A Slug Among Men

Atmosphere's MC thrusts forth with his Midwestern brand of conscious hip-hop - but don't try to sleep with him on tour

Slug, the rapper for Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere, bounces in a boozy strut, dropping dimes on the game and dismissing his fame, while making light of the strife he calls life.

He takes a left where his peers go right, bypassing ego-rich self-aggrandizement because steady self-deprecation is his personal pique. While writers genuflect at how he's flipped the pose, he professes to know that all the gold spun from his soul doesn't mean shit if you don't know his name.

Slug ('cause he looks like he's money, but he won't buy shit) threatens to change that situation with Atmosphere's latest joint, Seven's Travels. Atmosphere's last album, 2002's God Loves Ugly, boosted the rapper's profile tenfold -- literally. Sales of the album approached 80,000 copies; his previous effort, the EP Lucy Ford, sold around 8,000. Not bad for a record pushed by on-the-down-low indie label Fat Beats. And the new album's likely to get an even better push into b-boy consciousness from erstwhile punk label Epitaph.

And then they met Jam Master Jay:Atmosphere's Slug (left) hands the Run-D.M.C. bio to the ladies.
And then they met Jam Master Jay:Atmosphere's Slug (left) hands the Run-D.M.C. bio to the ladies.


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"Thank God I'm older, because if this would have happened to me at 23 or something, it would have been all about coke and strippers and stupid shit like that," Slug, in his early 30s, tells New Times. "Here I am now starting to receive this attention at an age where I just have a little more rationalizing going on."

Single after breaking up ("for the 27th time") with his longtime girlfriend Rita, his newfound stature sparked an ethical crisis in the guise of women who sought him out after the show. "Here I am single, in a hotel room with some 24-year-old who's probably had a little too much vodka for her own good, and I find myself talking over and over again about the evils of going back to the hotel room with the band. It's almost as if I'm this antihero that's fucking it up for the rest of my peers," he says. "I was realizing how much power I actually have and the dichotomy of the situation between me and the girl from the show who came home, and becoming very neurotic about how I apply that kind of power."

A natural for the "conscious rap" movement, Slug has drawn comparisons to Eminem because of his loose-limbed flow, his Midwestern twang, and, well, his light skin pigmentation. Mostly, the comparisons end there (though most seem stuck on the latter), because his subject matter lacks the in-your-face bravado of Slim Shady. Slug replaces that with a very "real" dose of self-doubt and mocking, evident not only in the title track of God Loves Ugly, which assails his self-professed sub-average looks, but also on some of the songs from the new album. "Shoes" finds him hugging the porcelain god after a drunken evening chasing a chick. The hilarious "Suicidegirls" is a medley of answering machine messages from pissed-off ex-girlfriends complaining about cleaning his vomit from their cars, his "trail of destruction and shit," and his inability to return their calls.

Atmosphere's DJ, Ant, makes the group's musical bed with a psychedelic quilt of jazzy synth samples, scratches and a rumbling calliope of bubbling beats that Slug lays over with his manic word-salad of passion and science engineered to bring down walls. His flow slides, tumbles and trickles, body-surfing allegorical autobiography with a slippery self-consciousness that's as unsparing as it is pointblank.

Speaking from The Fifth Element, the Minneapolis record store that he runs with his rap crew, the Rhymesayers, Slug says, "I don't mind the comparisons to Eminem, though sometimes I wished I'd get compared to Rakim instead. I think a lot of times the comparison comes from the whole white boy thing, and I think that of all the white kids in the world, he's the one who should never get white boy'd, because he can actually rap his fucking ass off. So I don't know if it's the accent. I don't know if it's the fact that me and him are probably about the same age, and we grew up in this shit very similarly, you know, listening to the same rappers, following the same influences."

But Slug does believe that Eminem helped give him his increasingly broad platform.

"I got to give it to Eminem and Tupac, and Ghostface [Killah], because accidentally they paved the way for people like me," he says. "They made it okay to be emotional. They made it okay to say some shit on record that really is, or sounds like, it's fucking you up right now, as opposed to you showing me how you can fuck things up. You know a lot of rap, like destroying shit is a part of this culture.

"It's like this shit's been done, but these guys, to me, brought it to a new level of being accepted by the advocates and the audience and the fans, whereas hip-hop wouldn't accept Ice Cube crying on an album back in 1994. Not so much, Oh, that's what I'm going to do,' but like this is what I've been doing for a while, and it's been pretty cool and there's kids that like me, but now that you guys have done it. Now there's a shitload of kids that will listen to me."

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