In the early ‘90s, Before DIY was a household term, hip-hop enthusiasts were scrambling to submit tapes to majors, hoping to secure a deal that would alleviate the pressures of failure, cover the video shoot expense reports and land major guest appearances. But Minneapolis natives Slug (emcee) and Ant (producer) had a different approach. Now known as Atmosphere, the duo launched their career with a foundation of fans in small-town markets, expanding their network to college towns, giving away their music for placements and performing in “cities flown over by the majors.” In true DIY fashion, the duo helped form one of the Midwest’s most respected hip-hop collective, Rhymsayers and over 15 years later, host festivals that exceed 20,000 in attendance and include legends like Snoop Dogg and Nas.
To honor Southsiders, the group’s 7th full-length release, MC sat down with frontman Slug to discuss how they’ve managed to make a living off underground hip-hop. (For an extended talk with Ant, please visit http://www.musicconnection.com/Atmospheres-Ant-Speaks.)
MC: First off, how’re things?
Slug: Alright, it’s a good day, you know? The wife let me sleep in a little bit ‘cuz I was up late. I just had some weird carb-free pancakes.
MC: How does one acquire carb free pancakes?
Slug: I don’t know, man. She made ‘em! I’m not gonna question it, or maybe they’re just considered low carb, I don’t know.
MC: It’s probably that gluten-free trend that’s going around, right?
Slug: She made ‘em with almonds or some shit (laughs).
MC: So, let’s talk Atmoshphere. For those who don’t know the backstory, is it safe to say College Radio helped progress your career in the ‘90s?
Slug: Yeah, that’s a valid statement. I would say [the track] “Scapegoat” was what put us on the radar outside of Minneapolis. Prior to that we were considered local, we felt local, and when we did the “Scapegoat” vinyl a couple of us drove around to the different festivals like Scribble Jam, or just hip-hop conventions and distributed to the colleges that were around. That song in particular picked up to the point where DJs started calling the phone number that we had on our vinyl—which back then was just a voicemail pager—trying to book us for interviews/shows.
MC: Didn’t you drive from Minnesota to Dallas for a $200 gig once?
Slug: Our first show outside Minnesota was based off of that vinyl and we drove all the way down to Dallas for like 200 bucks. It was a graffiti convention kind of thing. We met more people [over time] who were in similar situations as us and it turned into a trade thing—we would trade shows. “You bring us to your town to play and then we’ll bring you to ours.” We had a draw [back home] so we would bring an artist from Indianapolis to come up to our place play a bill with us then we’d head Indianapolis play a bill with [them.] You basically would just throw each other some money to cover expenses and sleep in each other’s apartments.