The Mountain Weekly spoke with Sean Daly aka Slug of Atmosphere to discuss recent endeavors and breaking new ground with the first EVER winter concert at Red Rocks amphitheater. The Icelantic Winter on the Rocks features Atmosphere, Common, Grieves + Budo and Get Cryphy. The show is this Friday, January 27. Doors at 7:30.
MWN: It appears that Atmosphere has been quite busy since the release of the latest album, The Family Sign. The successful release of the album was immediately followed by back to back US tours, then a tour through Europe with several members of the Rhymesayers crew. 2012 has also started off jam packed with the video premier for the track Became, the upcoming Welcome to Minnesot Tour and the Icelantic Winter on the Rocks show coming to Red Rocks this Friday night. You are clearly a very busy man. Have you made a conscious effort to take any time to sit back, relax, enjoy and digest the success of the past few months?
Slug: I’m not sure that I’ve actually relaxed and digested the success that has happened, but I have sat back, relaxed and hung out with my family. Speaking from our experience, a lot of the impact that we see is not generated immediately following the actions that we make. We make an action and a half a year later or sometimes more, you begin see the impact. So, who knows what is to come from all the work we have been doing. But we have definitely had an opportunity to take some time to relax.
I think in a way, because of how easy it is to communicate to the people that are interested in what we have to say via the internet, it is easy to make it look like we are hella busy. It’s easy to make it look like we are just out here doing it and doing it and doing it, but really it is a lot more logical than that. We definitely make sure we each take time to dedicate to the important things in our lives. A big reason why we beat the path so hard a few years ago was so that we would have an opportunity to enjoy the journey a little bit.
MWN: Looking back on last year, do you consider it to be a successful one for Atmosphere? How do you define success?
Slug: God man, I really don’t know. I think that quality of life is tied to success. If you can define your own quality of life and evolve and make your quality of life more enjoyable as you go, that is success. But you can’t really measure that. You can’t really measure success. Behind every corner, there may be a step upward or a step downward. It’s like, if I hit a place that I consider a success, and from there I just go straight up linear, was that really success? When I look at that where I was at that place five years later, can I still consider where I was at that point a success?
So, my definition of success is just enjoying my time and doing the things that I enjoy doing. You know, I rap for a living! Man, that is phenomenal! I’ve been a success ever since I stopped working for another guy that told me what to do. That’s when I started enjoying my time. Rapping is one of my favorite things to do… And truthfully, I was just reminded a few years ago of how much I enjoy making children. So who knows, maybe I’ll make a couple more children. All in all, as long as I am enjoying my quality of life it is a success.
MWN: What you’re saying is rather than having success being tied to an idea, an award, a goal or any specific moment you may have manifested or envisioned, success is more about the ride itself?
Slug: From my standpoint, I’m enjoying my time on this planet right now. For that I’d say we are a success. By that definition I feel like we were a success ten years ago. Success is more of a soft finish line. It’s not like a hard finish line that you are going to cross and be like I did it man. It’s a big, thick finish line made out of pudding. You just get in it and trudge through it.
Truthfully, it’s funny. There was a time when I was younger I thought success was going to be about making a record that got really popular, traveling the world, touring and being in a limousine with beautiful women around me. But that was when I was sixteen. I think that because of the visual that somebody like me was handed at a certain age. That’s what I thought success looked like. In reality, those images stuck with me for a little while, but when you end up getting your feet wet, or dirty, or whichever of them you choose, you realize success has nothing to do with any of that. Now, it’s like, if I can get this house paid off?! That’s tangible. If I can be like, Hey mom, I’ve got the whole fuckin house paid off, and she’ll be like, Yo! That is a success! Because of where she was when her version of success was being born, that was her measure of success.
I try to just imagine what the person I’m talking to sees success as being, so that I know how to communicate what we are talking about. I feel like I’ve been successful for so long, it’s like what is next? It’s like, what is the next drug? And I don’t mean that in a drug sense, but it’s like, success has me feeling this great, so what’s next? What comes after success? Spiritual enlightenment? Is that why so many successful people start reaching out for cults and shit? Because when you do find that nirvana of self-validation or whatever some of those things are that you find for yourself, then you’ve got to dig even deeper inside of yourself and get to the next level. It’s kind of like somebody who has built up a tolerance to something. What is the next step after success? Maybe it is spiritual enlightenment. Shit, I wonder what kind of rap songs I would write if I suddenly became enlightened. That would be interesting.
MWN: As someone who has followed your career and followed the path Atmosphere has taken, it has been a real treat to witness the maturation of your sound, your lyrics and your subject matter throughout this whole ride. What factors do you attribute most to the evolution of your music? How do you feel your message has changed or continues to change?
Slug: I’ve got to be cautious when I answer this. You used the word mature, but you used it in a way I don’t think I’ve heard anyone ever actually use it before. You said maturation. But I’m scared of those kind of words, because the minute that I start talking about how we grew up or here’s how we this or that it starts to feel kind of pretentious. It’s not really my place to label that kind of shit. I’m not allowed to label our progress, our growth, or even our digression. I’m not allowed to label any of that kind of shit because at that point it starts to seem like I intended it, crafted it or planned it. I’m cool with other people saying shit like that. For me it’s really not that difficult. It’s not rocket science for a rapper. Any rapper that raps about their life, in their world, in their immediate surroundings; you should be able to see their evolution. As they run their distance in the public eye you should be able to see progression. You know, I feel bad if there is somebody that I’ve been listening to since like 94 or 95 and I hear them doing something nowadays that sounds like they were doing back then. I feel bad about that. I feel we are the ones who wear that keep it real nametag. It’s like, are you really keeping it real? Are you selling the same coke you were selling in 95? Are you really carrying the same fucking gun you were carrying? So, you’re telling me that for almost 20 years you’ve had to carry a gun? What the fuck is wrong with you man? Change your life, man!
So, with me, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to rap about what the fuck I want to rap about and what’s in my world. For lack of a better term, I’ve got to rap about me. So, of course, that is just going to evolve. Hopefully towards something similar to the word you used, maturation. You know, and I say that not just for rappers but for any of my neighbors. If you are still doing the same shit at forty that you were doing at twenty, you need to get some new perspectives in your world and in your life. Regardless. For better or for worse. Even if, let’s say for an example, if you work or live in an environment that you don’t have much control over, you still can grow by pushing your boundaries within your surroundings. Even with that, just your wisdom should shine through. Just being able to reflect on your experiences. I wonder sometimes if rappers sound exactly the same because they are trying to appease an audience that wants that. If that is the case, I can understand that. You didn’t change up at all because you have a fan base that loves your shit and they don’t want you to change up. I understand that, but I feel bad for that too though, because I feel that if you’re not challenging your audience and you’re not challenging yourself, what the fuck are you doing? At that point, you’re just making a dollar. That’s the definition of a sellout, which is ironic because kids want to call you a sellout when you do evolve. But when you don’t evolve, I think THAT is the sellout move.
MWN: One could argue that people functioning in various forms of everyday life, whether you are a rapper or you are a garbage man, find comfort or solace in the fact that they have created their comfortable little zone and make a point of operating within that niche for as long as humanly possible.
Slug: In affect I hear what you are saying. You’re saying that as a garbage man, you can depend on that check. You work those hours, you get that check and hopefully all goes well, you know, forever. That’s cool because you are obviously doing it as a job. But the difference is you weren’t working as a garbage man as a hobby prior to having it as a job. Being a garbage man most likely wasn’t a passion first. You were never functioning as a garbage man to use it as an art form. I feel like there is a difference.
MWN: Let’s switch gears from all the philosophizing for a minute and talk a little bit about what you’ve got coming up in 2012.
Slug: Yeah, I’m supposed to save this philosophizing shit for Twitter. What am I doing?
MWN: You’ve got the 2nd annual Welcome to Minnesota Tour coming up in February. It looks like that will be a great success. You guys managed to sell out First Avenue the first day.
Slug: That was pretty amazing. We didn’t expect that.
MWN: How important to you is it to know that your home team out there in Minnesota consistently continues to be such a pillar of grassroots strength for Atmosphere and the Rhymesayers organization?
Slug: It’s always been very validating to know that we live in a place that has our back so tough. It’s one of those things where I don’t know if a lot of our peers are able to hold down their cities the way we are able to hold ourselves down. It’s great. It’s beautiful, obviously. I wish it upon everybody. When you make art and you are from a place and you are officially dedicated to being there and you are committed to making it a better place for your family as well as for other peoples families and; to know those people have your back? It’s a beautiful exchange.
MWN: Growing up and braving the cold Minnesota winters, have you performed any shows in the past that may prepare you for what may be in store for you at the upcoming performance this Friday night at the first winter concert in the history of Red Rocks?
Slug: We have played outside in the snow before. But every single time we have been really lucky with the result. I’ll say this, I’m hoping for the best, but whatever. The show goes on no matter what. It’s one of those things. Even if we are hit with a blizzard, wow, that will be interesting. It’s not like you can be like, ah man, I don’t know, It’s kind of cold, I don’t know if we can go out there. Get the fuck out of here! You’ve got a bunch of people out there that are waiting to see what is going to happen. I would never say no I’m not going to go out there.
What I’ve noticed is that if you go out and you play in a storm, in the rain, or in the snow, when any of the elements are playing a role in the show it is kind of an equalizer. It takes all of the people at the party and puts them on the same level. Prior to the storm, some people had better sneakers on than others, some people showed up with cooler haircuts, there are all kinds of different class stuff going on. Then what happens is mother nature comes along and says â€œNope! Tonight everybody is on the same level. And what usually ends up happening is the show turns into a more personal experience for everybody. In that respect, I welcome it. I’m not saying I want there to be a storm or a blizzard or anything like that, but whatever happens, happens. We’re ready for it.
MWN: How did the Icelantic Winter on the Rocks show come to be? How did you guys end up becoming involved?
Slug: Our involvement was a simple as, they asked us to play. Icelantic wanted to throw a show. It was interesting to me that they wanted to throw the show outdoors, but it makes total sense. It’s involved with a convention for skiers and snowboarders and people who do outdoor activities in the cold. This is just something that they do. They just asked us to do the first outside show at Red Rocks.
MWN: Did you grow up skiing, snowboarding or doing any action sports stuff like that?
Slug: Nah. I was kind of a pussy. I wanted to be a rapper instead. That took up the majority of my shit. As I got older, being on stage is what gave me the adrenaline rush I needed. So, I never even had to go looking for something else to give me adrenaline.
MWN: Will this be your first time performing with Common?
Slug: No. We actually opened for him a long, long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far, far away.
MWN: How do you feel about having an opportunity to perform with an artist like Common?
Slug: Common is a personal hero of mine. As an emcee, he has always been one of my favorite dudes. It’s definitely an honor to play with him. Especially when you consider how long he has held it down. We take this for granted a lot of times, but rappers are starting to have actual lifelong careers. When you can look at his body of work and realize he has been doing it for fifteen or twenty years, it’s an amazing thing.
It’s amazing that not only will this be the first-ever Icelantic Winter show at Red Rocks, but fuckin-a, Common is on it? Plus we get to bring some deejay dudes from our own city, the Get Cryphy kids? And Grieves is playing it?
The Icelantic people are good dudes, man. This is going to be a lot of fun for me, aside from that fact that this is going to be an amazing event. I mean, I’m just the luckiest rapper in the world.