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[Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend

[Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend

There was plenty to be thankful this past weekend in the Twin Cities. The X Games came to town, the weather was amazing, even the birds were bumpin' and I was walking into the media tent to interview an artist whose influence on my self is seen and unseen from my tattoo to my writing. As a Minneapolis native, Sean “Slug” Daley has called this town home for many decades and has not only built a musical empire at Rhymesayers but a family of his own on the Southside. As I stood in the park next to US Bank Stadium awaiting the go ahead to meet one of my favorite musicians I felt a calm roll over me. Whether it was the enormity of the building around me, the energy spent covering the X games, or just a defense mechanism readying myself for the chance of a lifetime, the serene moment  was interrupted as I heard one question in a voice that was all too familiar.

“Are you fuckin' ready?”

For those that don't know him, Slug is Minneapolis born and raised but he has some hobbies that even I didn't know about.

UHH: We are here with one of the greatest to do it, but for those out there that don't know, can you introduce yourself?

Slug: Hi, my name is Sean, I am a professional cat groomer and I rap. I also co-own a record label called Rhymesayers and a [hip hop] festival called Soundset but most of my time is spent on my focus project, Atmosphere.

As I stated, he has built a lot, but maybe none more impressive that Soundset which is now the largest single day hip hop festival in North America, bringing in more than 30,000 people annually, but this past performance left many fans with one question and Sean had an answer before I could get the question out.

Since you mentioned it, we can jump right into this question. Soundset this past year you had said...

The last Soundset ever. It's a wrap.

Yeah, the question arises though cause you gave that wink and pistol after saying it.

Did I? I don't even wink, fam I haven't winked in 17 years. You just wanted to see a wink, you projected a wink onto me. But listen, when does this article come out.

It will be out Friday.

Perfect our announcement will come Wednesday so you won't be breaking any news. We are announcing the end of Soundset.

I asked the question that was on the minds of thousands at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds last May and am not sure I am any closer to an answer, although his antics were rather playful. That announcement was the only one of lasts as the next day Bob Burnquist, legendary in his own regard for vert and big air skateboarding announced his retirement from X Games competition. Although there were some lasts, it was mainly a weekend of firsts. Sean has spent the better part of four decades in the Twin Cities, but even he hadn't experienced an X Games in his city. But he has experienced Minnesota winter....

Do you think they put it indoors cause of the snow?

Yeah, like they pushed it off until July but still wanted to make sure.

Yeah yeah, like it's July, but it still might snow, let's put it inside.

[Yeah they don't want to fuck it up because] is a huge event for the Twin Cities, but what are you looking forward to the most?

I mean I'm glad the X Games came here, anything really to help us validate that fuckin stadium. Also, I think it's a really good look, because [a lot] of people I grew up with here have been involved with the skateboard culture specifically. [Having something like this for a nine year old to experience], being able to go to something like this and see people competing at this level in person and being able to see sort of behind the scenes of what's shown on T.V. [I think is kind of special]. .. [and I] am personally excited because anytime an event like this comes people start selling better weed. [he did his best Robert Dinero impression for the last sentence]

[Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend

Sean spent Friday with his oldest and his son's friend taking in the action packed events of the day. This was a scene that was seen all over the stadium. While I'm still fairly young, a number of children taking in the X Games were truly something to behold. The energy of the stadium was surreal as I walked out of the same tunnel as legendary athletes. The X Games aren't the only things making noise in the cities as a couple other events have Slug excited.

Yeah, it's been an incredible experience and with the Superbowl next year and the Final Four the year after.

Wait...the Final Four is coming here? I want to go to that.

Yeah, absolutely, I'm not even sure how they are gonna set that up in US Bank.

They should put two courts there side by side, and whichever game you pay for that's what side you sit on. And they should give me a little kick back for this idea. Like 'we were just gonna do some regular shit, but then we were browsing Upcoming Hip Hop fuckin saw this shit.

Speaking of big events, did you figure out who's dick you gotta suck to play the half time show next year?

Yeah, my own. They were like yeah, you're gonna have to learn how to and I was like fuck...I tried, but I still got a long way to go.

Man, I am hoping cause I been hearing rumors about Brittney Spears...

Nah, I don't think I gotta suck her dick.

The SuperBowl nod would be incredible for Slug and the state of hip hop in Minnesota, but as he stated he has a long way to go, ever trying to improve. While it's easy to get caught up in your favorite artists, to see their craft as perfection because we only see the finished product. Watching the athletes over the weekend it was a reminder that the best thing to do when you fall is getting back up, but one thing stuck out to me watching practice.

For athletes and competitors, a slump is very common even for the greats. The things that distinguish them is being able to pull themselves out. Whether it's seeing that basket drop just once, or a skateboarder trying the same trick til they land it, there is usually one thing that puts you back on course, what brings you out of writer's block?

Coffee.  As much coffee as possible. For real, it gets everything going. And then a solid bowel movement and ya know, everything gets unblocked you know what I'm saying. I am a stimulant kinda guy but I've been afraid to try other stimulants so I stick to coffee.

We should all be thankful for the coffee industry, even though I quit drinking caffeine years ago, for keeping Slug's mind and body unblocked. What him and Ant have been able to accomplish as artists not just in terms of record success but in the way they have shaped fans lives. Music has this effect on people of all ages and backgrounds, it has the ability to connect the masses. This can be done on purpose or subconsciously, and Slug explained why for him, it was the latter.

[Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend

Hip hop and Music, in general, has always been a universal connector because anyone can understand a beat, do you feel that you wrote your music to unite people or was your worldwide fandom just a byproduct of your passion?

I would say a byproduct. You know, when I make music, even to this day when I make music, I would rather not leave my house ever again. I would rather sit in my house and write songs for the rest of my life and never leave my yard. But, then they say you are gonna have to get a job if you don't go out on the road and perform this music, so this is my job. So as long as I can hold this job I will, but the touring is not the reason the music exists as far as I'm concerned. A few centuries ago if you sang a song you'd be lucky to get a bowl of soup and a piece of bread, the music industry was created to commodify and sell the shit, so I feel more akin to the art of storytelling more than the music industry. I have been fortunate enough to carve out a niche for myself to work so I don't have to work for some old mad white guy, but that's just a job. [I prefer] the actual writing and recording, I call it problem solving, the puzzle solving of a song is where my heart is.

One more time “the puzzle solving of a song is where my heart is”, those words had my stunned. For a guy that continually puts out lyrics that end up speaking loudly to his fans, this simple sentence was my favorite of the interview because it was the most real. Hip hop has grown and expanded from the story being told over a boom bap sound into a billion dollar industry and I can appreciate both sides of the coin. While every artist has a story, it seems more and more in the mainstream is losing the personal connection to their music that artists like Slug have made a life of. This argument goes on daily and will probably continue with old head battling young kids over what is the real hip hop, but hip hop is a wide umbrella and there is room enough for every style.

In skateboarding now, it seems like it's becoming more difficult create a trick. Not to take away from guys like Rodney Mullen but to stand out as a new trick sometimes skaters have to dig into the extremes. I feel this particularly with this new wave of entertainment hip hop. Do you think these new artists are just trying to create something new by going to extremes or are they just in it for the money?

In my opinion, if you are talking about purely sound aesthetic or musical aesthetic [then if the music] makes me dance, or it provokes thought, or it scares old people then you are doing it right and your not going to reinvent those things. When you talk about these young artists, I don't think it's their job to reinvent why this is important. I think it's great that they are finding new ways to express within that. And when you talk about the artist you named, all of them fit the bill of why this music is important especially for youth culture and all of them are younger so they are more relevant to youth culture than any of us old dudes are gonna be you know what I'm saying? And so, in my opinion, they are still carrying on the tradition that I was trying to carry on when guys like KRS-One were doing it. It still to me fits into those categories. You either provoke thought and make people emote, make them want to dance or scare the fuck outta their parents.

This is an important part of hip hop for me. As someone who's playlist goes from Aesop Rock to A$AP Rocky from Blueprint to Danny Brown to Future, the most important thing to me when I hear a track is that it creates an emotion in me. Whether it's hip hop, indie, folk or metal, if the beat builds something in me I consider it a success. So to hear one of my favorite rappers repeat this sentiment is something I won't soon forget. While hip hop is a constant evolution, the core values Slug mentions remain the same, so what exactly is changing?

Now, if we [are gonna] talk showmanship and show, then yes there is definitely a pressure on people to outdo what was done last year. You are gonna see more and more of that in stage shows. Travis $cott was just here for Sound Set and had this amazing elaborate stage show and it's like his music is already good and then he presents it like this. I look at it like this man, most of us have ten fingers and ten toes, so that's at least twenty shows where you can go and cut off one of your fingers [and toes] and freak out the audience.

This topic will always be debated, from Elvis to the Beatles to artist like Lil Yatchy, there will always be those that don't understand and those that hate. Not to put these people in the same category but the backlash they see is similar. Slug explained how it felt when his parents said they hated Public Enemy and when the old heads of his time called hip hop a fad and more how great it feels now to prove them wrong. The most conscious aspect of this debate was when he mentioned that he will make sure to tell his kids he hates their music “just to make sure they fuckin push.” While he wants that mentality to stick up for what you love, he also doesn't want to squash that love and make them feel like it isn't worth fighting for. At the end of the day, that's why we listen to the music we do, whether it's to rebel, to love, to console or to have fun, we all find our own way a little bit with every song. As fans, we don't always know what energy the artist is putting out there, and sometimes it's enough just to make our own energy from theirs, but being blessed with these opportunities I always want to give back.

Now that I am given these opportunities to sit down with the artists I love I reached out to the fans to connect them. The Rhymesayers Entertainment Fan Page is always full of questions on the hip hop world and one in particular that stood out to me. Keith Mitchel wanted to ask, “Do you think, given the connections and opportunities you have now, would you do anything different with your earlier works like Overcast?”

That's not really a fair question because it's like asking what do you make now compared to then. I would not change anything about Overcast. Ever. Because to me that [album] sounds like what it felt like to be in Ant's basement in the winter. Period. Now, it doesn't feel that way anymore because we've grown and we're older and have different lifestyles. So now, it feels like what it feels like to be in Anthony's basement [today.] And if you told me to sit down and make a record now I could never make something like Overcast today because of its trash. [Not because] of the way it sounds but because you can't make the same record over and over. Like if you have these legos and you keep building the same thing, what good is that. [If you look at that in the world of rap] if I was rapping about selling crack in '94 and still rapping about selling crack in 2017 that would be fuckin pathetic. I mean at this point 25 years later you would at least think I'd be the boss.

Change, evolution, and experience are things that everyone deals with differently. As we closed out the interview in the park across from US Bank Stadium Slug's words hit home. Stagnant life is difficult to watch while you're enjoying the movement. Sitting down with one of the most influential artists to in the underground was memorable, but for me, it wasn't the experience as much as the lessons learned. One thing that always keeps me coming back to Slug is his ability to take experiences and turn them into art. He grows, he expands and his music progresses with him. This was my biggest take away from this interview, as I look back even just a year at my own work. Over the course of the weekend I was able to gain one more of these experiences that Sean talked about, one that will make me grow and expand and for that I would like to just give one last thank you to Sean “Slug” Daley and the Rhymesayers Entertainment Crew for sitting down with myself and Upcoming Hip Hop for an unforgettable time.

[Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend [Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend [Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend [Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend [Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend [Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend [Interview] Slug of Atmosphere: Future of Soundset, X Games, and the Growth of a Legend

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