Atmosphere's MC Slug was raised on hip hop, growing up in one of North Minneapolis' tougher neighborhoods. It's not Eight Mile, but it's close. Though he's often seen as a white rapper, Slug has a mixed heritage. Still, in his heart he's true-blue hip hop. He didn't even hear his first indie rock until his mid-20s. His raps are peculiar in a genre built on posturing and MC battles for their honest, self-deprecating nature, and he's just as forthcoming in conversation.
"I fall in love with anything I fuck, so even when I was screwing around and meeting women at shows, I'd get home from tour and I'd have 40 new people I had to talk to, not because I felt obligated, but because that was me. There would be women going, 'Why are you still calling me?'" Slug says by phone, between loads of laundry.
After touring with a live band for several months last year, Slug returned to Minneapolis to record his third full-length with his DJ, Ant, entitled You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having. It features some of Ant's best backing tracks to date (from the gospel-fueled "Get Fly" to the haunting rumble of "Panic Attack") and he'll be joining Slug on the road this year for the first time.
"It's been a very interesting couple years," Slug says. "I managed to actually focus on some of that stuff, the good and the bad, and make another thing that I refer to as a concept album, even if nobody else gets it."
Asked about the lack of white rappers in the charts even as the underground overflows with them, Slug suggests it's due to a fundamental disconnect. "Ten years ago, the people making rap were the same kids everybody else called the masters. You didn't have these people coming from a place where they were able to take seven years to stake out their identity while their parents paid their college tuition," he says. "These white guys aren't rapping about anything the mainstream wants to hear. Eminem is still rapping from the place of the masses, but all these other rap white guys are all these guys that found themselves. Those guys determine their identity by what they hate, and Em--like the masses--determines their identity out of what they like."
He doesn't believe underground rappers intentionally marginalize themselves, but he recognizes the impulse.
"I think in the beginning everyone that's underground claims underground and it's an insecurity thing almost--it's like you have to belong to something because nobody knows who the fuck you are. If you scream 'underground' loud enough maybe other kids who feel they're underground will at least give you that," Slug says. "[But] you reach a point where you say, 'Look at what we did with these 10 little backpackers believing in us...' Now it's a matter of how much longer do you want to preach to the choir?"
For his part, Slug has left Epitaph (who released 2003's Seven's Travels), returning to his own label, Rhymesayers, a situation he prefers.
"I'm still a ho but I'm my own pimp," he says. "You don't feel so dirty and you're more aware why you don't control certain parts [of the business]. Instead of like 'Oh, it ain't fair,' it's more like 'Oh, yeah, I won't do that.'"
Atmosphere plays the Cat's Cradle with The Blueprint on Wednesday, Oct. 19. 8:45 p.m./$18