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Atmosphere's Seventh Album: Representing 'Southsiders'

May 10, 2014
Originally published on May 11, 2014 6:03 pm
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When the hip-hop dual Atmosphere got their start back in the mid-'90s, mainstream rap was dominated by a harder, aggressive sound, think Dr. Dre or Notorious B-I-G. By contrast, with their spare production and tight, introspective lyrics, Atmosphere was something different.


ATMOSPHERE: (Rapping) It's the caffeine, the nicotine, the milligrams of tar. It's my habitat. It needs to be cleaned. It's my car. It's the fast talk they use to abuse and feed my brain. It's the cat box. It needs to be changed. It's the...

RATH: Almost 20 years later, the duo, Sean Daley, AKA Slug, the lyrist and MC, and producer Anthony Davis, AKA Ant, have just released their seventh album. It's called "Southsiders.


RATH: The pair were in Los Angeles earlier this week for show, so Sean Daley stopped by our studios in Culver City. Hi, Sean.

SEAN DALEY: Hi. Hey. Hello.

RATH: Well, let's talk about the new album. It's called "Southsiders," referring to the south side of Minneapolis. Let's hear a little bit of the title track.


ATMOSPHERE: (Rapping) Whole south side been up in your guts. Don't know how to describe how much you suck. And it's not just you, but every one of your bluffs follow each other around like a bunch of ducks. Just turn the music up and get dumb. Stretch your skin around the biggest drum. Born from a neighborhood of click and run. An old lady gave away my last stick of gum.

DALEY: You know, I come from a school of thought where you are supposed to represent where you're from inside of your music. And we've always tried to do that. But to me, "Southsiders" meant a lot more than just where we're from. But...

RATH: Well, what else does it represent?

DALEY: Well, everything has a south side. You know, we make music that celebrates things, celebrates life and hope and love, but also we also make music that celebrates the south side of those things. What's on the other side of love? What's on the other side of hope? You know, and I felt like a lot of the writing on this record was my observations, you know, and things that I thought about over the last few years.

And me and Anthony are both at places where we kind of love our lives right now, but I did want to still explore what the south side of that meant.

RATH: Well, one of the things that's satisfying about this new record is that they're still very introspective songs, but you are wrestling now with certain things about aging, about growing up. Let's hear a little bit of that. This is from "Fortunate."


ATMOSPHERE: (Rapping) You know I want to feel special, walk around the festival carrying a big stuffed animal. I'm trying not to make a mess though, got to stay sensible, ain't nobody coming with the antidote. I want to watch you grow and I want to leave the planet better off than it was handed to me. And I don't know, there's a possibility so I settle for selling my soul to the slaves of the land of the free. I don't wanna leave my family tree behind. I don't want no one to miss me like I miss you. But I...

DALEY: You know, I want to say, if that's the clip that you guys play, that is possibly my favorite clip on the whole album. And to answer your question, yeah, you know, I always thought that when the day came that I would be afraid of death, that it was going to be this level of, like, facing this, I don't know, personified concept of death and having to struggle, and I don't want to go yet.

I didn't realize what it really was. Like I'm not scared to die. I've kind of reconciled that part. It's like, well, when you die, it's just done. There's no worry about what's going to happen afterwards. My fear of death stems from I'm afraid of what I leave behind for the people that are stuck organizing my record collection and figuring out what to throw away, or the mess that I've left in the basement or in the garage.

You know, all of that, you know, that the pain and maybe the lack of security that I leave behind, you know, that's where...

RATH: That's a perspective of a father.

DALEY: I think it's a perspective of a father or a husband or just somebody who has surrounded himself with people that care about me and people that I love, you know.


ATMOSPHERE: (Rapping) We're not lucky, but we're fortunate. I'm pretty sure of it. And all the life we wasted trying to make some bread might have been better spent trying to raise the dead.

RATH: The first single from the album is called "Kanye West." Let's hear a little bit of that.


ATMOSPHERE: (Rapping) a popsicle. She said wants someone to treat her as an equal. And right then we started speeding towards Reno burning rubber in the burgundy Regal. Fly like the dove and dive like an eagle. I'm a 70 deuce, that year was a classic. Buzz got loose and we're here trying to catch it. She said that she was unimpressed. That's when I stood up and did the Kanye West. Put your hands in the air like you really do care, do care, do care...

DALEY: My song is about how passion can sometimes be viewed as this negative thing. Love can make you do crazy things. Love can make you snap out and over react. So this song was kind of about some of the overreacting that occurred during the courtship of my wife. And I named it after Kanye West just because I feel like he kind of personifies that concept. He's very passionate about his art. He's very passionate about what he's trying to accomplish.

And I always find it interesting when people want to criticize somebody for having feelings, because you can't tell me my feelings are incorrect. You can tell me you don't agree. You can tell me you don't understand, you don't relate, but I think when you look at a lot of our superstars, a lot of these people are scared to step on each other's toes.

I feel like Kanye's one who's not and I think that we could use more of that. And so I feel him when he has an outburst, but not so much because I can relate to what he's outbursting, because I don't have a life like his. But just because I can relate to loving something so much that you really don't care what the people perceive or how they judge you for that love.


ATMOSPHERE: (Rapping) Oh yeah, oh yeah. Put your hands in the air like you really do care, do care, do care. Oh yeah, oh yeah. Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.

RATH: I want to talk about Rhymesayers, the label you founded back in the '90s with other independent hip-hop artists in Minneapolis. What motivated you to start that label?

DALEY: It was out of necessity. Coming from Minneapolis we had no hopes of ever - you know, I'd never even mailed a demo to some A & R guy in New York or Los Angeles. I never even bothered to play the game because I already felt like the cards were stacked against me.

So when I had my first son, I was 21, and that's when I quit rap. That's when I quit and lost all of my desires to be this rap superstar. And I decided I'm going to go into the workforce and just go get a real job that offers some benefits that I can afford to take care of my new family, you know.

RATH: When you tried to be conventional, what did you do? What was your job?

DALEY: Oh, I went and got a job as a courier for a wholesale florist. And my goal was to get in as a driver, 'cause I love driving, and to work my way up into a sales position where I'm bringing in $50K a year or something, you know what I mean, but, like, with benefits. And get a house, a little house, a little nice place somewhere in south Minneapolis, you know.

And when I made that decision, that's when people started paying attention to my rapping, and that's when we started the record label. That's when we started putting out tapes and CDs and - I don't think we ever really could have foreseen where it was going to go.

You know, as a kid, yes, I wanted to be LL Cool J and I wanted to have gold necklaces and be in the back of a limousine with models and stuff. But by the time I became an adult I had no intentions of any of that. And truthfully, I am so glad I didn't up being LL Cool J in the back of a limousine with models and stuff. Like, the way it worked out, I couldn't have asked for a better more perfect story.

RATH: Sean Daley, it's been a real pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much.

DALEY: Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here.

RATH: Sean Daley is the MC for the hip-hop duo Atmosphere. Their new album "Southsiders" is out now.


ATMOSPHERE: (Rapping) I guess that's why I write about it, write about it. It helped me wrap my head around it, head around it.

RATH: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Tomorrow on this show, we meet Eric Strand. During the Iraq War, he served as a Special Forces medic.

ERIC STRAND: We were in a small camp kind of in the middle of Baghdad, and people would often bring their casualties to us because there other safe haven, pretty much any way you can imagine somebody being injured by a bomb.

RATH: The war made Strand an expert in treating blast injuries and gunshot wounds. But he's not a doctor, at least not yet.

STRAND: And I started exploring how I was going to actually get into medical school, which was pretty daunting if you're active duty military.

RATH: Retraining vets for the civilian workplace. That's tomorrow on the show. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.