ATMOSPHERE at the Opera House (735 Queen East), tonight (Thursday, April 24). $25. 416-466-0313, 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
I’m sitting with Atmosphere on the 20th floor of a hotel overlooking City Hall, discussing his sixth solo LP, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (Rhymsayers) and the pulp fiction citrus side of life.
Trying to catch him off guard, I begin, “What do you do when life gives you limes?” Without missing a beat, Sean Daley, aka President Slug, deadpans, “Add Corona.”
Daley co-founded the ever-expanding independent Minnesota hip-hop operation Rhymesayers Rec-ords with a few good friends. His two-man group, Atmosphere, has sold over a million records, and the Outside Music-distributed imprint currently cradles over two dozen artists.
Recently, he’s made some definitive realizations about his unique place in hip-hop. He knows it’s high time he abdicated the throne built for him by fanatical emo-girl and -boy fans of his ultra-personal work, including his MTV-exposed last LP, You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having.
No more tear-jerkers about his infamous muse Lucy, no more pre-My Chemical Romance paeans to self-pity and unrequited lust. When Life Gives You Lemons takes a left turn on the high road, finding Slug exploring Buck 65-ish storytelling over smooth and solemn Ant-produced sweetness.
The 70s-era T-shirt-slogan album title of his latest disc stems from Slug’s current modus operandi, and its wry optimism arrives just in time for someone who was making quite the name for himself as the patron saint of dramatic, emotional MCing.
“Instead of just hitting the climax of the story and stepping off, I’m trying to offer resolution after the climax. Common does it a lot. He complains about something, states it as a part of life and then accepts that you have to deal with it.
“Common, like myself now, has a weird way of communicating the resolution, like how Bob Marley does in his songs, much like Nina Simone even. When you look at really great storytellers, what bonds them together is that they give a resolution. They are not just complaining. They offer enough insight to show you: make the best of it.”
On You Can’t Imagine, Slug says, he was starting to get the grown-man elder thing on.
On the new disc, he says, “I’m offering an adult insight on the shit I used to talk about. I really tried make it more apparent on this record that I’m not this sarcastic little shit-talking dude in the corner of the room any more. I’m grown up now. So it’s either grow up with me or go listen to something else.”
In keeping with the grown-ass man hip-hop theme, special versions of the new album come with a 40-page gold-embossed hardcover book featuring an illustrated children’s story by Slug, plus a bonus DVD with over an hour of live footage and extras, reinforcing the business savvy of the Atmosphere slogan “You can’t download a T-shirt!”
Balancing fatherhood and being MCEO of Rhymesayers hasn’t been a problem for Slug.
“When my son was six, it was more like, ‘Daddy, where are you going?’ I’d be gone for months at a time [on tour] and worried, ‘Damn, is he gonna even remember me?’ when I came home. Now, three months to a teenager just means… he’s got a new girlfriend when I get back!”
He’s playing the concerned father/artist when he asks my reaction to a the brilliant song The Skinney.
“Can you tell that it’s not really about a pimp? I’m a little nervous that kids might be like, ‘Why is he writing pimp songs?’ I’m hoping people can figure it out.”
They should. And if not, one of Common’s old album titles applies well: one day it will all make sense.