Photo by Dan Monick
Nearly three years after the arrival of their last album, Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere recently released Southsiders, a tribute to their hometown.
The wait might have seemed long this time around, but “it was necessary to weed stuff out,” says one-half of the duo Sean Daley, aka Slug, speaking with Variance.
While many acts, especially those this far into their career, might be anxious to release their next full-length, that’s not exactly true for Daley and his partner in crime, DJ-producer Anthony Davis (aka Ant).
"You reach a point where you’ve become desensitized to the bells and whistles of putting out a new project. I don’t care anymore about Googling the reviews or running ads for the album. At this point, I’m like, ‘OK, it’s out. Now we can play some shows and meet some people and gain some new experiences.’ That’s the shit I really care about.”
With a catalog that stretches more than 20 years, Daley says now the goal has become "learning to be faster, stronger, better. It’s that working-class work ethic shit that was instilled in me by my parents, you can’t ever be satisfied. It’s probably why I still get to do this for a living, because I’ve finally gotten past that wannabe-rockstar state and into the want-to-do-the-best-job level.”
Although many of Daley’s colleagues might have you believe otherwise, he says, “None of us who get up on stage are the most important part of the equation. We’re the most interchangeable piece."
Of course, that notion runs contrary to a lot of current rap ideals—at least the mainstream kind, with many of the most familiar MCs all seemingly competing for King of New York or of hip-hop altogether. And while some of the lyricism and antics seem rather menial to listeners, according to Daley, fans need to look deeper.
"And not just hip-hop, he keeps music on its toes. Without people like Kanye West pushing the limits in their sphere of influence, we all suffer.”
“They have to remember this stems from a culture of making something out of nothing,” Daley explains. "So when you have these self-made men and women, the fans might hear materialism or a little bit of bragging. But it’s not really about loving yourself or showing off what you have or who you have, it’s about covering the insecurities. It’s about, ‘Hey, I didn’t have shit. I came from nothing. And now that I’m here, this is my way of covering up some of my weaknesses.’ They're still there but now we can flaunt like the insecurities don’t matter. And that speaks to a lot of people. That’s why rap connects with so many people. Because you might hear 'gold chains and women,' but underneath, they’re coming from a place of weakness, from the streets, from poverty, from failure. So when they go, ‘Look at me now,’ fans latch on to that.”
One such example Daley points out is Chief Keef. "He’s one of the most polarizing artists right now, especially in hip-hop. For the most part, you either love what he does or hate it,” says Daley. "And it’s mostly not personal. It’s just that most of those who don’t love it can’t relate. But you’ve got to see things from his view. This kid came from a place of not having shit. And now he’s got a ton of shit, so he’s trying to pull himself out of that past life. But if you’ve never been given the tools to help yourself, then here you are trying to figure it out on your own.”
Another “polarizing” artist happens to be the subject of an entire song on Southsiders. “Kanye West,” a song that is actually about Daley’s journey to marriage and the roadblocks he and his wife overcame to be together, has become one of the set’s most talked about tracks.
"I felt like Kanye West as a person is a perfect example of someone who’s not afraid to show his passion, for better or for worse,” says Daley. "He’s not afraid to say or do what he feels at any given moment. Regardless of how the media or his fans might judge him, he still speaks out. He still reacts like a real human. And that's in a world of pop stars who are afraid to fucking step on each other’s toes—even in rap. It used to be more aggressive and assertive, it used to challenge itself as a sect of music. Nowadays, most of the guys don’t want to say bad things about each other. So to me, Kanye represents the rebellious, the passionate, the real. And not just hip-hop, he keeps music on its toes. Without people like Kanye West pushing the limits in their sphere of influence, we all suffer.”
Atmosphere hits the road in August for their North American tour. See the dates on their website.
Watch the duo perform "Kanye West" below on Conan.