Sean Daley, better known as Slug, is the rapper of Atmosphere, a hip-hop duo from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Currently on “The Wherever” tour, which included a soldout Cargo Concert Hall in Reno on Feb 12, Slug spent some time to talk with us about his new album and tour.
Atmosphere’s eighth album, “Whenever,” reflects hope in darker times, communicating Slug’s personal transition to a brighter future. Slug thought of doing something different with the songs, but decided to unexpectedly drop them into this new record released December 2019 – finalizing the year, and another decade with that message of hope and a brighter reality realized in the end. “Whenever” is an album of finally relaxing on a long, successful career.
The album is called “Whenever” because “when the label asked me when do you wanna put this out? I was like – I don’t know, whenever.” That’s where the name of this tour, “The Wherever Tour” came from. The album contains stand-alone songs, not written for an album but for a television show where Slug was free to express creativity outside of the more serious and self-reflective nature of Atmosphere. The Wherever Tour shows that Slug does things on his own terms. There are no rules, but there are lessons learned.
I learned some of my own in our conversation.
Lesson No. 1: Don’t call rappers by their full birth name.
Hi. Is this Sean Michael Daley?
This is Amanda Jacobs from Tahoe Onstage. Riley set up an interview for us to talk about your tour coming to Reno. *Long pause*
Oh yeeeeeah. You said my middle name — what kind of shit is that. I’m like, “Who the fuck is trying to collect money from me?” Can’t do that with rappers. Damn. I was like “shit, is this my daughter?”
Yeah, I just wanted to make sure that this is you.
Yeah but still, though, all you gotta do is go:“Yo, is this the douche from Atmosphere?” Like “Is this Sean Michael Daley?” I don’t even think Wikipedia knows my middle name.
That’s exactly where I got your middle name.
Lesson No. 2: Tours and albums don’t always need a theme or purpose.
What’s your current tour all about?
Oh, you know, we’re just going out to play songs off this new album. Even though we only do a handful of the songs. I don’t know what this tour is about, man. It’s just me unpacking my shit. I go out and get in front of people and I unpack everything that’s happened to me in the last year so that I can go home and feel good. It’s like therapy.
Is that the same answer for what your new album is about, just the last year of what’s been going on?
This new album isn’t really about anything. I did not approach this one with a concept. These were actually all stand-alone songs. They were not supposed to be an album. We were commissioned to create music for a television series. We created instrumental music for the series and also made a song for the end of the show where the credits roll. All of these songs were end credits songs. Then the deal fell through.
It’s OK. The lawyers couldn’t all get on the same page, but we were very friendly with the producers and the writer of the show. Together we all came to the conclusion that we should just pull off. It’s pretty rare that a show will commission one artist to do all the music anyway. We were probably biting off more than we could chew but we were all down to try. It wasn’t like a disappointment to them or us. We were all on the same team, except lawyers are never on anybody’s team.
Then I had all these songs. I had to figure out what to do with them. I was thinking about maybe releasing them like a TV show, one at a time, maybe with visuals or whatever but when it came down to it, we weren’t really due to put out another album yet. But I thought, “What if we just drop it and see what happens?” So, we did.
Lesson No. 3: ‘The Shit’ is real
When you get to your 30th city on this tour and you’re like “Damn, I’m tired,” is there something that comes to the forefront of your mind as a reminder that it’s all worth it?
The burnout happens about at the half-way point. We call it “The Shit.” Kind of like this old Vietnam War movie where the soldiers called a certain part of their tour “The Shit.” Like, “We’re in The Shit now.” We’ve adopted that. It’s about four days of depression, but then you come out of it with a second wind and you finish the tour in blazing glory.
Every day you have a moment where you wanna go home to your family. Every day you have a moment where you don’t. Every day has its own journey, but if it wasn’t something I enjoyed a lot, I wouldn’t do it. I’ve reached a place in my life where I have the privilege to fill my world and my day with things that I want to do, as long as I handle my responsibilities. The beauty is trying to learn how to approach your responsibilities in a way that allows you to enjoy them. I have the best job in the world. Or at least one of them.
The worst is if you catch a cold or hurt yourself. I’ve had to tour with a sprained ankle. I’ve had the flu. My retina started becoming detached on one tour. There are things that occur, but that’s life. Shit could happen no matter who you are, where you are, what you’re doing, and you have to learn how to navigate those things with the best attitude as possible.
Do you work on new material on tour or is that something you wait for some down time to do?
I used to. Now days I try not to. You end up writing songs about tour(ing). It’s hard to get people to relate to that. We had an album once that was full of that shit. I took all the songs about touring and squished them into one album. It was called Seven’s Travels. I’ll try never to do that again. I did it once so there’s no reason to repeat it.
Lesson No. 4: Support local artists
One of my favorite songs off of your 2018 record is “Drown,” which features a few other artists. I read that you collaborated with these other artists to make that song. Can you elaborate more about the development of “Drown” and how that collaboration came together?
It was about the music. One of the beats Anthony gave me felt more contemporary than I was used to approaching for a story. Not necessarily contemporary like high turnup or crunk or trap but contemporary in the drum programming. So, I thought maybe I could use this as an opportunity to work with a couple other people from my city because it’s full of talent right now. Especially a lot of younger contemporary artists that didn’t grow up in the same era that I grew up in.
I come from a real distinct boom rap/original rap, spitter kind of place. A lot of these younger artists don’t get seen in the same category, but it’s still conscious rap. When you get into what they’re doing, it’s still formed by the traditional shit that I grew up on. I wanted to put some of them on the track so that people could see that they’re not that different from me and what my peers do. I don’t like the dotted lines that the older heads tend to draw between them and the younger heads – specifically because it shows the younger heads how to draw fuckin’ lines. Don’t draw lines between us. We’re all coming from the same family. So I might be an uncle and you might be a nephew but that don’t matter — we’re all on the same family tree and I would prefer to draw lines to connect us rather than lines to separate us.
I saw the beat Anthony gave me as an opportunity to pull together some of the younger talent in my town. I tapped in atlaS just cause he’s the hommie – I love him. The Lioness (one of the artists on this tour with Atmosphere) is definitely a spitter but she’s more on that contemporary cutting- edge shit, and Casianova is a dope MC but he can also sing pretty dope hooks so I wanted to tap him, just as a way to signal boost artists from my city that you may not have heard of if you live in Sydney, Australia.
Do you have any funny stories from working with other personalities?
Oh my God yeah. I mean nothing I would put out there in the streets just because none of it necessarily ridicules me. Truthfully at this point, anyone you know who has been rappin’ since the early ’90s, I probably have a story about just because I’ve been around for so long. Oftentimes I’m tucked in the back as an observer, too, which allows me to really find the story and take it home. I’m not the loudest one in the room. I fall back and observe. So yeah, I got stories for all these fuckin’ idiots. Haha.
Is there someone who really surprised you?
Sure – especially growing up a fan of this music and learning the basics as a kid. You learn that it’s about expression but actually more than just that — aggression. It’s about attention. It’s about ego. There’s a competitiveness that’s very similar to sports. All these things you learn early. The first time I met Buckshot I was expecting him to be kind of a brooding, maybe even mean, kind of dude. He turned out to be so pleasant and heartwarming that I fell in love with him. It was informing to see behind the curtain. It allowed me to go, “Oh, I can actually be myself, too.” Growing up in hip-hop, you didn’t know you could be yourself. You had to be the cool guy or the ladies’ man. You can’t let your guard down. I had to get around artists to see, “Nah, this is art, and in art there’s all kinds of fucked-up shit going on in artists heads.” These dudes are sensitive, and the women are brutal. It’s not what you expect.
I heard you were involved in Brother Ali’s last album. He will be here next month, as well. Can you tell us anything about that album?
In all fairness, my involvement is as an executive producer. I didn’t actually put my hands on it. As an executive producer oftentimes my only job is to make sure the resources are available to make the thing happen. Maybe I’ll provide the studio, maybe ill pick you up at the airport, etc. … Ali is from my city. Evidence, who made the album with him, recorded in his home studio. There wasn’t much that I had to do except provide the resources financially. So I can’t take any credit for that Brother Ali record. That record is genius and I have no problem saying that I have nothing to do with the genius on that album. Those two guys, him and Evidence, they made something very special.
Lesson No. 5: Don’t release a shit ton of music
I have one last question; would you consider bringing back sad clown bad dub?
No, those are dead. 13 sad clowns. If we made a 14 or 15 it’d just be too much. Here’s our problem, we release too much music, period. When you put out as much music as we have, it’s impossible to not do the same thing twice. There’s a song or two on the new album where I’m like “Those are Atmosphere traditionals. We’ve made that song a handful of times.” But you don’t think like that going into it. It just accidentally happens. If there is ever another sad clown it’s accidental.
Lesson No. 6: Don’t just eat your vegetables kids, learn to grow them, too
What do you think is one of the most important messages or philosophies you’ve communicated through your music?
Is there anything else you wanna add?
Learn how to grow your own vegetables. I’m serious. If you want to continue surviving in a healthy manner, you’re gonna have to get off of the government’s narcotics, and that includes: medicine, food and water. Obviously, I’m not gonna tell you to learn to grow your own water. But if you can come up with a system that purifies water, that would be good. And learn to grow your own fuckin’ vegetables.
Thank you for your time this morning. I look forward to seeing you in Reno
Thank you. I can’t wait to get to Reno. I love Reno, a lot actually. More than I probably should.
The new album “Whenever” wasn’t about the audience seeing a completed music project. It was about the journey of creation, without regard to how it would be perceived.
Slug and I spoke about working with other artists from his hometown under his independent record label (Rhymesayers), maintaining energy on long tours, and holding hope while preparing to live in a new world that may hold some dark realities. Slug tells us that regardless of what is coming in the world, we can work on making a brighter future now.
Atmosphere is a legacy artist. People go to shows to hear the old stuff, but are excited for new music, too. This tour will be no exception, providing both.
Slug has made his mark, done his thing, and continues to share positivity.
— Amanda Jacobs