With underground hip-hop creeping towards the music mainstream, there’s no doubt that along with it comes faces, styles, and trends. However, 28-year-old emcee Sean Daley, or ‘Slug,’ from hip-hop group Atmosphere, which has visited Colorado twice in the past few months, is anything but modern.
“I’ve been rapping since seventh or eighth grade, but I didn’t take it seriously until about two weeks ago,” Slug said. “That’s when I realized that it’s a job, and it’s not something to do for fun anymore. I realized I’m actually depending on it instead. I hate it just as much as I love it.”
Although on record Atmosphere consists solely of Slug and producer Ant (Anthony Davis), the past four years Slug has been onstage with a pair of ferocious young talents. Twenty-year-old DJ Abilities, a.k.a. Max Keltgen, passed the test by placing first in the Cincinnati semifinals of Disco Mix Club’s prominent annual DJ competition last year. Even more impressive is the 19-year-old Eyedea (Mike Averill), who cemented his rising star status last November when he won the Blaze Battle, a high-profile contest with highlights broadcast on HBO and judged by none other than KRS-One. Since then, the trio has hit more than a hundred cities, and have performed for crowds as big as 7,000.
“Eyedea and Abilities have toured with me for years, but their record was done so they had to start doing their own tours. They were more than happy to get away from me because I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to shows,” Slug said. “I knew DJ Dibbs wasn’t doing anything, so I asked him. Aside from music we have a lot of similar interests and whatnot. It works out good; we don’t get sick of each other in the van.”
Aside from rapping, Slug continues to add more pieces to his busy career. Not only does he co-run his own record store, The Fifth Element in Minneapolis, but also Rhyme Sayers, a record label with artists such as Musab, Brother Ali, Los Nativos and more. To top on even more work, Slug must prove himself fatherly to his 7-year-old son Jacob.
“I’ve got friends that I grew up with my age that don’t listen to hip-hop anymore. They went out, they got jobs, they had kids, and they’ve got lives,” Slug said. “I’ll bump into them and they’ll be like, ‘Hey, what have you been doing?’ And I say I’m still rapping. They say, ‘You still rap? What’s the deal, you’re 27 years old now, why are you still rapping?’ That’s just the direction I went.”
With the fans increasing and crowds growing, the attention lately has shifted from underground to major record labels. Deals have been thrown to them like candy from big names such as Capitol, MCA and La Face. However, selling out to MTV’s TRL is the last place Slug would want to debut.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a rap star. I wanted to be a rap star because of money, attention and girls. I’ve rethought that now, but I think those are the motives for a lot of people that want to be involved in entertainment and music,” Slug said. “You find out that you have a voice and you want to sing, but initially you want to play the guitar because you want the chicks in the front row to faint.”
But the fans of Colorado who have caught their two shows in the past few months know that it’s not the trend that makes Atmosphere popular; it’s their unique style of lyrics and reenactment of the music of hip-hop.
“I think that hip-hop is a tree with branches. You’ve got the underground branch, the emo branch, the mainstream branch, all of these branches,” Slug said. “They don’t all necessarily touch. They don’t know each other exist half the time. But they’re all part of the same tree. If you get down to the root of it, it’s got the same energy fueling it.” n