By Jasen T. Davis
Slug is the lead singer and MC of Atmosphere, an independent hip-hop band from Minneapolis. The group combines addictive guitar hooks, provocative bass lines and solid drumbeats with Slug’s lyrical style to form a powerful, enduring combination. After more than a decade, Atmosphere still plays sold-out shows from here to Europe; and will make at stop at The Fox in Pomona this weekend.
While Slug’s philosophical approach to writing songs goes beyond the usual guns, bitches and boasting, he isn’t putting that perspective down. “To me, hip-hop means making something out of nothing. It’s about the struggle,” he says. “I don’t disagree with hip-hop songs that talk about guns, dealing drugs, getting shot or anything like that, because I think they are still talking about what it’s like to struggle. . .There are a lot of different people in hip-hop, but we’re all talking about a similar place. Some struggles are personal struggles, while others struggle with the street.”
This stark honesty allows the artist a wider range of material. Songs about poverty, losing a loved one, being addicted to drugs or falling out of love gives Atmosphere’s lyrics a painful, original quality.
Atmosphere’s latest album, The Family Sign, contains just as much emotional substance as its previous work. “I guess you could say I have a lot of depth. I might credit that to how much I over analyze my own lyrics,” Slug says. “I am a pretty insecure artist, so I spend a lot of time breaking down my art.”
Slug promises that the latest album is going to live up to the band’s reputation, rewarding fresh listeners and loyal fans alike by surprising them both with an album that is both classic and completely original.
“What you can expect out of our new record is what we’ve built so far. If I take a hard left, I’m going to warn you, but it’s always going to be a great trip,” he says. “Our goal with every album is to figure out how to best articulate where we came from in a way that allows people to relate to us. I grew up in the ghetto of Minneapolis, in the south side of a rough neighborhood, so there’s a lot of [that] self-taught attitude in my writing.”
When it comes to music, Slug is both an artist and an architect. He demands perfection from every song he helps construct because he enjoys the process of creation. “You can break artists into two different groups,” Slug says. “There are artists who get validation by presentation of the art, and there are artists who get their validation from technique. Some make art, some present art.”
Yet the songwriter admits that he might aim too high at times, but that’s how he operates stating, “I probably get a little obsessive. You can take a paintbrush and do it really quick, or you can do what I do and maybe go over it too much.”
Slug doesn’t think enjoying the presentation is wrong. If your creation isn’t up to par, there’s always the danger of unveiling something that sucks; any artist has to have a particular kind of courage, according to Slug.
“There is a humility that comes with being a type of artist who gets off on the presentation because of the risk,” he says.
His emotional dedication to the songwriting process keeps him objective. When it comes to the final presentation, he’s not trying to convince you. When asked if he’d be fine with a person only keeping one hit from The Family Sign on their iPod, he said: “Yes, exactly. If you only listen to one song on the way to work, that’s fine with me.”
Atmosphere with Blueprint, Greives w/Budo, Sab The Artist and DJ Abilities at Fox Pomona, 301 S. Garey Ave., Pomona (877) 283-6976; www.foxpomona.com. May 5, 9pm. $25 advance, $28 at the door.