Rap doesn't always have the longest shelf life, and yet, after more than a decade of truck stops and motels, through babies and heartbreak, the Minnesota-born indie hip-hop group Atmosphere has endured, and now Slug and his longtime producer, Ant, are rolling through Missoula once again, in support of their seventh album. The Family Sign is the product of a voice that knows things; the mood it creates manages to be at once intimate and universal. In a stolen moment on the telephone while his two-year-old napped in the next room, Slug and I got nostalgic and talked politics.
Indy: I've met you once before, about 10 years ago in Ann Arbor, Mich. I used to go to a lot of indie hip hop shows because my brother toured with Anticon under the name Destructo, back when Atmosphere used to tour with them. My brother and I both had long dreadlocks.
Slug: Yeah, at the Blind Pig. Was I a dick?
Indy: You were cool. The only thing I remember about you is that my friend and I used to follow Sage Francis around, and you came over and said, "Why does Sage Francis get all the girls? Why don't I get the groupies?"
Slug: Wow, that's kind of a dick thing to say, I apologize. I used to drink a lot more back then. I used to be a little bit more of a lush.
Indy: Hey, it's cool. What do you remember about my brother?
Slug: He was a nice dude. He didn't seem like he was trying to fuck anybody over. Especially standing next to Sole, who was like a ball of fire. Destructo was definitely a more laid back kind of guy.
Indy: Yeah, well, he's not a rapper.
Slug: Does he still have long dreads?
Indy: No. It's 2012, dude, none of us have dreads anymore. That would be silly.
Slug: Good. Good. I'm glad you guys got rid of them.
Indy: I've been listening to your newest album, The Family Sign. I like it a lot. I think it's pretty chill. What do you think?
Slug: It sounds nothing like the album before it, and the next album will sound nothing like this one. It's funny. People say all my albums are personal. I can see why people think that, because I'm writing about my person, but this record felt more personal than most of them, because all the songs are about people that I care about, as opposed to me writing an allegory about drinking, or fighting with my wife. These songs are about love and hate, my friends and familyeven my enemiesjust kind of celebrating my relationships in a way that I don't think I've necessarily done before. In the past I would try to take a relationship and turn it into an excuse to present you with my fucking moral code, let me shove my moral code down your throat. This record doesn't have a whole lot of that. It's more just about me talking to you about what I value.
Indy: It seems like now you're at a point where you can make whatever kind of music you want, that you're doing it for yourself and it doesn't really matter whether or not people like it.
Slug: Honestly, I think that's always how it's been for us. I'm fortunate that the other half of Atmosphere sees it the same way I see it. It'd be different if I were working with a producer who was trying to make hits or who had an agenda with the music aside from just creating moods and making songs, but that's all we really ever gave a fuck about. There was a time when we didn't think anybody would even hear our songs, so I definitely know I'm really fucking lucky that people give a fuck about my songs, because there was no promise that anybody would. I look at some of my peers and contemporaries that I came up with in the '90s who are just gone. They disappeared. That's how I know how fortunate I am that they kept us. They allowed us to stay. I try not to take it for granted. So I do consider the listener when it comes to them spending their money. I consider what will make them happy.
Indy: What else do you want to tell us?
Slug: People should be growing their own vegetables at this point. We need to stop being dependent on corporate food. When it comes to the type of movement that we've had toward organics and gluten-free and all these cool things, don't forget that corporations are just going to use those same words to trick you into purchasing their bullshit. Start easy and simple, and just grow some fucking cucumbers and tomatoes. Get some alkaline cracking off in your backyard so that you can become that much less dependent.
Indy: Anything else?
Slug: For the kids: Hey kids. Instead of not votingwhich I can totally sympathize with you not wanting to vote in this upcoming presidential election, because you might not have any confidence in the parties and what they have to offerbut instead of just not voting, please go down to the polls and write in a vote of "no confidence." That way you're letting them know how you feel, but you're also being counted. The fewer votes that come from your area, the less attention anybody will pay to your area next time. The youth, people of color, people who have been disenfranchised: They want you to be like, "Fuck it, I'm just not going to vote for anybody." Then they don't have to spend any of their money on you. They don't have to look at you when it comes time to appease motherfuckers. It's important that we still force people to at least appease us and recognize that we're here.
Atmosphere plays the Wilma Theatre Tue., Sept. 11, at 8 PM with special guests Self Devine, Carnage and DJ Just Nine. $28.