My teen years flew nightmarishly by in a flurry of “Who am I?” I was constantly trying on a different outward portrayal of that, and subsequently, my taste in music followed suit.
I wanted to stand out, but in a ‘fit in’ sort of way. A huge contradiction, much like those starburst commercials from a few years back with the Scottish Asian man. I changed often and when I was introduced to Atmosphere, I began to change again.
In 2008, Atmosphere’s album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold came out. I was enthralled by the group. It was exciting to listen to Minnesota-made music, because supporting local suddenly became important to me. At the time, I had no idea how much their music would influence my mood. I began listening to other albums, going back to Seven’s Travels from 2003, released through their record label Rhymesayers and the punk label Epitaph. It felt like I was playing catch up. I discovered the hidden track “Say Shh,” causing me to fall in love with where I lived. Slug did that. He made an impression and I started to view life through a different lens. Life is messy, we don’t always like it, but we can make the best of it.
Five years ago, some friends and I went to see Atmosphere live in Duluth. It was the perfect outdoor venue, and an amazing show. Slug had this ability to engage his audience in such a way that the crowd was electrified. He leveled with us and amplified our energy. I had this feeling that Slug, also known as Sean Daley, was a good person at his core. I had seen photos of these guys before, but they were different in person. They chose to stay down to Earth. I don’t know these guys personally, and I could be wrong, but that was the message I got from my spot near the front row. It was through this experience that I gained a massive respect for the group.
However, they didn’t always go by Atmosphere, and it wasn’t always Slug and Ant. In the very beginning, it was Slug and D-Spawn. Just two high schoolers who met in 1989 and wanted to make rap music. They started out as “Mental Subjects.” D-Spawn, aka Derek Turner, was initially the vocalist, while Slug did his thing as the DJ, but it was D-Spawn that convinced Slug to try rapping and the group continued to evolve. They changed their name to “Rhythmic Culture” and then later “Urban Atmosphere.” Another artist by the name of Musab introduced them to the producer known as Ant. It was through this connection they recorded more of their music, also learning under the wing of several other artists.
After becoming “Atmosphere,” cassettes were released by Rhymesayers, under the group name “Headshots”; which was formulated by a larger collection of rap artists. This release occurred in the early 90s, so if you, like me, hadn’t heard these tracks because you were living in Chicago and were less than ten years old at the time, you can actually still find them online. I took some time to locate these and immerse myself in the music, confusing the hell out of my dude, since last month I was rocking synth-pop and punk tunes.
These mixtapes were produced in the basement of Rhymesayers’ CEO, Siddiq, and it is no surprise these guys made it big. In listening to the Headshots Vol.1 mixtape, you can tell they were serious. I know some people who produce music out of their houses, and it’s not always a simple task. There’s real work to be done and this group of artists cared just as much then as they do now.
Side B of Headshots is credited to Slugo himself, who we all know now as simply, Slug. His blends and rather unlikely pairings are a glimpse into the creative style that has continued to evolve over the years. In regards to Volume 2: Headshots Se7en, (recorded in 1998) it released to cassette but saw a CD re-issue in 2005 and is more easily accessible than others.
From the early 2000’s until now, several more recognizable albums have been released, including but not limited to Ford and Lucy Ford, God Loves Ugly, The Family Sign, and Southsiders. I have a personal favorite from each, and hopefully Atmosphere continues to do no less than kill it in the near future. For now, each time I hear the track “Sunshine,” I recount days as a teenager with a much darker outlook on life, driving around in my parents car, trying to get a grip on myself. Thank you to Atmosphere for reminding me of good days on the bad ones.
If I could, I would keep those feelings in a plastic jar.
By Rian Dicke-Michels