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 producer Ant to discuss how they put together an album thousands of miles apard. (For an extended talk with Slug, please visit http://www.musicconnection.com/atmosphere-explains-hip-hop-diy-discusses-southsiders.)
MC: So you’re out in the Bay Area now ah?
Ant: Yep I am.
MC: How are you liking it?
Ant: I fuckin’ love it! It’s all about the weather though, you know what I mean?
It’s just gorgeous man.
MC: So SouthSiders took you and Slug about 10 months to complete, is that right?
Ant: I’d say that yeah, about a year.
MC: So how do you feel with it being the first record you guys worked on long distance?
Ant: I loved it. It was new. We’ve been together for damn near 20 years so we have a short way of speaking over the phone or email, you know what I mean? But technology is amazing. You can just do anything now.
MC: So how did it play out? Would you send Slug a concept and he’d send back some lyrics and you guys would grow from there?
Ant: Pretty much. I’d kinda start making three different ideas for tracks everyday and I would send them to him. I would try to give an arrangement just to show [where I was]. Like what it would become, so he was getting them and doing little ideas and full songs and [really there] was yea nothing to it.
MC: We got to listen to “Bitter” and Slug mentioned it was your idea to continue with the idea behind the unique hook where he was skeptical at first.
Ant: I was, yeah. I thought it was something we hadn’t really done in a while. It has a more straight-up hip-hop thing to it. And it’s been a while since we did anything like that, so I was super excited about it. And this type of sound it seemed different than what we’ve been doing too, you know what I mean?
MC: It turned out great. It was something Atmosphere hadn’t done in a long time. The previous record being recorded with a full band and all. Was the plan to go back to more hip-hop production on Southsiders?
Ant: Yes, that was my full intention. The last record we wanted it to seem like our live show. And it [felt like] that wasn’t me. You know what I mean? So getting back to [my style] was very important. I’m very excited.
MC: When you’re producing for Atmosphere, do you think about how that is going to translate live or do you worry about that later?
Ant: I figure that out later. I mean, the last record was totally based on how it was going to be translated live, because that’s how I made it. But it’s better for me to work with a, “whatever happens, happens,” mentality—from the heart more or less. Don’t think too much, you know?
MC: There’s a heavy blues element in your production; there’s a lot of emotion in it. And even before lyrics hit a tone has already been set. What causes such production? Is it intentional; is it just influence bleeding through?
Ant: I am a sensitive fucking person. That’s what it is. I’m totally just about truth, like talking right now is giving me anxiety. I’m just a super sensitive person; I think that’s what you’re hearing.
MC: It comes through well and I think a big part of what separates you guys from the pack is the idea that it’s not BS: There’s full on emotion coming from these tracks.
Ant: Yeah, and thank you for saying that because that’s totally it. I like to feel like that’s what separates me too you know. You know, ‘cause I don’t make bangers I’m not good at it. … I cry when I watch Forest Gump I can’t help it. I am who I am. You know, fuck it.
MC: Has being away from your hometown played a role in your production style?
Ant: Totally. I’m working with new musicians out here and they’re helping me get my ideas across and contributing ideas that are different. It’s a whole new way of doing shit and having the sun out all the time is great. In the winter you know?
MC: Do you still travel back to your hometown?
Ant: Yea I still have to go back for a week every two months or so. I miss everybody there.
MC: Atmosphere have definitely created a family culture. With Rhymesayers [the band’s label] and your festival, it has to have played a role in your success.
Ant: I am very surprised [by our success] by the way, but I am proud and happy and grateful.
MC: Do you have any advice for hip-hop heads on their way into the scene?
Ant: The truth is, if you could just be you and just do what you think is right. Make the best music you can. Try not to copy others. It’s hard to be not influenced by all that stuff, but, you know, just do you. That’s what works for me.