Rap, all grown up
Atmosphere finds its way to Los Angeles following ‘The Family Sign’
By Jake Armstrong 05/05/2011
The more Slug changes, the more he stays the same.
For the past 14 years, the Minneapolis-based rapper has worn his heart on his sleeve through more than a dozen albums and EPs, steadily rising as a blue-collar hero with his brand of visceral rhymes, pulling few punches in delivering his take on relationships, society and the trappings of life.
And now — at 38 with a newborn in his life — the prolific lyricist has again teamed with Ant, Atmosphere’s beatmaker elite, for yet another blistering installment in the rap book of life, “The Family Sign,” the duo’s seventh official studio album, which they’re supporting with two LA-area stops — tonight’s sold-out show at Pomona’s Fox Theater and an Aug. 26 encore at the Greek Theater.
“All of my music kind of relates to where my moral compass is when I wrote it,” Slug said by phone from the back of his tour bus during a stop in Columbus, Ohio. “This record is a collection of songs that take a look at where my moral compass is at now.”
Even Atmosphere’s recent transition to a live band playing over the knock of Ant’s beats was borne of Slug’s introspection.
“If I wanted to sound smart and shit I’d say that’s probably the progression,” he said. “The truth is, I reached the point with what I was doing in 2004 where my whole life was coming apart — alcohol abuse, staying out too late, eating too much, touring way too much. I started taking all this shit for granted. I noticed I wasn’t nervous anymore. I wasn’t challenged. I could drink a 12-pack of beer and get on stage and fly through my set and not even remember being in that city last night.”
So he started rhyming in front of a band to switch up the routine and keep him on his toes. “And it worked. It kind of scares me,” he said. “I appreciate having the fear in me and I appreciate looking to my left and my right and seeing people who are with me.
“The idea of inspiring a 15-year-old to go pick up a guitar because I was in your town, that’s a cool thing,” he said.
Having written “The Family Sign” on a back porch in the dead of a Minneapolis winter, Slug and Co.’s lyrical and musical palette matches the weather, a departure from the surprising, almost feel-good vibe that pervaded the most recent release, “To All My Friends: Blood Makes the Blade Holy,” which was composed in spring.
“On this record, we definitely wanted to paint with certain colors and paint certain ideas. A lot of the songs on this record are yellow and brown and blue. There’s not a lot of red on this record,” Slug said.
Even the more upbeat tracks — like “Became,” which can be received as either a dispatch for the lovelorn or a warning to a friend on the wrong path — have a cold vein running through them.
The album’s moniker came by way of Slug’s newborn son, who would inadvertently make the same hand sign over and over. “Me and his mother started jokingly referring to it as ‘the family sign,’” he said. “Plus it kind of reminds me of Prince, and I am a Prince fucking fanatic.”