Sean Daley isn’t the same man he was a decade ago. The rapping frontman for the Minneapolis indie hip-hop group Atmosphere (where he’s better known to his fans as Slug) has spent these past ten years transforming into a more respectable version of the man he once was.
So, how has he changed? For starters, the man’s not drunk all over the god damn place. “It was a different life for me back then, you know,” says Daley, now 38, calling from his Minneapolis home. “I was a drunk, big-time. I was an alcoholic. I was really on some, like, roll-until-it-burns down-type shit.”
Although he refers to himself during this time as “a functional alcoholic,” it wasn’t just his hard drinking that made him put himself in check. “I developed a condition called alopecia back in 2005, and it kicked me in the ass. And they told me that I wasn’t eating right and they told me I wasn’t living right, and I just made a lot of decisions in my life.”
Although the condition went away, it scared him straight. Not only did he go about maintaining a healthier lifestyle, he started hanging out with a healthier group of people. One of them is his new wife, a fellow Minneapolis musician who gave birth to his second son a year ago. (Daley also has a 17-year-old son from a previous relationship.) Even Slug admits he wouldn’t have gotten his spouse during his boozier days. He says, “She probably would’ve been scared of me, like ‘Who’s this fuckin’ drunk, lecherous guy? He smells like my uncle.’”
Nevertheless, Daley is “all married up now,” which hasn’t slowed things down for him as a hip-hop orator. Atmosphere dropped several EPs prior to releasing their new album, The Family Sign . And the group is now on tour, along with other artists from Rhymesayers Entertainment, the label co-founded by Daley.
A follow-up to the group’s successful 2008 release When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold , Daley says he and his crew (longtime DJ/producer Anthony “Ant” Davis and recent additions Erick Anderson on keyboards and Nate Collis on guitar) took a different approach in putting this album, their seventh, together. “I wanted to take a full year off the road and sit and just write an album with these guys,” he says, “because I’ve never taken a full year off the road and this is gonna be our first time of actually sitting and writing an album with a couple of musicians and having to learn how to collaborate with a couple of more cooks in the kitchen.”
The result is a more lyrically earnest effort, with Daley keeping a lid on the crude, verbal frivolity of his past work and coming up with empathetic tales of human pain and suffering. Whether it’s stepping inside the shoes of the world’s most pitiful, deadbeat dad on “Bad Bad Daddy” or coming up with a metaphorical tale on how your loved one can turn into a wolf on “Became,” Daley covers the often murky, minimalist sounds his band conjures up with helpful heapings of angsty, working-class melodrama. Or shall we call it “mellow drama”? (Just don’t call it “emo-rap”; he’s tired of hearing that shit.)
It appears now that he’s in grown-ass-man mode, with a wife, two boys and other concerns that usually plague middle-aged men like himself. Daley has cut out the bullshit from both his life and his music. “I feel like, man, at my age, with as much music as I’ve released–I mean, I’ve released more music than most of my heroes ever did,” he says. “And, with as much music as I’ve released, I probably shouldn’t go for the okey-doke and just make another brag-and-boast song. If I can avoid it, I should try and come up with a more creative way to do that. If that’s something I want to communicate, if that’s the vibe I wanna give, why not challenge myself to find a new and improved way to do that.”
So, even though Daley is at that age where the audience he normally attracts—not to mention the guy he was 10 years ago—wouldn’t listen to a damn word this old man is saying, he says Atmosphere has been snatching up a wide sea of young folk. And they’ve been feeling it. “We’re not just attracting one kind of kid, like we did back in the backpacker days, you know,” he says. “We’ve kinda escaped that box and have been able to start pulling from all sorts of different communities. But the bottom line is, you know, I make music about struggle, regardless of what kind of struggle I’m talking about in this song or that song. And all of these people from different places are all understanding what I’m talking about.”
Sun, April 24, 8pm. With Blueprint, Grieves with Budo, Sab the Artist + DJ Abilities. $20-$22.
Electric Factory, 421 N. Seventh St. 215.627.1332. electricfactory.info
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PW's Music Issue 2014