build their career on always tirelessly touring and along the way building up a very large dedicated audience around the US and abroad. I asked Slug if touring is still as important now as ever. "Yes indeedy. We say things like "indeedy" in Minnesota. Often." Indeed! And speaking of Minnesota, what does he love most about his city, Minneapolis? His reply: "If I told you the truth, you would migrate here. So I will say, stay away, the winter is horrible."
But truth is, Minnesota is in his blood and because of it he is the artist he is today. Plus, his extended hip-hop family and label, Rhymesayers, are also rooted there. I asked him about the Rhymesayers hip-hop collective (and label members) that always seem very supportive of one another. How important is it to be part of a close knit family like that versus being an artist or group out there on your own? "Well I have no means to compare to the latter since I've always had my family," he responded. "But my guess is that I can blame any success I have seen on my family. The mistakes are all mine though."
Felt is the side-project that Slug collaborated with MURS on, recording the two female film star-themed albums -- Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci and Felt: Vol. 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet, produced by The Grouch and Ant respectively. Both are excellent albums and fans (including myself) are eager for a third release in the series. So, I asked Slug if there are concrete plans for another Felt project with MURS? "Yes," he said. "We have a producer on board. And we have picked the actress for whom it will be a tribute to. I'm not allowed to divulge either yet."
After thanking Slug for taking time out to talk to Amoeba Music's Amoeblog, I asked him if he had any shout outs or anything he wanted to add? His reply: "Peace to the cashiers. Give it up for the cashiers."
Atmosphere play the Henry Fonda Theater in Los Angeles, May 6th & 7th (click here for opportunity to win tix for these SoCal shows c/o Amoeba Music) and the Grand Ballroom/Regency in San Francisco on May 8th & 9th. For more tour dates and other up-to-the-minute news on Atmosphere hit up their MySpace For videos from Atmosphere and other Rhymesayers artists check out the Rhymesayers' YouTube channel.