Slug Unpacks Atmosphere’s New Album & Puts His Rumored Alchemist LP To Bed (Video)
Atmosphere dropped their seventh studio album Mi Vida Local earlier this month. It was the conclusion to a trilogy of thematic full-lengths that, according to Slug, “are based around the idea of mortality.” The trio began with 2014’s Southsiders and followed in the form of 2016’s Fishing Blues, before this month’s final installment. Each song on the previous two Atmosphere albums was an introduction to the next release, arriving approximately two years later. “They’re all my ‘get comfy with the idea of death’ trilogy [albums],” details the Minneapolis native. These LPs also focus on family, loss, and challenging times. Slug states, “Just in case anybody ever wanted to put them together, there’s a connection, a stream that runs through all three of them.”
Slug and Ant are currently on tour through May. Last week (October 23), Atmosphere, deM atlaS (who just released Bad Actress), and Plain Ole Bill performed at Brooklyn Steel. Another Rhymesayers artist, Evidence swung through to join Slug for this year’s “Powder Cocaine” after headlining a show across the bridge. The Lioness, who is on Mi Vida Local‘s “Drown,” also hit the stage. Hours before the show, Ambrosia For Heads caught up with Slug to talk about touring, secret albums, and perhaps more importantly, how life can affect art.
The MC who once proclaimed on “Party For The Fight To Write,” “As a child Hip-Hop made me want to read a book / And Hip-Hop made me want to be a crook / And Hip-Hop gave me the way and something to say,” was asked about that evolution of that relationship.
“Thirty years ago I couldn’t imagine what Hip-Hop would be,” he told AFH Editor-In-Chief Jake Paine during a sit-down. “Thirty years ago I thought we were going to sound like Hieroglyphics forever. I thought we were going to sound like LL Cool J forever. I didn’t know what kind of musicality was going to get involved in this music. Thirty years ago I was still scared grown-ups were right, and this was going to be a fad. Thirty years ago I was still trying to water it and help it grow. I didn’t know it was going to grow to be this un-killable tree that it’s become,” said Slug. “I’m no longer concerned about watering it and making sure that everyone treats it with respect. I’m past that. I don’t give a f*ck how people see or treat it anymore. But I think that just comes with age, man. You become less insecure. And I’m far less insecure about what’s going to happen to Hip-Hop than I was 30 years ago.”
Later in the discussion, at about the 28-minute mark, Slug discussed an album that he has previously joked does not actually exist. Tentatively titled Lake Minnetonka, the LP was reportedly made by Slug and Alchemist, using samples and inspiration from Prince. Slug is asked what it would take to let the public hear the project, and what they might hear.
“You’d hear 15 songs. [Laughs] You can have it. Go get some [lottery] tickets…technically, it hit a point where it’s just too much sampling, and you can’t replay the sh*t, so what are we supposed to do with it? So I don’t know, maybe I’ll probably—uh—leak it,” he said of the elusive release. Alchemist and Ev’ released their Stepbrothers’ Lord Steppington album on Rhymesayers Entertainment in 2014. “[Fans can] tweet Alchemist and ask him to leak the project. I don’t give a f*ck if he leaks it. For me, it’s just more promotion to this point. All music is just more promotion. I’m on tour, so anything that’ll go get someone out to the show, let’s go. It ain’t my name that is on the production of that, so I gotta let my man do what’s right for him.” Slug continues, “Truthfully, it may be as simple as he thinks [my] rhymes are wack, and that’s why he don’t want nobody to hear it. Like I’ll probably close my eyes and turn around and hear somebody else rhyming on those beats.” Moments later, Slug says, “Also, you know what? Here’s the exclusive: there’s no project with Alchemist. It doesn’t exist; you knew that. Everybody knows that, right?” He then cryptically raises his eyebrows at the camera. Although Atmosphere has a celebrated series of official bootleg releases (Sad Clown, Bad…), Slug has recorded almost exclusively with Ant, apart from guest verses.
While on the subject of Prince, Slug was also asked what his favorite songs were from the fellow-Twin Cities artist. “It’s too many,” he said. “I don’t know which song would be my #1 Prince song. There’s like 30 #1 Prince songs: ‘Starfish And Coffee,’ ‘1999,’ ‘Little Red Corvette,’ ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend,’ ‘Another Lonely Christmas,’ ‘Sometimes It Snows In April,’ ‘Girls And Boys,’ ‘Kiss,’ pretty much anything pre-Batman soundtrack was my sh*t. Once we got to the Batman soundtrack, it was more hit-and-miss for me. Usually, I liked the album cuts and not the singles at that point.”
Mi Vida Local reunites Slug (as well as Ant) with some MCs he worked with in the late 1990s as a member of the Headshots crew. The Dynospectrum, a collective including Slug, Musab (fka Beyond), Micranots’ I Self Divine, and Swift was one of the working squads out if this time. Twenty years removed from a lone LP, Dyno’ appears on the new album (“Randy Mosh”), with Musab alone on “Earring.” Slug explained that importance, “I felt when I was coming up with the idea of the trilogy that the best way to put closure on the idea of mortality was to start and end at the same place. Just like birth, death. [1997 Atmosphere debut] Overcast!, the birth, was at the same time as [The Dynospectrum]. Musab was on Overcast!, back when [he was known as] Beyond. So when I was putting this project together, I was like, ‘Man, it would be tight to put a song on here with Musab, and put a song on here with The Dynospectrum, and just put closure on it.'” Thinking about some, including family, misconstruing the theme, Slug clarifies, “This record isn’t about dying. But is the final of this particular trilogy of mortality. That’s why [I say on ‘Graffiti’], ‘I wrote this one when I was still alive,‘ to put closure on that. Then, for the next record, I can start fresh. I don’t have to do anything that has anything to do with what I just did. It took me f*ckin’ five years to complete this weird trilogy. Sh*t. I’m so glad that it’s done.”
On video single “Virgo,” Slug proposes that he may be part of the last generation of grandparents. “[The line] definitely [is inspired by] climate change,” he reveals when asked. “The threat of war, sure, that’s there. But I feel like I’ll survive that threat. Whereas, I don’t know if any of us will survive the climate threat. But I don’t know. This is something that I deal with [on Mi Vida Local] too, which—it’s kind of hidden in there, but part of this album is me actually embracing the fact that some of these things that I spit, some of this consciousness that I’m trying to communicate, man—some of it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to be conscious. There are people who don’t have the time to stop and worry about the oceans, because they’re too busy struggling with life and what’s right there in front of them.” Slug points out that veganism, for instance, can be perceived as a luxury to many people. “If you can come up with a way to eat like that sustainably, that’s also affordable, let’s chop it up and talk. I’m not suggesting that’s a reason not to spit your knowledge and your truth, but you’ve got to take things into consideration. You’ve got to understand who you’re talking to when you’re saying these things. That’s how you really connect with people. That’s kind of, on this project, what I was trying to f*ck with a lot, was being careful not to just have these bumper-stickers that I’ve got to say, but to make sure that I’m delivering them in a way that, whoever I think that our audience might be right now, can hear it.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Slug discussed his hobby of vinyl album collecting. Recalling some recent purchases of a Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five bootleg and an Isotope 217 record, Slug broadly explains, “My favorite records to find are usually the ones that have been well-loved. Most collectors really look for VG+ and near-mint [condition]. For me, the ones that are a little beat up but still play [are what I want]. You can hear the crackle in it. That lets me know that somebody touched [it], played it in their fingers, f*cked with it, those are my favorite ones. That’s when I go, ‘Okay, this record isn’t just an album. This was a tool for somebody. Somebody did something with this.’ Those are the best ones.” He also recalls his first New York City experience, and compares himself to any car.
Press photograph by Dan Monick provided by Rhymesayers Entertainment.
Additional Reporting by Bandini.