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The music industry apparently loves ugly, too. After the positive response to Lucy Ford, Slug and Ant fielded many offers from big labels before eventually signing with Fat Beats, one of the major players in the underground. The bi-coastal labels puts out the records while behemoth BMG takes care of distribution. The relationship allows Slug and Ant full artistic control, though Slug admits, "This is the first time that we ever put out a record where somebody actually paid attention to sales." So far, reaction to the new record has been positive, and the bean counters at BMG haven't complained.
Slug's affiliation with Fat Beats/BMG has also upped the profile of Rhymesayers, the name of his label and also of the affiliated multi-racial crew of Minneapolis rappers and DJs who take turns filling out Atmosphere's sound. The Rhymesayers' Eyedea (the 2000 Blaze Battles Face-Off World Champion) and Brother Ali are among those who've intermittently shown up on Atmosphere albums, Overcast! and 2000's Sad Clown Bad Dub II.
Despite the guest stars who sometimes fall under the Atmosphere umbrella, it's ultimately Slug's show in both a performance and political sense. As much as any rapper this side of Eminem, he's helped to bridge the often unspoken racial divide that exists in hip-hop. Born into a biracial family -- his mother is white, and his father is black and Native American -- Slug says he's also had to deal with the way audiences project racial expectations on to him. He made that clear during an Atmosphere show in Boulder last fall, when he stopped in the middle of his set and warned the audience not to brand him as "your great white hope."
"I wasn't trying to be condescending or as much of a dick as it might have come off," he says. "I guess the point was, 'I hope you guys are not here just because I'm the white guy you can relate to. I hope you're here for the same fucking reason I'm here, because I really enjoy the vibe of these type of events.'"
Since his initial involvement with hip-hop culture, Slug has witnessed the changing demographics of rap audiences firsthand. As he's established his own identity, he's also watched hip-hop go through its own transformations.
"When I first got into rap, it was almost a novelty for my friends, because there was a guy at the fucking parties that wasn't black, and so there was a whole identity thing through that. I basically established my identity, my corner of the world through hip-hop," he says. "But when hip-hop got super accessible and college music jumped all over it with De La Soul and Public Enemy, it became acceptable, and more non-black people started going to shows. I no longer had to confront the identity side of it.
"But now it's starting all over again, because now the shows are all white," he continues. "If you see a black kid at a show, that's a novelty -- and, granted, I'm being sarcastic -- but it's been a complete turnaround. It's forcing a lot of artists, especially white artists, to once again look at the role they're playing in this. They're probably facing the same identity issues that they had to face when they first started going to shows -- only this time they're feeling weird, because there are too many white kids and not enough black kids at shows."
Some of Slug's immediate goals are perhaps less socially charged than others. Sure, he'd like to bring diversity back to indie hip-hop. But he's also keen on the idea of exploiting the spoils of fame.
"The next step for us is to get more notice and recognition so that I can actually go to more cities and flirt with more girls," he says. And, oh, yes, he's got a message for Christina Ricci, should she decide to come calling: "Make sure to brush your teeth before you kiss me."
We'll see that she gets the memo.