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Attack of the Killer 'slug'

Photo courtesy of Epitaph Records
Atmosphere released its first few albums on smaller hip-hop labels before signing with Epitaph Records, a punk label that doesn't usually sign rap acts.
By Kevin Smith
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 25, 2003

'Atmosphere' brings the American dream to Tucson

Sean Daley is not your typical Caucasian, African-American, Native American, Finnish, Irish, Norwegian, rapper from Minneapolis. Well, maybe he is.

Daley, a.k.a. Slug, 31, from underground hip-hop group Atmosphere has a racially mixed bloodline that reads like a globetrotting swinger's wish list. The diversity has both challenged and blessed Daley.

His initial interest in hip-hop was sparked at an early age when his father would play the then-new form of music during car rides or on the home stereo system. As he grew older, Daley began to realize the distinctive generational gap in rap lyrics.

"It was probably not until Run DMC came out and I was probably like 11 or 12 that I realized, ╬Whoa, these guys are talking to me. They're not talking to my Dad. This isn't my father's music anymore,'" he said.

Recently, Daley and his beat-making partner in Atmosphere, Ant, released their fourth full-length album, Seven's Travels. The group was offered heavy corporate deals after 2002's "God Loves Ugly," but eventually decided on the independent feel of punk label Epitaph Records.

"Major labels want to make stars," he said. "And that's not for me, homey. I'm not really trying to be the star. I'm trying to gain some resources so that I can continue to help put out really good records from other people as well as myself. But I'm not trying to need a bodyguard. I'm not trying to get harassed by the girl behind the counter at Burger King. That's not for me. I'm too old for that. If I'm at the VMAs (MTV Video Music Awards) next year, it's probably because I'm like Ě fucking making popcorn."

The recent success of Atmosphere has been something of a revelation for Daley, who had been swearing every year in hip-hop as his last since 1993. It was only until a year-and-a-half ago that he finally began to start reaping the benefits of sticking it out, such as being able to employ his brother fulltime.

Getting to such a point in his career was a challenge for Daley, who grew up struggling to find his core audience.

"There were times in my life where it was a pain in the ass to appear white but to think Afrocentric, because there was a lot of black people that wouldn't accept that from me," he said. "And there was a lot of white people that wouldn't accept that from me. For the most part, I just stood by it and stuck with it my whole life to where now I'm an adult and it's kind of like: I'm at the point where I don't give a fuck what you accept from me. I'm going to be who the fuck I am."

As a child, he grew up surrounded mostly by black and Latino children. He even considered himself black for most of his adolescence ¸ he now considers himself a "spy," able to walk both lines of the color barrier. It wasn't until Daley started touring, however, that he discovered the irony staring back at him in the faces of his audience.

"Once and a while it creeps up through my career because there are definitely plenty of insecurities that can hit an artist when he's a rapper, doing hip-hop culture, but he's rapping in front of a predominantly white crowd," he said, because he himself as a child didn't even hang out with white kids.

"So I have gone through moments of neurosis over it, but even that stuff has kind of subsided. And now I'm just kind of like: ╬You know what? I'll rap for anybody. I'll rap for your dog. Bring your dog to the show and I'll try to make him throw his paws in the air.'"

Daley said although he would love to see more of a diverse representation in his audience, his main focus is trying to get young people in America to stop limiting themselves socially.

"You know what? We're dealing with a lot of young-minded, dotted-lined, liberals-in-the-making," he said of his fan base. "When they hit 24, and 25, and 26, they're going to start getting into realms of the vegans that hate the fucking beef eaters and the lesbians that hate the fucking frat-boys Ě and it's like ╬You know what? If you can reach them before that, you can teach them all that they don't have to set up these dotted lines.'

"This society has a way of taking open-minded people and separating them from each other so that nobody ever has a big, open-minded, band-together-kind÷of-army. And I'm interested with what we can do, even with such a subgenre, this type of rap, to bring some of these open-minded-people together so they can start getting to know each other and meeting each other. And eventually, years and years from now, when one of them is running for president, he's going to win."

With accomplishments and accolades, a rapidly spreading word-of mouth buzz, and a swelling audience, Daley hopes his message will not be drowned-out in an ocean of changing faces and waving hands.

"It's good but it scares you too," he said. "Because there's a point in time where I could remember being able to look everybody in the eye at least once during my half-hour set. And now I'm playing for an hour-and-a-half and I don't get the opportunity to look everybody in the eye. So you overcompensate by jumping up and down and acting like a fool, when in the back of your head, you're thinking, ╬Man, I really just want to say something important to these kids. Why the fuck am I jumping up and down and acting like a fool? They're just going to take me for a fool.'

"So you get a little neurotic about that. And then on the other end, you just go: ╬How many of these kids are real? Like is one of these kids going to go outside and rob another one tonight? Is one of these kids going to get a little too drunk and try and put his fucking wee-wee into some girl that doesn't want it?' You deal with a lot of crazy shit."

Daley hopes that if his fans don't hear his voice through the music, his words in print will be there to clarify things.

"Maybe this is how I can get the message to you," he said. "If you won't allow me to do it during my set because you want me to jump up and down and say ╬fight for the right to party' ¸ fine. But I'm going to make sure when you read something about me, dumb-ass, you hear me saying, ╬fucking knock off the bullshit and be nice to girls or I'm going to fucking kill you my damn self.'"

Atmosphere comes to Tucson's Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on the "Seven's Travels Tour" with Odd Jobs, Micronots, Brother Ali, Deejay Bird and Mr. Dibbs tomorrow night. Tickets for the all-ages event are $15 and are available at the Rialto box office or online at Showtime is 7:30 p.m.

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