“I look at the Republicans basically the same way I would look at a really horrible rapper.”
One of the biggest names in indie rap for the better part of a decade, Minneapolis duo Atmosphere have just released their latest album, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (Rhymesayers Entertainment). Comprising beat maker Ant (Anthony Davis) and rapper Slug (Sean Daley), Atmosphere have on their latest moved away from samples and diary-style stories and toward live instrumentation and imagined portraits of locals. The CD also offers beatboxing from Tom Waits, and it comes with a hardcover book that includes a children’s story. Slug spoke with me from his new house in a quiet Minneapolis neighborhood he prefers not to name for fear of being found.
What’s your new ’hood like?
It’s a very standard working-class South Minneapolis neighborhood. I just had to move somewhere where I couldn’t walk to a bar. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to drive to a bar, because I’m scared shitless of drinking and driving. It’s kind of good to have to take a cab if I want to go drinking. Is it really worth the 60 bucks that I’m going to have to pay, back and forth, for the cab ride? No it’s not. I’m going to sit at home and smoke pot.
It’s you and your son in the house?
Actually, my son does not live with me, he lives with his mother. Me and my girlfriend in the house.
How did you imagine the characters on your album, which include a homeless guy, someone dating a junkie, and a struggling mother?
I would sit at a bus stop drinking my morning coffee. At first it was just because I wanted to walk around my neighborhood and get to know it a little better. But after a while I found out that how I was steering my new stories was through strangers. And I could have done that anywhere, but of course I didn’t. I used to sit at the bar and make my stories with strangers and then write about ’em. Whereas now these problems I’m writing about are not really my problems.
How did you hook up with Tom Waits?
His son started coming to our shows as a kid. We got along really well. Plus, he looks just like his dad, and it kind of spooked me out. So we became friends, and then, a few years later, I was finally like, “Hey man, have we been friends long enough where I can ask you if you’ll ask your dad to hook up for a track?” And he was like, “Yeah, totally.” But Tom didn’t sing, he beatboxed on it, which was just as good. In fact, it was even better. Because, rather than doing what I expected of him, he totally threw a left turn. And I can’t wait to pay back the favor. When he sends me a song, rather than rap, I’ll play the didgeridoo on it.