Atmosphere To Hit the Bourbon Theatre Stage
By Kyle Eustice
When you’ve been in the music business for as long as Sean Daley has, you get to a level of comfort where you’re more confident in what you do and don’t feel the need to act like something you’re not. As one half of Atmosphere and co-founder of the Minneapolis-based indie hip-hop label, Rhymesayers Entertainment, Slug (as he’s more commonly referred to) has accomplished a lot over the past 20 years. While his career has evolved into sold-out arena shows, a solid roster on the label and a legion of fans, naturally he’s also grown as a person. At 41, he prefers being called “Sean” to “Slug.” He’s a husband, father of three, business owner, music fan, and prolific emcee. He’s finally content juggling them all. Daley took some time to talk about his new album, Southsiders, “Kanye West” and pushing through insecurities.
Shout Omaha: Well, here we go again. You just dropped Southsiders so are you excited to hit the road?
Sean Daley (Slug): I’m interested to see how these songs work live. The live show is a huge part of this for me. I’m tired of the album already. I don’t ever have to hear the album again, but I’m excited to go out and perform the songs.
Are you hoping this tour expands your fan base even further?
You gotta remember, we’re not really trying to expand our fan base anymore. As far as I’m concerned, this is an exclusive club. The doors are closed. We’re not selling any more memberships for now.
I like that. So what was your response to all the internet hype about the song “Kanye West” off the new album?
I have to sit back and let it take its course. The culture of the internet, and I don’t even mean hip-hop internet, I mean the internet in general, shit only lasts for a week. In another week, nobody is going to be talking about us again. I’m just waiting it out. I haven’t even spoken publicly about it and I haven’t made any comments about it anywhere. I just have to ride it out, there’s more songs coming out. People that are fans will sit and discuss those in a minute and quit worrying about that song.
People were saying you did a song with him and “sold out.”
You know what, there’s a certain amount of revolt every kid has to have. So every time a kid points at something and calls it’s a sell out that means they are one step closer to being an adult. You have to go out and call, let’s say 100 people, sellouts before you figure out what selling out really means. This isn’t the first time of being in the seat of being called a sellout by underground kids, so in that regard I’m happy to be that. I’m not saying that I’m happy to be a sell out, but I’m happy to be part of the road these kids have to take to finally get to more grounded and in the dirt. Really, it’s all about ego and getting an identity. When I was a kid, I was mad at certain things and that was just me trying to find my own identity, my own ego, and voice. When I called LL Cool J a sell out for walking with a panther that had nothing to do with him or his record. I love that record now. I listen to that record now and he’s rapping his ass off on that record, but at the time, I was like, ‘oh he’s falling off, he’s a sell out and there’s four girl songs on here!’ Imagine the irony of me criticizing anyone having four girl songs on their record, by the way. Now in hindsight, I realize that had nothing to do with LL, it had to do with me finding my own identity. Whatever role I have to play in the path of some young person’s voice because someday they will remember me for that. Technically, when I become part of your identity, man, that outlasts art. That outlasts music. You don’t listen to the same music for the rest of your life, but the people that helped make you who you are, that lasts forever.
Well, you and Ant are now on your eighth studio album, according to the press release. Are you more confident than when you first started in this business?
There’s still tons of insecurity. For example, just now, when you said ‘eighth album,’ I immediately reacted on the inside, because on the inside, I’m like, “Are you kidding me? We’ve made like 30 albums.” But for publicity’s sake, we put the number eight on there because if you come out and say, ‘this is our 27th album,’ people go, ‘wow, with so much music, how come you aren’t a household name?’ So you reel it in and tame it back. That is an indication to me that I still have plenty of insecurity. But I’m ok with that as long as everybody else is. It’s nobody’s problem. It’s ok for me to be insecure. You can be confident, too. Dualities, you know?
In a recent interview with Sir Mix-A-Lot, we were talking about this need to establish this bullshit credibility in hip-hop these days or what he called, “faux street cred?” What do you think about that?
I’ve always respected Sir Mix-A-Lot. He was a cool human being who rapped and wore fur coats, but it goes way back to the early gangster shit. You ever met Schooly D? In real life, he really is the guy he is on records. A lot of us want to give him the title of the dude that established gangster rap. In that regard, where did it go wrong? How did it become a caricature of itself? At one point, 50 Cent was probably one of the most intimidating rappers in the industry not in terms of how big and famous he was, but how G he was, but at a certain point people stopped paying attention to him because it turned into a caricature of itself. Rick Ross, he got called out for being a prison guard. His response was, “I was in there trying to sell drugs?” It’s like REALLY? Is that really how you’re going to defend yourself? And why even defend yourself? Why not just be like, “It’s a job, dude. I needed a job.” Bottom line was he continued to perpetuate the stereotype instead of finally just being real. I get it. You want to sell records, but nobody has disproven that you can be true and still sell records. In fact, technically, one person has proved that you can be yourself and sell records, and that’s Kanye West, which brings us back to that song.
What about Macklemore? He’s saying of things most rappers, especially mainstream rappers, don’t have the courage to say.
Macklemore is a hard one to name because his success is phenomenal and it’s a huge deal, but the majority of people that are into him don’t really listen to rap. It’s bigger than rap. I heard someone make the argument the other day that it should be called alternative rap because it’s rap but it’s an alternative to rap. Just like alternative rock was rock, but it was an alternative to rock. It was people who wanted to be smarter or some shit, I don’t know. So in that regard, it’s hard to use Macklemore as a bar. He is hugely successful like Kanye, but as far as hip-hop culture goes, it still remains to be seen where people are going to put him and where his place is.
So let’s talk about the new album. When did you start working on it?
January of 2013, Ant started sending me beats. He lives in the Bay now. First song we wrote was “Bitter” and it was written as a joke. I was just getting the gears moving and he sent me this beat was almost funny to me. I couldn’t believe he loved it, not that it was horrible, but I wasn’t taking it very seriously. So he’s like finish it, so I finished it. And I didn’t necessarily want it to make the record. I didn’t want it to come out, but he called me out on it, man, and I love this dude. He’s so real with me. He’s so beautiful. He said, “Look the reason you don’t want people to hear this is because you’re insecure about it and that’s the main reason you should put it out.” And I thought about it and was like you know what, he’s right. What am I insecure about? I was insecure about the hook. It’s pretty fucking awkward. Then I realized that’s the risk. The risk is, ‘Can I let people hear me do something like that?’ The only way I could approach the challenge was to say fuck it and let people hear it. Now that it’s come out, people have had the opportunity to criticize it or enjoy it and make it theirs. I realized that hook may be the riskiest thing I’ve done in a long time. I wanted to bury it so nobody else could see it. Putting it out there was kind of like going, “look I have acne on my butt. Check me out.” It’s like as a rapper, somebody who’s always supposed to guard their identity, I’m like if I really want to be real and show them who I am, I can show them this part of me that’s kind of acting like a clown, too.
What’s the song “Bitter” about exactly?
The song itself was about me. I’m the one that’s bitter. It’s me that’s dealing with the fact that, you know, when you go inside my ego, and I’m really trying to work on my ego a lot, when you go inside my ego, you’ll find a part of my ego that is like, ‘yo I invented at least one style in this game.’ Nowadays, that style is kind of taken off and become a style that people use, from underground to mainstream. Maybe I’m kind of bitter for not getting credit for inventing that style. To be fair, I’m smart enough to know that nobody gets credit for inventing a style. That shit is dead. Ever since the mid-‘90s, around ’96 or so, people stopped writing that kind of stuff down in the history books. The history books were full by 1996. So maybe I’m bitter that I didn’t get my name in the book for this. That’s ok because I’m going to be in the books for business, for conduct, for ethics, for things that are also important. I wrote it about being bitter that you can see my style, not because they bit me and it moved through enough people that there is an audience for that style now. That style didn’t exist until I did Lucy Ford. I want to be in the history books alongside Chuck D, KRS One, Big Daddy Kane. When I put it out, nobody interpreted it about being about myself. Everyone thought I was a dick. Everyone thought I was just being mean to rappers.
You’ve worked with Ant for so long. Is it a brotherhood at this point?
He’s family. I love him. I would give him an organ if he needed an organ. Musab introduced us to each other in 1994. Over the years, we have actually we have naturally and unnaturally started to even look like each other. I don’t mean physically, I mean like who we are. They are experiences that he’s had that sometimes I have flashbacks of them as if they are mine. That’s how close we are now. Technically, that interpretation makes total sense. That song is about passion. Here’s the thing, confrontation and conflict, people have such a hard time with sometimes. You have to remember this, the only reason you even bothered to have that conversation or any conflict is because it’s rooted in love. It’s like if I hate you, it’s probably because I love you. If I’m having a problem with you it’s because I care about you that much.