Concert preview: Atmosphere continues to embrace the everyday - warts and all - on Southsiders

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Atmosphere rapper Sean Daley, aka Slug, has never refrained from sharing the most intimate details of his life on record.

On the duo’s latest, Southsiders, he pairs scenes of domestic tranquility (“Camera Thief” seats the MC at the kitchen table alongside his children) with more inward-looking cuts that find him wrestling with heavier concepts like mortality and the mark we leave on those nearest and dearest when our time on Earth is up.

“I’ve experienced a life full of accidents,” he rhymes on the somber “Arthur’s Song,” a downcast cut built on shuffling drums and slow, rolling waves of bass. “Tryna write it all down before it vanishes.”

“I know I was dealing a lot with mortality issues on this record, and in hindsight I’m like, ‘Yeah, of course I was. I was 40,’” said Daley, now 42, who joins DJ/producer Ant, born Anthony Davis, for a concert at LC Pavilion on Thursday, April 30. “The thing I learned early on is the less cool you project yourself to be, the less cool people expect you to be, and life is just better. It’s OK to show your flaws. It’s OK to talk about your mistakes. It’s OK to admit it’s your fault.

“I’m in the car talking to you, and when I’m done I have to go into the office and then to Target and then to the grocery store, and in any number of these places I may bump into somebody — especially here in the Twin Cities — who knows me through my music. None of those people are ever going to be like, ‘Oh, he’s not what I expected.’ I’m allowed to be who I am all the time. There’s no light switch here.”

Daley attributes Southsiders’ comparatively muted feel to some combination of the gray, cloudy beats crafted by longtime musical partner Ant — “Even the optimistic songs have a weird somberness to them,” he said — and a three-year stretch of time marked by death, including the 2010 passing of friend and fellow rapper Michael “Eyedea” Larsen, who inspired the album’s heartfelt “Flicker.”

“I didn’t know I was ever going to write that one. I even told myself, ‘Man, I’ve got a few songs that are about loved ones dying already, and I don’t want to make another one because I don’t want to be that guy that has a dead homies song on every record,” Daley said. “So I left it alone and didn’t touch it. I mourned in my own way, and did my own thing. And then when Ant gave me that beat, it was all that came to mind. The beat kind of wrote the song.”

While the MC has certainly lingered on death in the past — on “The River,” off Sad Clown Bad Dub II, a tour-only EP Atmosphere released in limited quantities in 2000, Daley’s anger boils over as he details the drowning death of a high school friend — there’s a maturity and steadiness to “Flicker” that suggests the rapper has come to at least a grudging acceptance of life’s finite nature.

“When you’re 25 you don’t think about the fact you’re going to die someday. On [‘The River’] there was no embracing death, because I was in my 20s and you’re not supposed to be able to embrace death in your 20s,” Daley said. “But at 40, 45, 50, you’ve lost some people at that point, and you know you’re going to die eventually. These days I can’t sit here and write a song purely about how bad it sucks that somebody died, because that’s not really the end of the story. Death happens. You have to make peace with the idea.”

Or, as he puts it on “Flicker,” “Every breath is full of self-awareness.”

While many things have changed for the rapper, including his diet (Daley said he could subsist exclusively on sausages and processed corn chips in the past, but shopping for his children he finds himself purchasing organic produce and checking labels for sugar content) and an awareness of his physical limitations (“If I try to dunk a basketball I’m going to end up in urgent care,” he said), the music still serves the same purpose it did when he started laying down his first tracks in his Minneapolis hometown more than two decades back.

“It comes from the same shit it’s always come from, which is escapism,” Daley said. “Now, I’m escaping different things than I was escaping 20 years ago. Twenty years ago I’d go to Ant’s house at two in the morning to smoke weed because I was having a fight with my girlfriend. I don’t do that anymore. Now maybe I’m going down to the basement [studio] because I’m escaping how loud it is with the kids upstairs, or maybe I’m escaping stress I might be dealing with because somebody didn’t get a fax they were supposed to get and now it turns out we don’t have health insurance. But I’ve always made music to get away from some shit. Period.”

Photo courtesy of Atmosphere

LC Pavilion

7 p.m. Thursday, April 30

405 Neil Ave., Arena District

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