Atmosphere - Biography
Hailing from the cold Midwestern city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Atmosphere is an award-winning independent hip-hop group that has existed in multiple forms since its inception in 1993, with the core members being the cerebral emcee, Slug (born Sean Daley), and the innovative producer, Ant (born Anthony Davis). Noted for confessional, savvy and oft-times uplifting lyrical rhymes about life dealings—reflections on the daily grind, depression, angst, touring, love—Atmosphere shirked the popular trend of self-aggrandizing rap and material obsession for more introspective pastures, which earned the group an increasing global fan-base for its two decades of existence. As Slug has said about his music, “I try not to lie in my songs.” Since first coming together, Atmosphere has released six full-length albums and five EPs, they’ve toured extensively around the world and played major festivals, and they’ve repeatedly showed up the Billboard charts. They were also the first act to be called “emo-rap,” a term that if it didn’t tell the whole story in one broad stroke, certainly works as a decent indicator of Atmosphere’s body of work.
Daley was born to black father, Sluggo, and white mother in 1972 (later divorced), and was weaned on hip-hop music of the 1980s, as well as the subcultural associations of the music—graffiti and breakdancing. He would take his name “Slug” from Little Sluggo, perpetuated by his father’s friends. By the time he was at Washburn High School Slug was already collaborating with fellow students Seth Patrick (a.k.a. Ill Eaze) and Brent Sayers (who went by the alias, Stress), and they formed the nucleus of what would become the freestyling Rhymsayers Collective—which would become to the Twin Cities what the avantehop Anticon Collective was to Oakland. They were anti-gangsta and altogether fresh in the genre, not looking to duplicate anything so much as invent a new ideology in hip-hop.
The trio went by different names, beginning with Mental Subject and ending with Urban Atmosphere, and performed at anything from talent shows to community centers to parties. Originally, it was Spawn who manned the microphone and Slug—still shy and insecure—who worked the turntables. While recording a song at Anthony Davis house—who called himself Ant—Slug saw that he could learn from the producer about the intricacies of song structure, and he and Spawn (along with fellow rappers Musab and Mr. Gene Poole) began working together with Ant as a collective called The Headshots. The group put out seven cassette tapes over the next few years, and ended up getting fairly sizable notice outside of regional notoriety (they appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered as late as 1996).
Atmosphere’s proper debut album, the 18-song Overcast! (1997 Rhymesayers Ent.) was essentially recorded as a two-man team of Slug and Spawn, with Ant’s very organic production. The combination of Slug’s honest, straight-forward lyrical content and accompanying beats set Atmosphere’s status as an underground subset of hip-hop poets into motion outside of the Twin Cities. The single “Scapegoat” received college airplay nationally, and Atmosphere had arrived. However, weary of the entrapments of fame, Spawn left the group just as the album came out to move with his wife to Houston, Texas.
After a couple of side-project collaborations as Dynospectrum (with Slug, Ant, Beyond, Swift and I Self Divine) and Deep Puddle Dynamics (with members from the Bay Area-based Anticon Collective), Atmosphere returned with Sad Clown Bad Dub II (2000 Rhymesayers), which was sold at live shows and has since become a collector’s item due to its scarcity. The following year Atmosphere also put out Lucy Ford: The Atmosphere EPs (2001 Rhymesayers), a cobbling of three previously released EPs which were very autobiographical and much centered on Slug’s relationship with a love interest.
By the time God Loves Ugly (Fat Beats) came out in 2002, Atmosphere had been touring regularly both in the United States and overseas (with a rotation of accompanying players, such as Eyedea and Mr. Dibbs), and their fan-base was burgeoning. The new album was an 18-song lyrical windfall with rapid beats and, for the first time, one of the Rhymesayers had broken ground with the national charts. The album topped Billboard’s Heatseekers board and it climbed to #43 on the R&B chart. The single “Modern Man’s Hustle” was considered it’s most successful to date.
Atmosphere would return again with Seven’s Travels (2003 Rhymesayers), which would climb to #5 on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums chart. Now performing as a team of producer Ant and emcee Slug, the 19 tracks preserved the anger and vulnerability of the previous material lyrically, while maintaining the avant-garde footing of “different” and “underground” and “sincere”—all unusual terms in hip-hop hitherto, which had become usual adjectives for Atmosphere.
In the next couple of years, Atmosphere would release You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005 Rhymesayers) considered more raw and stripped down that anything before it, and the free downloadable album, Strictly Leakage (2007). The concept of giving an album away always appealed to Slug, and he was afforded the opportunity to finally do so.
In 2009, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (Rhymesayers) came out, and long-winded story-teller Slug called it a “children’s book for dumb adult friends.” The purposely dumbed-down material wasn’t done for gold-digging commercial appeal, but to be a sort of allegory to irresponsible people and their travails. Atmosphere branched out with more live instrumentation on Paint That Shit Gold than the usual sample-laden backdrops, and it featured a cameo by TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe on the track “Your Glasshouse” as well as the quasi-hit single, “You.” As a testament to Atmosphere’s ability to stay relevant as time passes, the album went to #13 on the R&B Albums chart, and hit #5 on the Billboard 200. In 2010 they released To All My Friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy, a collection of their previously released EPs. 2011 they released a new full length called The Family Sign. New product is scheduled for 2013.