Atmosphere frontman Slug — known to his parents and the IRS as Sean Daley — is one of the most prodigious artists working in the Minnesota music scene. In his 26-year career, the Rhymesayers Entertainment co-founder has released 26 LPs and EPs, along with a slew of features that runs the gamut from DJ Murge to MF DOOM.
During that time, Slug's become an almost ubiquitous presence in the Twin Cities, headlining bonkers homecoming gigs at First Ave as well as his perennial Soundset festival in Shakopee. Even if they're not fans of hip-hop, most Minnesotan's recognize the charismatic emcee and his marquee songs, like "Modern Man's Hustle" and "Always Coming Back Home to You." However, not as many are familiar with the beatnik mood music he made with Deep Puddle Dynamics, or the rough cuts he tracked alongside members of the Orphanage.
In our ongoing celebration of Rhymesayers' 20th anniversary, Gimme Noise decided to look back through Slug's catalog to find some of the lesser-known greatest hits.
10. "The Scarecrow Speaks"
From The Taste of Rain...Why Kneel? by Deep Puddle Dynamics (1999)
Although it's Doseone's sprawling, poetic verse that takes the focus of the song, Slug's staggered outro brings the most startling images to the grey matter. The image of God drunk driving Heaven into a tree is classic early-era pessimism from Sep Sev and also serves to ground the high-minded preceding verses. Slug's too young to dive deep into the enigmatic, philosophic depths that Dose and the other Deep Puddle rhymers wade through. Instead, "The Scarecrow Speaks" shows the rising underground mogul's ability to add texture to any group while preserving his signature swagger.
9. "Missing Teeth"
From Shadows on the Sun by Brother Ali (2003)
Brother Ali is the only rapper to ever get a guest verse on an Atmosphere single. In fact, his verse on "Cats Van Bags" off 2003's Seven's Travels was the last song to ever feature another artist on an Atmosphere full-length. But 2003 featured another Slug/Ali collaboration that's more notable for the stomping that the two Minnesota emcees deliver in a brief 1:55. On "Missing Teeth," Slug kicks in the gate to rap about the duo's superiority over a circular boom-bap beat. Ali rides out the wave with his signature baritone punches, ending the statement with a Blues Brothers quote to drive home the message — on the rare occasion Sean and Ali team up, they're not coming to fuck around.
8. "Happy Mess"
From Sad Clown Bad Spring 12 by Atmosphere (2008)
The only proper Atmosphere song to make this list, "Happy Mess" comes from from the 12th installment of Slug and Ant's ongoing Sad Clown EP series. Though Sluggos' problems with women are well cataloged in early Atmosphere releases (see: "Fuck You Lucy" from God Loves Ugly or pretty much all of Lucy Ford), "Happy Mess" finds the beleaguered lover breaking and trying for redemption. His voice cleaves with a plea in the song's chorus of "I'm not perfect, but I'm this, that and this/My hands are dirty but I'm this, that and this," stretching with the desperation of an aging romantic running short on luck.
7. "Atmosphere Exclusive"
From For Persons with DJ Abilities by DJ Abilities (2000)
Four artists get exclusive tracks on DJ Abilities' 2001 collaborative mixtape For Persons with DJ Abilities. Unsurprisingly, Eyedea and Brother Ali are two of those rhymers. Slug also takes a vacation from his muse Ant to lay down an exclusive track, playfully jamming along with the fuzzy snare Abilities strings out beneath him, going as far as to spoof "Here Comes the Sun" in his revelry. "Atmosphere Exclusive" is a testament to the young Slug's capacity to lighten any beat with his sense of humor. Throughout the loose verse, Se7en is effervescent and goofy, even punking himself for his "emo days", which, in 2000, were barely underway.
6. "The Office"
From Bloody Radio by Grayskul (2007)
Although Aesop Rock is now a member of the Rhymesayers family, back in 2007, he was the flagbearer for underground mothership Def Jux. At the time, Rock and Slug were distant pillars in the indie rap scene that were not often united on the same beat (the exception being "Miss by a Mile" off We Came From Beyond, Vol. 2). On Grayskul's Bloody Radio, JFK and Onry Ozzborn lace heat alongside the two pioneers, putting together the most memorable track from that particular release. Slug takes the song's last verse, closing out a lost classic that may have foretold the masterful alliance formed when Rock signed to RSE in 2011.
From Radio do Canibal by BK-One with Benzilla (2009)
BK-One's Radio do Canibal was an inspiring LP for the Rhymesayers' roster, pitting each signee over the Brazilian-infused beats of BK-One and Benzilla. Slug takes on "Gitit" alongside Brother Ali, bringing a needle of life to the horn-heavy back beat with a fluidic cypher. Ali and Slug trade verses in expert fashion, making "Gitit" not only a resurrection of Slug's freestyling roots but also a continuation of the live-band theatrics he'd been incorporating since the @ It Again tour three years prior. Of course, Atmosphere's never brought a brass section on their tour bus, so "Gitit" is a unique chance to hear Sluggo rip bars over carnival trumpets.
4. "Forget Me"
From The Many Faces of Oliver Hart by Oliver Hart a.k.a. Eyedea (2002)
While 2015 is a landmark year for Rhymesayers, it's also the fifth anniversary of the death of one of their brightest stars and Slug's best collaborators — Michael "Eyedea" Larsen. Despite their lengthy friendship, Slug and Eyedea rarely appeared on tracks together. However, on 2002?s The Many Faces of Oliver Hart, the pair gave a scarce but welcomed performance. Hearkening back to their days spitting frees on the Wake Up Show, the two Minneapolis legends trade terse bars that are rich in rhyme and paced to kill. "Forget Me" is one of only a few glimpses (again, along with "Miss by a Mile", which also features Larsen) into a friendship and a symbiotic relationship that was not exercised often enough on wax.
3. "Don't Leave Me (When Winter Comes)"
From Strange Journey Volume One by CunninLynguists (2009)
Slug has a tendency for self-deprecation that might turn off a lot of hip-hop heads or weigh on a casual listener. However, Slug's addition to CunningLynguists' Strange Journey Volume One mixtape showcases his humility without ever treading the waters of self-loathing. "Don't Leave Me (When Winter Comes)" is his gracious thank you to the City of Lakes. Unlike the popular "Always Coming Back Home to You" off Seven's Travels, "Don't Leave Me" sees Slug years later, more mature and truly able to reflect on a career that may not have landed him on the Billboard Top 40 but made him a hometown hero.
2. "Woman Tonight"
From Felt, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet by Felt (2005)
On the second entry of Slug and Murs' serialized collaboration, Felt, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet, producer Ant lays out a soulful, sample-happy tapestry of beats characteristic of then-era Atmosphere. On "Woman Tonight", Slug is very much at home over his partner in crime's Tommy Butler sample, putting together a painfully honest ode to love on the road. "It's not your standard free bird situation/But you're talking to the pieces of man whose trying to make it/Through the puzzles, travels/Struggles, battles/The body pillow pimp trying to snuggle with my shadow," Slug raps, laying himself completely bare.
1. "Insomnia 411?
From Something's Gotta Give by Roosevelt Franklin (2003)
In all the verses Slug has ever spit — from his most polished work on 2011?s The Family Sign to his early freestyles with the Orphanage — this is simply the best, and it's a shame that it was tacked onto Roosevelt Franklin's little-heralded 2003 record Something's Gotta Give. The song was also included on the b-side bootleg Satan Hates Beauty, but other than that, Slug's staggeringly relatable account of heartbreak was mostly lost to the annals of hip hop. Here, Sluggo takes a re-engineered Coldplay sample and injects it with such candid, angry confusion that it completely steals the show from Franklin and anchor feature Jean Grae. Not only is this the best hidden gem in Slug's massive collection, but it might just be the most powerful verse he ever penned.
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