Something in the Atmosphere

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ip-hop’s indie faction tends to be adamantly aesthetic, meaning that it often runs away from — or defines itself against — pop success. So what can it mean that its most talented rapper is also its resident pin-up? Despite the name of his group’s new album, God Loves Ugly (Rhymesayers Entertainment), Slug from Atmosphere — born Sean Daley twenty-nine years ago — is anything but. Over the moody beats of stay-at-home producer Ant, Slug blends traditional hip-hop boasts with a deadpan (and distinctly Midwestern) sense of humor: “I wanna be bigger than Jesus/Bigger than wrestling,” as he puts it in “Guns and Cigarettes,” from 2001’s brilliant Lucy Ford. “Bigger than the Beatles/And bigger than breast implants.”

What Slug’s fans love most, though, are his imagistic, soul-baring confessionals: “I wanna find these here so-called treasures/The pleasures, the trinkets, the never-ending weekends,” he raps about his lover in the 1999 song “The Abusing of the Rib.” No coincidence, then, that he’s been dubbed an “emo rapper,” or that his audiences consist of as many women as men, an extreme rarity in mainstream hip-hop, much less the underground. Slug followed God Loves Ugly‘s summer release with October’s Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci (Access Hip Hop), a collaboration with Murs from the Oakland/Los Angeles crew Living Legends. Nerve caught up with Slug by phone shortly after he reached Louisville, Kentucky, in the middle of a nine-week tour. — Michaelangelo Matos

How is the tour going? You’ve played Louisville before, right?
Yeah. Once when we were in Louisville, I got offstage after a show and made out with two girls at once. I didn’t even leave the stage — I just leaned down. It was in the middle of one of our songs. I don’t remember which song — I’m sure I was probably pretty drunk.

Right now, we’re watching The Who’s Tommy. I’d seen it once before when I was a kid, on acid; I’d never watched it as an adult. This time, I’m sober. I like being able to make rational decisions at the drop of a hat, like leaning offstage and making out with two girls. I hope they show up again tonight.


You play New York a lot. Have you ever considered moving here?
Nah. I have a son in Minneapolis. My whole family is in Minnesota. It’s also nice to be a big fish in a small pond, as opposed to moving to New York and being a guppy. Besides, more than five days in New York would make me cranky. There’s too many kinds of energy going on all at once for me to handle. So, are you gonna ask me some sex questions?

Sure. Where and when did you lose your virginity?
In the laundry room of the basement of my mother’s house. I was fourteen years old, and it was a menage a trois — two guys and a girl. We were all really good friends, grew up together. But it turned out to be a really negative experience for everybody. The girl was kind of a tomboy — she’d play basketball with us. She’d started her experimental phase earlier, so she had some experience, and she asked us, “Hey, do you wanna do it?” We were like, “Sure!” My best friend and I both said we’d had experience, but I doubt that either of us had done it before. I probably came in about twelve seconds. When it was done, it was kind of weird, and we just said, “See you later,” and everybody went home. My buddy took it upon himself to go to high school and tell everybody about it. And her brother went to school with him, so naturally he found out really quickly and told the girl’s mom, who fuckin’ flipped her wig. She tried to get us in trouble — went to the police, the school board, everything. For me, it was mostly a lot of free drama. That mostly taught me that sex equals drama. So don’t ever fuck me, because if you do, you’re gonna hate me afterwards.

What’s the last piece of porn you bought?
Café Flesh II on DVD. It’s pretty weird. Café Flesh is this restaurant where you sit down and eat and drink and watch people having live sex. They try to set up these surreal situations and weird costumes; there’s usually some outrageous role-playing type shit. I didn’t buy it because I’m into fetishes. My best friend gave it to me for my birthday.

What should no man ever say to a woman?
“I think your roommate wants to have sex with me,” or “Does your mom think I’m hot?”

Who do you currently have a crush on?
In real life or, like, a celebrity?

One of each.
Janda . . . leave the last name off. As far as a celebrity, I still have a crush on Drew Barrymore. Gertie!

You have a crush on her as a kid?
No, as an adult. Back then, I didn’t want her — I wanted to fuck E.T. He didn’t even have legs, know what I mean? He just had those long, clammy fingers. That turned me on, you know?

Considering the subtitle of your new EP, I’m surprised you didn’t say Christina Ricci.
When Murs and I were making that record, we thought the plausibility of getting to meet her was pretty good. That was before — we didn’t know she was gonna hit Ally McBeal and get famous again. Murs and I both had crushes on her. We were talking about her, and we thought, “What if we made this record, and she found out about it?” That’s why we didn’t include any songs about her on it. It wasn’t supposed to be creepy, just, “We love you, we wanna touch you,” or whatever.

You rap so much about stealing people’s girlfriends that I have to ask: how many times have you actually done it?
I don’t really take them. I just borrow ’em. I’m a nice guy — I always give ’em back.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever performed?
The Jesse Ventura inauguration party. We played at Target Center in a hallway, not on the stage. People stared at us like we were naked. But we got a bunch of money to perform, and it was so awkward that it ended up being kind of fun. We just tried to remember not to swear in the freestyles. It was all old people and a bunch of young kids who’d been forced to come down from northern Minnesota with their parents for the inauguration.

What is the most unforgivable lyric ever written?
Anything that talks about having sex with children or dead people. Actually, inside of LL Cool J’s “I Need Love,” there’s a line that goes, “I love you more than a man who’s ten feet tall.” I mean, does he mean that he would love you more than a ten-foot-tall man could, or does he mean he could love you as much as he loves a man who’s ten feet tall? That’s pretty unforgivable. In fact, it’s pretty unacceptable.

What is your favorite rumor about yourself?
They’re all fucking stupid. I guess the most recent one. There was a girl in New York who told me about a guy she met who knew me. He said I was a lot cooler when I did speed — I wrote better lyrics, and I was a nicer guy, back when I was in Cincinnati. I’ve never lived in Cincinnati and I’ve never done speed. A lot of girls tell me that they met a guy who knows me. I want to meet all these guys. Maybe they can tell me things I don’t know about myself.

If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Four of them. And a big glass of milk.

Finally, what is the correct answer to the question, “What do you think of my record?”
It depends. If it’s a good record, I’ll be honest, and if it’s a bad record, I’ll be honest. Usually, what I say is, “I thought the artwork was cool, but the beats all suck.”  

© 2002 by Michaelangelo Matos and Nerve.com.

Michaelangelo Matos writes about music and culture for Spin, Village Voice, Time Out New York, Chicago Reader, City Pages and many other publications. He lives in New York City and maintains two weblogs: You Can’t Wear Nail Polish to a Surgery and The Mix Project. And yes, that really is his name.