Atmosphere’s Slug Breaks Down The Real Meaning Of “Lucy Ford.” (Audio)
In year 2000, Minneapolis, Minnesota Hip-Hop duo Atmosphere released two seminal EPs, Ford One and Ford Two. Produced by group member Ant, as well as Anticon’s Jel, Moodswing 9, and others, these Rhymesayers Entertainment releases (later released together as Lucy Ford: The Atmosphere EPs) helped pivot a Midwest Underground Hip-Hop crew of Slug and Anthony to eventual mainstream recognition.
Featuring songs like “Don’t Ever Fucking Question That,” “The Woman With The Tattooed Hands,” and “Between The Lines,” the efforts were dark, irreverent, and highly personal to MC Slug. Following 1997’s Overcast!, this effort introduced the idea of “Lucy Ford”—an apparently imagined character that Atmosphere would channel on God Loves Ugly in “Fuck You Lucy.” As these songs have taken on cult significance at shows and through fans, Slug recently spoke on the true inspiration to the character.
Appearing on The Cipher, the RSE co-founder returned to a critical part of his life and career. At 10:30, he explains, “There was a few songs on Lucy Ford that should have been on Overcast!, but we made too many songs and it was already a challenge to incorporate Spawn as much as possible into the record. So I didn’t want to overdo it with way too many solo songs; there already were way too many solo songs on it.” Spawn, a co-founder in the group, began as Atmosphere’s MC. In the early ’90s, Slug would DJ for the group. By the breakthrough, both shared the mic—with the majority of record time belonging to Slug. By the 2000s, Atmosphere operated as a duo. “So I just saved a few—like ‘Guns and Cigarettes’ and ‘Party For The Fight To Write.’ But a lot of those songs were leftovers from Overcast!, those ones.” While the EPs released individually, with Slug’s Ford truck in the artwork, the LP followed in 2001. “That was just a tricky way or a joke way to get people to [pay attention]. ‘What is this, a double EP? What does that even mean?’ It’s an album, but we called it a double EP to be funny.”
Speaking bluntly about the ‘Lucy Ford’ character, Slug sets the record straight. “When I was writing [Lucy Ford], I was drinking a lot and I was smoking a lot, and I was not sleeping much. That really is what ‘Lucy’ was. It was just kind of my battle with being this artist who is giving himself fully to that lifestyle. That was the beginning of me really kind of submitting to the lifestyle of un-healthy art life. It’s crazy, because that record got a lot of attention, which technically just enabled me to go even further into that lifestyle. So it just ate itself. It became a caricature of itself over time—so much so that my answer to this question would change, it would evolve. ‘What is Lucy? Who is Lucy?’ Whatever I felt like saying at the time is what I would say. I’d make something up—Lucy was my cat. But really, ‘Lucy Ford’ was the devil.” From the truck to a pet to a specific woman named Lucy, or a composite of many, Atmosphere Heads wondered. In the end, it was a pointed play on ‘Lucifer.’ “I wrote about the devil as if the devil was a particular woman or women in my life that were causing all these troubles and pains for myself. At the end of the day, it was just me. It was just the situations I was putting myself into due to the unhealthy life that I was living. That was my devil at the time.”
Slug, whose material on Overcast! was more Battle Rap-tinged, said the response to these songs caused him compromise. “I didn’t want to keep the devil in my life so that I have this opportunity to travel the world. So I had to figure out to what extent I would continue submitting to that devil.” He adds, “Touring was part of the devil.” The creative space the MC is referring to lasted one more album, including Atmosphere’s backing by Warner Bros. distribution, and rise up the charts. “You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having was when I was able to take a step back and see all the negative effects that all this stuff had had on me as well as my art.”
At 36:00, Slug delves deeper into why relationships have been at the forefront of Atmosphere’s music, into today. “The voice that I felt the most confident in was the one that told the truth. So I started applying that to all of my concepts, all of my topics. For lack of a better bumper sticker [my mantra became] keeping it as real as possible, which meant being okay with saying some embarrassing things about myself, which was some new ground for Hip-Hop. In Hip-Hop, you never threw yourself under the bus. Some did, but when they did, it was obvious comedy. Slick Rick would do it, but when he did, it was for making a point. And I loved that. A big part of what I started to do did come from Slick Rick. A song like ‘The Moment I Feared’ by Slick Rick, where at the end of the song, he actually ends up in jail getting raped by somebody. That was unheard of for Rap. He did that, and not many rappers would go there. But everybody loved that song. So I [decided that] I liked the idea of showing the resolution even when it didn’t work out in the favor of myself. So I started writing like that.”
To the point of making relationship-inspired music (or as he says, “girl records”), Slug remembers being upset with LL Cool J for doing it on Walking With A Panther. “What the fuck, man. It pissed me off. You’re allowed two [girl songs]. [LL Cool J] put six of them on there! So to be the guy, years later, who put six girl songs on my record, it really blew me away to allow myself to reach that point. But really, what it was was the honesty thing. I just wanted to make music that was honest.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Slug explains why Atmosphere released limited edition, bootleg-style mixtapes (Sad Clown Bad Dub series), regrettably coining the phrase “emo-Rap” in 1998, and the strong connection he feels to Ice Cube and Mobb Deep.
This year, Atmosphere released Fishing Blues. The R.S.E. release features DOOM, Kool Keith, Aesop Rock, and The Grouch.