The Man With the Tattooed Past
Atmosphere’s Slug on life after death
By Sam Adams
Minneapolis rapper Slug (aka Sean Daley) has been at the forefront of underground rap so long it's hard for hip-hop heads to remember when Atmosphere wasn't a household name. Backed by DJ and producer Ant, Slug created a revolution of emotionally raw lyricism wherein his unbridled ego—and the defense mechanisms and underpinnings that created it—were ever-present. More than 20 years down the road, his discography is as much the soundtrack of a generation and subculture as it is a catalogue of desperate but defiant barstool poetry.
And it's no shocker that his music bleeds so freely. Slug's past is a chaotic battleground of hard loving, dependency and death. His imagined muse "Lucy Ford" was symbolic of those things but, like Slug, too temperamental to be held back by any of them.
In advance of a show at the Albuquerque Convention Center, Slug spoke with the Alibi about shedding Lucy, the death of his good friend and label mate Eyedea (aka Micheal Larsen) last year, and yet another death—in Albuquerque, eight years ago. Unsurprisingly, he says he's lived three separate lives over that time span.
You haven’t mentioned Lucy Ford in a while.
I haven't mentioned Lucy since the God Loves Ugly record. It's funny. That record—we recorded it in ’01 and released it in ’02—and her name hasn't been mentioned since. But, I'm still that guy.
How are you still that guy?
Because the audience doesn't put a timeline on it. They don't time stamp it. You know, there's a kid out there who just got a burned copy of God Loves Ugly last week. And so, to him, "Fuck You Lucy" is still a new song.
But are you still that guy in your own mind? Have you purged yourself of that muse at all?
I got rid of it. The reason I even wrote that "Fuck You Lucy" song was my way of saying, Fuck this shit: Fuck this Lucy shit, I'm over it. And I've been gone since. I haven't really looked back. Shit, I've been three different people since then. I've lived three different lives since the Lucy stuff.
What were those lives?
I was, I guess I would say, somewhat of a party-predator, for a few years. After that I went into this remission where I got kind of sick, and so I rebelled against the party. And now I'm a family guy.
A teenager was raped and killed at a show you played in Albuquerque in 2003. How does that memory live with you these days?
Now it kind of stays alive just within me and my connection and relationship with children—kids that come to the shows; my own kids and their friends. I've always kind of been a parental person because I grew up in a single-parent household with two younger brothers, and it was kind of my job to help take care of them. So I've always been this kind of cautionary, Hey, don't jump on the couch, Hey, be careful, kind of guy. I think that when that occurred, the initial hit was tragic and big, but in the aftereffects, it made me a lot more conscious. It me made more aware of just not my surroundings—because I've always been aware of my surroundings—but just aware of everybody's surroundings.
Did that awareness play into the way you present yourself and your music?
Yeah, I was talking about living a few different lives there, and after the Lucy saga, I kind of went into this tour mode—party guy, drunk, rock and roll, whatever, man. And when that happened at the Sunshine, it was kind of a wake-up call. [Pauses.] To a lot of shit. It made me want to be more responsible with my time, my presentation, to not be—you know, I was sick, man. I use the word "sick" loosely, but essentially I was a functional alcoholic. And I guess that just kind of made me put a lot of stuff into perspective. In the sense of, This is what I get to do for a living, and I'm lucky and blessed to be able to go out here and do this. And when a situation like this occurred, it kind of makes you realize that you can't take all this shit for granted.
How does it feel to come back to Albuquerque?
Oh, it feels good. I think that my connection with the audience there became stronger after that event. And it's funny because many times, that's how we as humans respond and react to that kind of situation. We're forced to find the good in it. We're forced to adapt. We're forced to just keep moving. We're an adaptive species.
What was your relationship with Eyedea like?
He was 10 years my junior. When we first started traveling it only took about a month for me to forget that he was that much younger than me. He was definitely advanced as far as kids went. He was 16 when he started traveling with me. You would never really have known that until we drove past farm animals and he was like, Oh look, cows! ... But the types of dialogues that he would engage himself in, and just the types of things that he thought about and how well-rounded of a thinker he was, was inspiring to me. And it still is, and will always be. I aspire to be as well-rounded of a thinker and as understanding and comprehending as he was with people. He had a little gift when it came to being able to empathize with people and understand people.
Strange Famous Records
I'm a cynical fucker, so sometimes it's hard for me to empathize with people who are acting like fucking jerk-offs. But he would be able to look past the fact that they're acting like a jerk-off and still see the human in them, and see that even that jerk-off shit was just the complexity of part of being human.
You collaborated with him on "Forget Me"—a song that forecasts his death. How do songs like that speak to you now?
I've gone back and revisited a lot of stuff since his passing, and it amazes me ... things that I now interpret as self-fulfilled prophecies. It was almost like he knew he was going to die young, and in some ways he knew that he was going to die the way that he was going to die. It's a weird thing, man. I don't know how much I want to say about all that because I don't wanna fuck my head up ... But it's kind of a trip how much of his art was based around the fact that he was going to die.
How much longer do you plan on making a career of rapping?
Oh, I have no idea. I don't have a plan. It's just a matter of however long you let me do it.
However long who lets you do it?
Who's your boss?
Could see yourself doing this when you're 50 or 60?
Possibly. If I still have something relevant to say to a 16-year-old, sure.
with Evidence, Blueprint, DJ Babu and Prof
Sunday, Aug. 28, 8 p.m.
Albuquerque Convention Center
401 Second Street NW
Tickets: $32 in advance, all-ages
Slug’s insights on Eyedea, songs he won’t play live and lyrics about domestic violence at alibi.com
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