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Codependency in the House!

Atmosphere shoves its neurotic, Midwestern hip-hop right in your face

"I love you, don't ever fuckin' question that, that's why we'll probably never get along / if I was better at finding the right words to say, I wouldn't need to write these motherfucking songs."

Since 1997, Minneapolis MC Slug (a.k.a. Sean Daley) has joined lyrics like these to the head-nodding sounds of beatmaker extraordinaire Ant (Anthony Davis to his moms) to constitute Atmosphere. The duo emerged from the fabulously disorganized Twin Cities underground rap community to become one of the world's finest purveyors of indie hip-hop. This was accomplished largely thanks to the single-minded business acumen Slug has brought to bear on his own label, Rhymesayers Entertainment.

"I do all kinds of fucking crazy stupid shit with my codependency issues with women, so therefore I have a lot more room to be logical when it comes to my music," explains Slug. "It could be the other way around. If I was more logical when it came to my relationships, I could easily displace my needs of being codependent on my music, and I could be one of those artists that is mad that I got too many fans, or is pissed off because I got a bad review or whatever. But being that I can't figure out how to make a woman happy, I can totally put all the negative side of love and hate into my people relationships, and I keep a very balanced outlook on how I do this stuff."

Dude's not kidding about the girl trouble: Unlike, say, Jay-Z, if Slug were to count up 99 problems, a bitch would definitely be at leastone. Far removed from the standard hip-hop subject matter of gettin' high and gettin' it on with the sexiest hos central casting has to offer, Slug's deeply personal raps can often be supercharged with virulent hostility and sincere confusion, especially on the subject of women.

Slug's issues with the fairer sex became evident when a set of his EPs was compiled into Lucy Ford in 2001. The songs were centered on struggles regarding Slug's titular ex-girlfriend and the resultant pent-up emotions. Acting them out in song was his way of coping.

Over the next two years, Atmosphere churned out an equal number of albums: God Loves Ugly, another emotionally wrenching effort that reprised his resentment toward his ex ("Fuck you Lucy for leaving me / Fuck you Lucy for not needing me / I wanna say fuck you because I still love you / No, I'm not okay, and I don't know what to do") followed by Seven's Travels, the record that got Atmosphere involved in a little game of chicken with seminal punk label Epitaph, which was then eager to try its hand at the hip-hop game.

"I was playing cities where there were no independent record stores, therefore my record was nowhere in the city, yet I was playing there to 400 kids," Slug recalls. "I wasn't interested in signing any label deals with anybody, but I needed something with a little more world coverage. Epitaph basically acted as a big brother that helped bully our way into the Best Buys and Targets of the world, and it worked. I doubled my sales on this record as opposed to the last one. Nobody got rich – they didn't get rich, I didn't get rich – but I think everybody learned some new tricks."

Back on Rhymesayers, Atmosphere's latest disc, You Don't Know How Much Fun We're Having, finds Slug toning down the anger (some) and improving his already strong flow. To show off his newfound maturity and levelheadedness, the album's final song, "Little Man," is divided into three sections: a message to his 11-year-old son, a message to his father and a message to...himself. When the album ends, you get the feeling that the man just might have come full circle as an artist.

But Slug isn't the only one evolving here. For seven years, reclusive right-hand man Ant refused to go on the road with Atmosphere, leaving Slug to fend for himself with guest DJs like Mr. Dibbs, who were stuck with the unenviable task of filling in for the absent sonic visionary.

"The logical answer as to why he never toured before is because he was happy with his life," says Slug. "He was focusing on working and making beats. He didn't have to deal with talking to people or carrying any of the luggage that comes with this particular line of work. He held on to his job longer than most of us would have."

But last fall, for the "Pour Me Another" tour, Ant put all that behind him and took a leave of absence to embark on his first tour ever.

"We had to get over a lot of the first-time jitters and break the hymen," says Slug of his partner's debutante ballin'. "About halfway through the tour, he started making use of the microphone I had in front of him and would actually talk shit to me between songs. It let him and me both show what we're like together, which I thought was great."

Obviously Ant got something out of the experience of performing in front of thousands of kids with one of his best buddies: He has since re-enlisted to back up Slug for the tour that's stopping at Warehouse Live on Sunday.

"I'm really happy to see Ant bring Ant to the table, because as a human being goes, he's one of the most original fuckin' people I've ever met in my life. Ant comes from the David Lynch side of hip-hop. I mean, the guy's got a fucking ponytail, dude. That's real."

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