On "God Loves Ugly," the title track from Atmosphere's 2002 record, Slug rapped "Atmosphere, it's just a ten-letter word." Slug, known by his mother as Sean Daley, is now relishing another ten-letter word: fatherhood. At 46, Daley is the father of several kids, and he's enjoying everything from their first steps to their first curse words.
For many of the earliest fans of Atmosphere, which got its start in the late ’90s, parenthood is hardly an unfamiliar concept. But the MC and his collaborator, DJ and producer Ant, make music with the fervor of younger artists, as they plan to do when they return for a second time to Icelantic's annual Winter on the Rocks on February 1 — the first Red Rocks concert of 2019.
Westword caught up with Slug ahead of the show, and instead of talking music, we spoke about fatherhood.
Westword: How has fatherhood treated you since the last time we talked?
It’s great. It’s all sugar and carbs. I’m just saying, fuck, dog, I’ve got, like eighty kids now, and all they want is sugar and carbs.
Have you been able to take any vacations?
No. Never again. Hashtag never again. Not really. Not since. About this time last year I went to the desert — me and the wife and three kids went to the desert. That was kind of a vacation.
Following your social media shows all of that. What's it like sharing these kinds of intimate views into your life?
I do it for my mom. She follows my Instagram. It’s a way to show her that karma is real.
What do you mean by that?
For all the shit I gave her when I was a kid, now I’m putting up with all of it.
Does she ever bring that up to you?
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Nah, man. She treats me like I was a great kid. She knows I'm good at this shit. I’m probably better at being a dad than I am at anything else. And I don’t mean that in a toot-my-own-horn way. I enjoy being a dad more than I enjoy anything else.
When did that shift for you?
You know, I wouldn’t say when I first held the damn kids, but more when the connection is made. When they're brand-new babies, the connection is not quite as solid. You connect to it because you say, “Okay, I gotta make sure this thing doesn’t die.” But when they get a little older, and you’re able to play with them, and you’re able to communicate with them, the bonding that starts to occur then, you know — you bond for life. Hopefully. It’s that connection that I live through. It’s like the fountain of youth. I’m 46 right now, I think, and the kids keep me young.
When you first played Winter on the Rocks in 2012, you made a tribute to your own father. Is that a connection you had during that time, and is that something you seek to provide?
Me and my father were not as connected as I would have wished, especially for the last half of our relationship. When we were kids, we were super-connected. After him and my mom split, he had a hard time figuring out how to navigate being a father outside of the house. Especially because he had limited resources and limited time that he could spend with us. I think it was really hard on him, and it weighed heavy on him. It definitely weighed heavy on me. Neither of us had the tools that we needed to really figure out how to navigate that and still maintain the kind of bond that I wished we could’ve had. I think that does inform me some as a father with how I would like to connect with my own children.
I have a son that’s older — he’s 24. I would say it’s more so informative to that relationship currently, trying to provide him with whatever he might look to me for, but also to give him his space, because, you know, he wants to figure shit out. You have to let him. He’s in his twenties. There’s nothing that I can tell you...you know everything...and you really do. It’s all inside of you. You just have to learn how to unlock that information. But I'm there for any helpful hints or any words of advice or words of encouragement. But I can no longer govern this for you.
What kinds of lessons have you learned or adapted from your 24-year-old son to your younger ones?
My relationship with him is much different, because much like my relationship with my father, I don’t live with him. I never did. He lived with his mother. The main thing that I think is I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to be his friend, and now I know that’s not okay. You can’t be your children’s best friend. There’s too much room for error when you’re trying to be your child’s friend. You have to be an authoritative figure. You can’t live through it together; you have to live as the example. You have to make mistakes in front of them so that they can see those mistakes — whereas when you’re just buddy-buddy, you have a tendency to shrug a lot of stuff off. With my eight-year-old, when I make a mistake, even if he wasn’t in the room for it, I’ll call him into the room and show him, here’s what I did, and here’s what I did wrong.
How does he react to that?
He doesn’t understand why I’m doing that. And he shouldn’t be grasping why I’m doing it. That’s a higher concept than he needs to be dealing with right now. He just needs to deal with the fact that I’m not afraid to admit I made a mistake, and how do I react to that mistake: I try to clean it up, I try to fix it, and I try to correct it.
What are some of the things that you cherish now as a parent?
There are a series of firsts that occur for every kid. The first steps for each kid is amazing. The laugh that comes out of you is amazing. First steps on the first kid are just as profound as the first steps on the fourth kid. First curse word? The first time a kid says a curse word in front you — it’s an amazing moment. There’s so much fucking embarrassment on both sides, but you’re just sitting there trying not to laugh. There’s so much going on inside of that first curse word that we sometimes forget to embrace how special shit like that is.
What aspects of fatherhood and parenting do you take with you when you’re on the road?
That's hard to answer. It’s all living in the moment. There’s times where I don’t want to be a dad, and there’s times where I don’t want to be anything but a dad. Depending on the moment... . Currently I’m in Austin, Texas, and I wish I was at home, because there’s things going on at home that I want to be part of. One of my middle kids is crafting right now, likely making things out of toilet-paper tubes, and I would much rather be doing that right now than sitting in a hotel waiting for someone to tell me what to do next. You end up learning, at least in my position or someone who travels a lot, you learn to really try to cherish every single moment. I have a kid that doesn’t want to eat anything but chicken nuggets, and it’s frustrating — like, c’mon, dog, you got to eat some peas or carrots or you’re going to get sick. It’s a battle. I love it. I don’t want to eat anything other than chicken nuggets, either — let’s keep it real — but I know that I can’t do that. Let’s just live in the moment and keep it real.
Here’s the thing: I’ve been accused of being overly parental my whole life, even before I had kids. I was the oldest sibling of three, and when my parents split up, I was eleven, and my brothers were seven and three. A lot of responsibility was placed on me to help parent. And since then, I’ve been parenting everybody.
When I became fortunate enough to have this as a career and I started touring, I would bring out other MCs, and typically they would be younger than me since I was a late bloomer as it was. When “God Loves Ugly” came out, I was thirty years old. So I was taking Eyedea on tour with me, and he was nine years younger than me, and I was very parental with him, and I was very parental with Abilities, and that in turn turned into me being parental with Brother Ali. I would phrase it more like, I would put a wing around them as I took them out in the world to show them shit until I could push them out of the tree and watch them fly on their own. In the same breath, as much as some people view that as being positive, there are some people who viewed that as a negative. I’ve even had other artists who’ve said, “You’re such a control freak!” Is that how it reads? Because that’s not what it’s trying to be. I’m trying to be a helpful older brother. With that said, this parental shit has been with me forever, for better or worse. Some people view it as a great trait, and others view it as a personality flaw.
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Were there some artists who would rather jump out of the tree instead of waiting for you to push them?
No, never, and that’s not because they shouldn’t, but more because why get off the gravy train? Real talk. And so it’s never been quite like that, but you’ve had artists who didn’t see the forest through the trees. They didn’t see that my parental-ness was trying to help them develop and establish their shit. When the complaints come about controlling or looking over your shoulder, my reaction is to be embarrassed and be sorry, and I fall back. And then when I fall back and I watch, I see they didn’t quite make themselves available to pick up on all the shit we tried to make available to them. I’m not a cop. Fuck cops. I am a big brother. Like all big brothers, I have my own issues, too. If you don’t recognize and try to frame this as something you can appreciate, if you’d rather rebel against it, then I’m all for it. Get the fuck out of here. I’d rather make room for an artist that wants it.
Real quick: Any words for Colorado and Winter on the Rocks?
I didn’t even know they were allowed to invite people back. I couldn’t have put together a more awesome bill myself. To have De La Soul and Living Legends, and Watsky, as well as DeM AtlaS and Lioness and DJ Keezy, like, I don’t even know how to express my gratitude for that. I couldn’t have written a better situation. I’m a little nervous about the cold. I remember how difficult it was to perform — that was not an easy show to play. I’ll do my best.