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John Lamb, Published September 03 2012

Rapper, singer, family man: Atmosphere frontman reflects on family, lost friends and rapping at 40

MINNEAPOLIS - Hip-hop group Atmosphere kicks off its new tour in a big way. Their hometown show Friday at the Cabooze in Minneapolis doubles as singer Slug’s 40th birthday.

Fargo-Moorhead fans can wish the singer (born Sean Daley) a happy birthday in person when the group returns Saturday to The Venue at The Hub.

And fans will want to catch the group Slug and his DJ partner Ant while they can.

“It’s definitely a young person’s game,” Slug says. “Nobody knows if I’ll get to do this 10 years from now. That really depends on the audience.”

As he nears 40, Slug is still in his rhyming prime but acknowledges that things are changing for him and the way he sees and reacts to things. Those viewpoints started playing out on Atmosphere’s last CD, “The Family Sign,” released last year.

Many reviews focused on Slug, now a father, looking into family life. Some reviewers have praised his maturity in topics and approach, but the singer/writer doesn’t see it that way.

“I haven’t been able to watch myself grow because I see it every day,” he said last week from south Minneapolis. “Whereas the listener who might get a glimpse every one or two years when I release a record or come to their town, maybe they can see the growth. I’m staring at it every day.”

“When I look at the record ‘The Family Sign,’ what I see mostly is a record about community,” he says. “I feel that this is a record that speaks to how I feel about what surrounds me.”

In addition to his immediate family, the artist has formed strong bonds with not only Ant, his DJ and producer for the past 15-plus years, but also his other brothers in beats around the Minneapolis label Rhymesayers.

In the past few years, Atmosphere has grown to include keyboardist Erick Anderson and guitarist Nate Collis.

This tour includes fellow Minne-rappers I Self Devine and Carnage.

“It’s kind of a family thing,” Slug says. “We tend to tour with friends, but this time we’re lucky enough to tour with friends from our neighborhood.”

The Rhymesayers family lost one of its own nearly two years ago when rising star Eyedea (Michael Larsen) died at 28 of an accidental drug overdose.

Eyedea had collaborated with Slug and many other artists in the Twin Cities.

“I still feel like it may be too soon to gauge what kind of effect it has on me, much less my community,” Slug said. “But it made me really turn up my judgmentalism up to 10 and look at everybody in my life, all of my friends, and started going, ‘I’m no longer going to let you people slide and get a pass because I care about you. In fact, because I care about you, I’m going to start confronting everything and everybody.’ ”

Clearly worked up, Slug pauses and apologizes for cursing.

“My parentalness is coming out stronger than it ever has. It’s really coming out boldly with my friends and my audience especially.”

The audience part has been hitting home for him. As he ages, he notices a bulk of the crowd he’s singing to are young enough to be his children.

“I’m turning 40, and I look in the crowd and see a bunch of 17 year-olds, and it makes me wonder, ‘What is it that they’re connecting to?’ Because I know I’m not rapping like a 17-year-old would rap, because I know I’m speaking about things that are relevant to me and my world,” he explains. “I’m not complaining by any means, I would just like to understand why these kids are relating to something an old man is saying.”

But when he sees his contemporaries in the crowd, he sings a slightly different tune.

“As long as there’s an audience in their 50s, then I believe there are rappers in their 50s who can make music,” he says when asked if he’ll be rapping in 10 years.

But what he’s rapping about will continue to change. He says it’s frustrating to hear some hip-hop artists cover the same ground for 20 years.

“I don’t want to play an old game,” Slug says. “I played Monopoly a lot as a kid. There’s no reason for me to go back and revisit that game. I want to start making rules to a new game.”

If you go

What: Atmosphere

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Venue at The Hub, 2525 9th Ave. S., Fargo

Info: Tickets for this all-ages show are $21.50 in advance, $23.50 the day of the show. (866) 300-8300

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533