The last time Slug felt as sick and contradictive as this was the last time he played a show in Cinci. He and the other half of Atmosphere, DJ/producer Ant, haven’t played one since, save a Scribble Jam or two. But the last headlining show that Atmosphere played in Cincinnati was nearly seven years ago. If you’re an Atmosphere fan, then you’ve heard the various references to Top Cat’s and that show. As someone who was there, I remember it being just about as tragically awesome as Slug does, just from a different perspective.
From labelmate Blueprint standing on stage, ready to square up with the soundman to Mr. Dibbs’ (Cinci DJ legend and Atmosphere’s touring DJ at the time) crew of knuckleheads getting in huge brawls to folks vomiting liquor all over “God’s Bathroom Floor.” It takes great artists to make a complete meltdown seem just as awesome as any other show.
The lineup for the show at Madison Theater this Saturday is eerily similar to that infamous Top Cat’s one, with the only difference being newly signed Rhymesayers act Grieves & Budo. Blueprint (a former Cincinnati resident, alongside Cinci staple DJ Rare Groove) will be making his return from extended leave as well, touring in support of the upcoming (and longtime-coming) Rhymesayers release Adventures in Counter-Culture. I’ve heard the album at various stages over the years, so I’m honestly more genuinely excited to hear Print’s set more than anyone else’s.
But Atmosphere is the headliner. And, with over one million albums sold independently, it’s deserved. These people and this label are the reasons I write my monthly Hip Hop column for CityBeat. The folks on this bill have been doing it right for years. I can’t imagine how much fun they’re having.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Slug about returning to Greater Cincinnati, Rick Rubin’s offer to executive produce an Atmosphere record, lame dinosaur artists who still complain about downloading and having more kids to balance out the population of stupid people.
The following is an interview with a smart one.
Ill Poetic: You’re returning to Cincinnati to play a non-Scribble Jam-related show for the first time in nearly seven years. Why now?
Slug: Dibbs. That motherfucker’s been in my ear for five years now. Every time we came back to Cincinnati we connected it to Scribble Jam. But Cincinnati? These fools like to beat the shit out each other. But it doesn’t fit the vibe I’m trying to bring. But Scribble? Scribble is the safe place to do a show at. If a fight breaks out, a security guard will rip your arm off. Dibbs tells me it’s not really like that anymore. But that’s the funny answer. That’s 40 percent of the answer. The real answer is, really, it was just time to come back. Without Scribble, we would’ve come back more often, but why not do Scribble, save money and time, while hitting four different cities in the Midwest with one show.
IP: You started touring in small markets and college towns, though now you have huge pull in more major markets. What do you find are the differences between the atmospheres of more major cities vs. the small-market cities?
Slug: Smaller markets are more pure. Bigger towns — when you play, there is a margin of people who really don’t care about music, but are there to be seen. It’s still fun, but the smaller markets, it’s not like that. I can go out to the front of the venue, talk to people, walk around, just be a regular dude. Bigger markets, you’re supposed to be some mysterious artist.
IP: As an entirely new generation continues to find your music, you have a wider age spectrum of fans. Do you find the newer fans eager to reach back into your earlier catalogue?
Slug: It seems like a lot of them try to. It’s crazy, because a lot of them do and they get to put the story together themselves. For me, I did this with Sparklehorse — I went back and got the old Sparklehorse shit because of the shit he did with Danger Mouse. Then I can see that it all makes sense. I see the growth. And nowadays you can just download all the old shit. And I’m one of those artists that don’t care about downloads. It’s crazy for me to hear artists who complain about downloads. I own a record label and a retail store and I’m not complaining. How the fuck are you complaining? You’re losing a dime off a dollar and I’m losing 90 cents off the dollar. I read interviews with these dinosaur artists all the time online about how they’re losing money. If I don’t care, why do you?
IP: Especially when that very interview is generating online interest in them.
IP: Does the age-widening of your base affect how you piece together your tour sets?
Slug: I think so. I think that older people are with me. We see eye to eye. It’s either you like it or you don’t. But the kids: I have a 16-year-old son, and it makes me want to be more direct. Back then, I didn’t’ care if you came up with your own interpretation of a song. I didn’t care, I just cared that you were there. Now I’m very cautious about what I send out. I’ve had situations in the past where I’ve had kids misinterpret a song of mine into something cynical, and it ruins the song for me. As I get older, it’s become less about that. Now I feel like this whole game is about communication, and what are you giving to people. I don’t want to wave the conscious flag, but I’m always gonna be on the conscious tip to an extent. I’m very conscious of the youth when I’m performing or writing. I don’t want you to think that this song is telling you something irresponsible.
I think that’s the problem with a lot of Hip Hop I listen to. I’ve always listened to more street shit, harder than the music I make, because that’s what I grew up on. I’m still waiting for Mobb Deep to make that perfect record. But then street shit started to act like shit’s all good. It started to become a movie with no real consequences. Now I pay attention to how that relates to my own music. I want to make sure there’s a level of truth in my shit. An explanation of the consequences.
IP: What would Slug of 2010 tell Slug of 1998, ranging from life, relationships, women, etc. to music and the industry in general?
Slug: I’d say, “Quit trying to look 50 yards ahead of you and look at what’s right in front of your face.” I thought I knew that. I was talking to Rhymefest last night and he was talking about localizing. Getting involved in the educational system of the community, as well as community service. You can work strictly off local community activity and still pay your mortgage. Community service is quite a hustle right now. That’s the kind of shit I’ve been on for so long. I’ve always thought about it, but was never able to articulate it. But when he said it, it clicked. You’ve got to bring it back home. I always had my eyes on bigger things, something like trying to play a show in Japan. And, yeah, it’s good to do that, but at the end of the day, I gotta come back. Minneapolis is where I live. We all wanna save the world, but first you’ve got to save yourself. Then you can save your block. Then save your city.
The other thing I would’ve told myself is to have more kids. I have a 16-year-old, and I just had another son four months ago. I gave myself all kinds of excuses on why I shouldn’t have more kids. The main reason I didn’t have more kids until recently is because I thought it wasn’t the right thing to do. But then I figured if you want the world to become a better place, you have to create more people that think like you. Balance it out. The dumb motherfuckers keep making babies, but the smart ones stop after one to “reduce their carbon footprint.” But if they stop, all the smart people will become extinct. If I’d known better, I’d have had like eight kids by now.
IP: Are there any plans for an upcoming Atmosphere EP or LP in the near future?
Slug: Yes, we are currently working on an album that we hope to release in the spring. I do not have a title for it yet, so if any of your readers wanna MySpace me suggestions, that would be appreciated.
IP: When did you first realize that the art you base off your life could in turn affect your life for better or worse?
Slug: Somewhere around our godlovesugly record I started to forget to draw a separation between the piece of shit on the record and the piece of shit in my mirror.
IP: Being that you’ve ping-ponged your art and life back and forth for so long now, do you ever see one not affecting the other in the future?
Slug: I think they will always walk hand in hand. Wearing matching t-shirts. Cute couple.
IP: How awesome does it feel to see a blueprint that your label constructed and followed faithfully (i.e. independent, D.I.Y. approach, steady touring) turn into the model that young artists and even certain major labels have studied and adapted?
Slug: I wish everyone the best. I hope they may all avoid the pitfalls that we had to step in to learn. I hope they all learn faster and smarter than the people before them.
IP: Are there any new avenues of release or inventive ideas we can expect to see from Rhymesayers as a company?
Slug: There are things that we are doing that we are not ready to speak on publicly. So the answer is yes. So the answer is no.
IP: Do you solemnly swear to have DJ Rare Groove close each night of the tour out with a dance party?
Slug: That is my evil plot, yes.
IP: OK, those are standard interview questions. I figured I’d throw some extras in here that no other interviewer would bother asking, due to their stupidity. So — Hunter S. Thompson Road Trip Mixtape. What Atmosphere song is on there?
Slug: It’s a song on “Leak at Will.” It’s about drugs, basically saying, “Do whatever drug you want, but these are the consequences of these drugs.” It’s called “The Feel Good Hit Of The Summer Pt. 2.” What a stupid title. Why did I name it that?
IP: What Atmosphere song title would most likely be used as a name for a perverse sexual act? I vote for “Woman with the Tattooed Hands.”
Slug: “Pour Me Another."
IP: Rick Rubin wants to Executive Produce the next Atmosphere LP with you and Ant on the condition that it’s a Country album. Do you do it because it’s Rick Rubin?
Slug: He actually showed interest in executive producing the album with the mohawk … it didn’t come together due to time constraints, etc. He’s a good dude, but I have every intention of making a Country album eventually, anyways.
IP: You’ve dedicated a Felt album to Lisa Bonet, but you’ve ignored Phylicia Rashad. When does Claire Huxtable get her proper worship?
Slug: Felt 9.
Last year Slug was gracious enough to hop on the remix of Illogic’s “Diabolical Fun” (which I produced), alongside Aesop Rock and Zerostar. Here is a link. Enjoy.