“When I was 16, there was no such thing as a 44-year-old rapper. Now that I’m 44, this is new ground that some of my contemporaries and I are breaking. “ –Slug
It’s hard to talk about the combination of staying consistent and longevity in the game without mentioning Atmosphere — the duo of Ant and Slug. Since the onset of their 1997 debut they’ve lived life on wax, rarely deviating from the transparent realness that their fan base has come to both love and respect. From love, loss, and drugs, to marriage and children, it’s been a journey that’s weathered multiple eras of hip-hop. “I try to use the word ‘fortunate,’ because I don’t believe in luck,” says Slug when discussing how they’ve managed to stay active and relevant after all these years. “[some artists over 40] have created empires for themselves; artists like me, who are doing this more at an independent haven’t created anything like that I could fall back on,” Slug humbly explains.
One could point to his indie label Rhymesayers as an exit strategy, though. Since 1995 (when it was founded), the label has amassed a who’s who catalog of underground hip-hop, from Aesop Rock and Brother Ali to Abstract Rude and MF Doom. “I stand behind all the projects,” Slug explains, “these guys are all my friends that I have genuine love for — people I trust to take care of my kids.”
Now, at 44 years of age and two-decades-deep, Atmosphere have released their eleventh studio album, Fishing Blues. We were lucky enough to sit down with Slug who told us about the album, where the name came from, and more. Check the interview below, and — if you haven’t already — grab the album today!
So, after 20+ years as an artist in the game, what keeps you going? What makes you keep doing it?
On one hand, I don’t really know how to do anything else. And when I say that — I mean I obviously know how to do other things — but the challenge of this and the puzzle solving involved in doing this, it calls to me, you know what I’m saying? At this point, like you said after 20 years, that itself has become a new puzzle. When I was 16, there was no such thing as a 44-year-old rapper. Now that I’m 44, this is new ground that me and some of my contemporaries are breaking. Obviously, on the mainstream side of things you have artists who are in their 40s who are doing this, but they kind of created empires for themselves so they could do this at a pace that fits whatever else they are doing in life or business. Whereas you got artists like me, who are doing this more at an independent level who haven’t created anything like that I could fall back on. So at the end of the day, to be able to do this still at 44 and push forward; that is the challenge, that is the puzzle, that is the part that motivates me and it is the part that I enjoy.
I guess that’s one angle; the other angle is that I enjoy communicating my thoughts, my ideas, and my opinions, you know what I’m saying? When I was younger, I just wanted to be an adult “MC.” Now, after 20 years, it’s way more than that. I appreciate that people will take a minute to check [my thoughts] on what it is that I’m dealing with. And with that, I feel, comes the responsibility of kind of covering it with my moral code and the life that I live by. At the end of the day, it’s all the same shit that had be inspired at the age of 20 but just an evolved version of those things, you know what I’m saying? The validation that comes with it, then there’s money… I like the money that comes with it, you know what I mean? There’s so many things that I can do with these resources. I’m able to take these resources to use them not to just reinforce my code but also to position friends of mine or artists that I care about to also reinforce their codes, you know what I mean?
Looking at the latest album, Fishing Blues, what does the title mean? What was the catalyst behind its creation process?
You know, the title was a joke. Originally, we had a different title for the record. We had completed the album and we were going out to take photos for what became the cover of the album and the photos on the inside. While we were out taking photos, we were at this lake in my city called Lake Nokomis there was a stack of canoes sitting next to the lake, and I was like “take a picture of those canoes and use it for B-roll.” On one of the canoes, there were some stickers that said ‘B.B. King Fishing Blues’; Ant and I were like “oh s*** that’s tight — that should be the name of the record.” We said it jokingly, and it took us about two minutes to realize that we weren’t joking. It couldn’t say B.B. King’s Fishing Blues because that might be a little too ‘meta’ for some people. You know, so we just cut it down to just the ‘Fishing Blues’ part, and it was after that that we realized there’s a hell of a lot of fishing references on this f***** record. It didn’t even really strike me; we had this one song called “Fishing” — that was the joint with Grouch — then we had like six or seven songs that had at least references to fishing in it. I hadn’t put it all together until we change the name. What is fishing if you break it down? Fishing is a metaphor for a lot of different s*** and truthfully all those metaphors apply to our life especially the concept of going out to catch food for your family or fishing for compliments. All artists do that for validation. And then just fishing as a leisure activity, I mean at my age making music with Anthony is a leisure activity; it just so happens to also provide the sustenance I need, you know what I mean?
It’s interesting because over 20 years your music has had some changes — but you’ve also had some life changes. You’ve grown, you’re married, and you have children.
Yeah, sure, just like all people, I mean, as you grow you change. I mean, I challenge anybody to be the same person at 40 that you were at 20 . We all grow and change, hopefully, and if you don’t, you’re f****** up.
With me as a parent, when I talk to my daughter about the things that I did in the past or my stories, whatever, I can always change things or control it. I mean, you’ve been doing it for 20
years, right? And you’re 40. Your twenties and thirties are immortalized online, how do you introduce that to your kid? Have you done that?
All of my children are familiar with my music. Obviously my younger ones are not breaking the music down, like taking apart the lyrics; they hear the chorus or pick out a certain line they like and thankfully, so far, they have been free of cursing. But the oldest one, Jacob, he’s 22 right now. He actually grew with me; as my career grew, he grew so he was neck-and-neck with it. And yes, I was never really shielding him from the life that I was living. He was very in tune with me and basically he saw me go through all this stuff that immortalized me. Technically, if I had never even immortalized that s*** on tracks, I was a young parent. I had a young kid that would have seen that stuff up close even if it wasn’t on tracks. He was still present for it, similar to me and my father. I was there for my dad’s ups and downs, and I watched my dad go through all the drama he went through, and it wasn’t so much – my dad didn’t make records about it; he just lived it. My kid watched me live it. As far as my younger children, they didn’t see me live that, they showed up after I had already lived it and I had time to figure it out. Hopefully, when they look back on it, on Daddy’s old records, they’ll be able to see how life works both the positives and the negatives. I’m not the kind of dude that’s going to try to hide anything from my life, you know, I would like to be around and available to explain it to them so there’s a reason for it so there’s not just this mad negativity or crazy parties without some consequences for decision making. A lot of kinds of music that we listen to is inconsequential, you know what I’m saying? We listen to this music and we don’t think about the consequences for the stories being told. The party was the party and we got “lit” and we had a good time then we went home the next day we did it again, you know. That’s cool, but a lot of it is missing the part where they explain to you the consequences of pulling a gun or the consequences of doing that cocaine. I want to be the father that deals with and talks about the effects of that s***.
At the end of the day what do you think makes your brand so strong?
Man, I don’t want to be a dick, but I would just say its timing, dude. I was at the right place at the right time and was fortunate, you know what I mean? And I met hella artists who can rap better than me. I do believe that it’s all circumstantial. I got put into this position by the Universe more so than by anything else than what I did. Here’s what I did: I stuck to my guns. I’m one of the artists that do what I do instead of necessarily fitting into any movement or any scene. That’s not saying that it will necessarily work for everyone – if I knew the answer to the question you are asking I would package it and I would sell it. Because there is no real answer – honestly — it’s just dumb luck. But, I try to stay away from the word luck, though. I try to use the word “fortunate” though, because I don’t believe in luck.