Sean “Slug” Daley is certainly not the same man as he was in 1997, when Atmosphere released their debut album. On the opening track of his group’s 2018 full-length Mi Vida Local, the 47-year-old even raps about his changed perspective now as a father of four.
“You start to consider what you leave behind, maybe not creatively as much as all the other facets of your legacy,” Slug says. “When you’re dead, you want people to be able to tell your kids that you were a good human.”
Strongly tied to their hometown of Minneapolis, Atmosphere has a long history of playing shows in Indy. In fact, the group would even do shows with legendary Naptown group Mudkids way back in the day. “We had shows with Mudkids in Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and everywhere in between,” Slug says.
Atmosphere will once again return to Indianapolis for a headlining show at the Vogue on Friday, Oct. 26. Beforehand, we chatted with Slug about starting his own hip-hop festival and what tips he has for Indy’s Chreece.
NUVO: What was the hip-hop community like in Minneapolis when you first started out?
SLUG: It was just a bunch of kids that wanted to take part in a movement. We saw a movement from the outside looking in because it was predominantly a New York thing. But also when I was younger, I started to see Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, and these other cities plant their flags in the ground. So there were a lot of us in the ‘80s who could bond or even create relationships out of our unanimous love and desire to take part in this culture.
It wasn’t a business back then. It was just kids breakdancing on cardboard, spray-painting on walls, and following DJs around so we could rap at their parties. I don’t really know how that compares to other cities. I assume it’s similar, but I don’t know because I never really made it to another city until I was in my 20s.
NUVO: What went into the decision to start Rhymesayers (a Minneapolis label he co-founded) back when you did?
SLUG: There was no mystery. We knew the record labels on the different coasts had no interest in hearing from rappers from Minneapolis. So we did it out of necessity. We decided to start a label because we knew it was probably the only thing we really could do. We didn’t know it was gonna work. I don’t even know if we cared if it was gonna work. We just did it so that we could put out some records.
When we started it, we were all in it, but we also had other things going on. I had a kid and a full-time job. Siddiq had a career. We had these things to fall back on, so it wasn’t a make-or-break kind of thing. I knew I was going to drive a truck for a living no matter what, so I wasn’t doing this to get out of driving a truck. I was doing it because it was fun to do. I didn’t think I was ever gonna get out of driving a truck.
NUVO: Chreece is an Indy-based hip-hop festival that is now four years in the making. What was crucial to the early success of your Soundset hip-hop festival in Minneapolis, and what advice do you have for the Chreece crew?
SLUG: First, I think you have to visualize what success means to you. Success can be this evolving, living organism. It doesn’t have to always mean the same thing. Your goals should evolve just like you evolve. And when you reach a goal, you should move the goalpost and try to reach the next goal.
For us, it was successful right out of the gate. In the first and second years, we were able to throw festivals and invite friends to come play. Now, we never really focused solely on the Midwest—we just focused on the independent scene. We put together this daylong festival where we could bring in people from Cali, Texas, New York, Indiana, or wherever. And then, in time, we moved the goalposts and started opening it up to more mainstream artists and mainstream audiences, not knowing whether it would work.
We felt as if we were possibly doing a disservice to the scene because there were so many mainstream artists that never came through Minneapolis. We weren’t a tour stop for people. So it became a dual festival—you’ve got the indie side and the mainstream side. Kids come for both, and sometimes, they cross over. So now, it’s a festival that represents the whole tree instead of just a branch or two.
NUVO: You’ve worked with MF Doom, who is such a mysterious figure to hip-hop heads. What is working with him like?
SLUG: He’s unpredictable. There’s always this element of, “This could go off the rails,” or, “This could go to some place that’s spectacular.” So there’s an element of unpredictability working with him, but not in a bad way. It’s more so an exciting thing. That goes for making music with him or doing shows with him. You always have to remember, "Anything can happen when it comes to this guy. He doesn’t play by the rules."
NUVO: What relationships have you made with Indianapolis artists over your many years of doing shows here?
SLUG: Me and Russ [Rusty Redenbacher] go way back. We’ve known each other for way too long.
NUVO: How did you first meet him?
SLUG: He’s always been a sweetheart. The very first time I met him he treated me like he knew me. In the ‘90s, there was a lot of skepticism in hip-hop. All of us rappers wanted to be one huge posse, but we didn’t trust each other. So there was this element of looking over your shoulder.
When we met Russ, there was none of that. He just was human, and it allowed us to just be human as well. I think that’s a great way to start a relationship with somebody.