One of my favorite scenes in the new Austin Powers movie, Goldfinger, was his parody of a hip hop video, complete with the bling bling bought on eBay, flippin’ hundreds, hangin’ in a fancy car with his booty bitches and Cristal. I think I was laughing louder than anyone in the theater because I hate those cliché videos with a passion. There’s so much more to hip hop music that what the masses see, hear, and buy. So much more than the O.G.’d medallions and FUBU jerseys, and the men of Atmosphere are shining examples of compelling songwriting as heard on their new release, God Loves Ugly, filled with deep beats and bass that pull at your hip strings and raw lyrics of life and love that pull on your heart strings.
On Sunday, the Atmosphere crew strolls into town not in a Bentley, but in a tried “Keepin’ it Rural” tour van – the latest name for the tour that Slug, the front man with the rhymes and the rhythms, came up with on the fly as we spoke during their drive through the mid west’s flatland. They started with “All of Our Girlfriends Are Going to Leave Us and It’s All Your Fault Tour,” but as Slug explained, “We have about twelve working titles for the tour. On the way to ever show we come up with a new one,” then calls to the back of the van to be reminded of what they came up with recently, “We Blew Your Ass.”
I’m getting the scoop at the beginning of their tour, “Last night was much better the first night. The first show we were just getting our grinds back. So by the time we make it Denver we’re going to be pretty tight,” he says. Sunday the 15th they’ll be at the Ogden in Denver, and at the Aggie Theater on Monday the 16th, performing with Colorado’s Dialektix. This rural bound van has DeeJay Bird at the wheel, and according to Slug is, “the brains behind the operation,” in addition to Mr. Dibbs, Blueprint, Murs from Living Legends, Brother Ali with BK One.
The other half of the songwriting team, ANT, creates the sound behind Slugs words, “It’s a pretty hardcore collaboration. I don’t specify what I want from him and he doesn’t specify what he wants from me lyrically. I just show up with what I got and we sit down with two skeletons, then push them together to see if we can make something out if it.” Making music together since 1997, the duo from Minnesota have three prior releases including Overcast, Lucy Ford, and Se7en, in addition to tracks on a number of Headshots tapes and the Sad Clown Bad Dub series 1-3. Yet another refreshing discovery was Slug’s humble, almost self-deprecating facet of his personality, “We make a lot of stuff that never gets turned ’cause it sucks. The ones where the moods actually do connect…we usually know when we’re on to something.” The relationship began in 1995 (he was a bit foggy on the year since he claims to use the number of Budweisers he drank as his way to track time, so it may have been 1994) through Slug’s introduction to ANT by a green bud businessman who, “was a rapper too. So me and him became friends. One day he told me he was going to ANT’s house to mix his beats and we wrote a song together. Then ANT and I clicked as well so I started working with him.”
If you listen to his lyrics or ever get a chance to chat with him, you’ll soon realize that Slug will be first to the punch in terms of dissing himself. But he’s still got the suave and de-boner moves of a ladies man, perferring to take interviews with women versus men, and serenading me with a bit of “Guantanamera”. So why this gender preference? “Because I’m in a van with seven guys. All these phone calls are going to come while I’m driving, so I thought I would try to take advantage and be able to at least talk to girls on the phone,” Slug explains. This hasn’t always worked out though. A guy has slipped through the crack in his plan, “One guy did call the other day, so I told him he had to raise his voice a couple octaves. He was down. He was role playing so it was fun.” In the tradition of Def Leppard, they even put JayBird in charge of the solid gold female search, “he hooks up the girls for after the show.”
Those other five guys that share the stage and van with Slug each have their own musical careers. Starting with Mr. Dibbs, the turntable conductor known to throw skate punk kids into a frenzy while garnering recognition from other DJ luminaries, including DJ Craze who used his track, Unearthed Volumes 1-3 to win 3 consecutive DMC World Championships and by Mixmaster Mike of the Beastie Boys’ who included the same track on the vinyl recording of 3 Emcees. Blueprint gave up a lucrative career as computer analyst to provide back up vocals for Atmosphere on this tour (a very good move, IMHO). While he’s not getting harassed in the van, he performs as the other half of Soul Position and runs his own record label, Weightless Recordings based in Ohio. Brother Ali is a Rhymesayers Entertainment label mate and collaborator with Atmosphere, previously releasing Rites of Passage, and has plans for Shadows on the Sun to come out this month, which is produced by ANT and features Slug on vocals. Last but not least is Murs, who is also part of the Living Legends west coast team, putting out a solo E.P. last week entitled, Varsity Blues: for colored boys who’ve considered suicide when Hennessy and Chronic ain’t enough, along with a new project with Slug from Atmosphere called, Felt that was released this week.
Although he’s stoked to have sold 30,000 copies of God Loves Ugly since it’s release, Slug seems uncomfortable with media attention, “It’s kinda weird. It adds to the neurosis of everything. It just seems that the more that stuff happens, there’s more that’s expected of you. It just adds to the pressure.” The success of the album is no surprise to fans of his previous work or those discovering him for the first time. Filled with clear and concise thought and feeling, Slug takes the pain, emotion, and passion of every day life, crafting lyrical harmony that’s sewn intricately into ANT’s fabric of soulful rhythms and jam gyrations.
As much as his sense of humor and self-analysis takes center stage within his personality, Slug takes a hard look at people, places, and things that impact him positively and negatively, making his opinions known in a blunt fashion. This is evident on every track, including “Bass and Movement,” he throws down, “Give the kid a nipple ’cause he sucks. Take the microphone from his fist, he doesn’t know how to clutch…get your pride hurt when I tug on your skirt, shut the fuck up, professionals are trying to work.” On “Lovelife,” he reflects on his own mortality, being thankful for those in his life and his ability to make an impact on the world around him, “Lovelife, it’s quite a cliché, but I guess that’s me. A ball of pop culture with arms and feet…and when I let them carry me to a cemetery, I want to be buried with a pocket full of clarity…love life to the death and keep planting my seed.” With Valium injected drum and bass beats and Indian sitar as a backdrop on “Flesh,” he versus on the city where he lives and those cloaked in a disguise to serve and protect, “The world is a vampire. She eats her kids…it’s difficult to figure out who to fear…will the hunger disappear, metabolism’s slow. World domination is the goal.”
For Atmosphere, the title for God Loves Ugly came about because, “it made sense. It kinda describes what we got going on right now. It describes the reason why we’ve been able to start…apparently God must love ugly because we suck, we’re not that talented. There’s no reason for this. We’re gonna ride it until the wheels fall off.” Those 30,000 people who bought the CD would highly disagree with Slug’s reasoning, and so would I.
See the “Keepin’ It Rural” tour at the Ogden on Sunday, September 15 and the Aggie on Monday, where he’ll be at the bar if he’s not on the stage – no Cristal, no bling, bling, just himself and his van mates hangin’ out, drinking a Bud. Just don’t start on the Wuz Up jokes. Please.