Music Buzz: Q&A with Slug from Atmosphere

January 24 2012, 10:40 AM

Friday is a historic day: Winter on the Rocks, the first-ever winter concert at Red Rocks, will feature rappers Get Cryphy, Grieves & Budo, Common, and Atmosphere. For $39.50 (without fees), concert-goers will get the full Red Rocks experience—a stunning view, awesome acoustics—except they'll be bundled up in winter jackets instead of enjoying a summer breeze (Red Rocks' concert season typically kicks off in May). I chatted with Slug (pictured, right)—the rapping half of the Atmosphere duo, which recently added some band members to the lineup—about his music and what we can expect from their performance. 

What does it mean to be part of a historic show like Winter on the Rocks?

It’s a big deal to us. I’m honored that people would want us to do something like this. There are so many bands they could have asked. Why not Radiohead? Or u2? Or somebody huge? Us? Awesome. It’s very flattering and validating.

Are you worried about the cold?

We’ve played outdoor shows in the cold before. We’ve dealt with Mother Nature before. Here’s the thing that I’ve learned about outdoor shows: When the weather works against you, it actually makes for a better show. When we’re in a storm, we’re all the same. Even the people on the stage. There’s no more dichotomy of the stage. We’re all getting wet. We’re all cold.

You just headlined at Red Rocks last August. What's it like doing a show there?

I love it, but it’s kind of scary because of how many eyeballs are watching you. Just for the aesthetic it’s amazing. There’s something about playing there that feels very spiritual. It feels like you're taking part in some sort of tradition that’s way bigger than what I do. It feels like there may have been a century or two of people using this place as a means of trying to communicate to the ancients or to the stars, and here I am trying to figure out if I can rhyme "gastro infections" with "astro projections."

How do you describe Atmosphere’s sound?

Kind of like chewing on rubber bands while spreading frosting. We make music to give ourselves something to believe. When we [Slug's other half is DJ/producer Anthony Davis] started doing it, that’s all it was. We’ve been fortunate enough to continue with that same approach—except that now we have careers. Nowadays I get to meet people who tell me that the music we make gives them something to believe in. I can’t take it for granted.

You have a storytelling style to your raps, and you've referred to the final product as "struggle music." What does that mean?

I don’t really consider myself a storyteller yet; I’m aspiring to be a really good storyteller. Whether I'm telling a story or trying to break down why I see things the way I see them or trying to preach to the choir about how I feel about social ills, all of it fits under the umbrella of struggle music. Hip-hop as a whole is a music born from struggle. I think it continues to deal with the struggle, whether it’s Atmosphere or the thuggish stylings of 50 Cent or the dance party of the Black Eyed Peas. We all use the music in different ways, but it is still to deal with the struggle.

Atmosphere's first album was released in 1997. You've gone from a twentysomething to 39. How has your style developed? 

I think that everything in my life has changed, music just being another aspect of my life. I've had the opportunity to experience a lot of things that are definitely outside of my bloodline. My bloodline suggested I was supposed to work in a factory. The fact that I was able to break out of that, it’s definitely shaped me into somebody with more perspective than I originally set out to have. 

Image courtesy of Dan Monick