In the land of indie hip-hop, Slug and Ant are kings. Minneapolis’ homegrown rap group Atmosphere is two men: Slug’s the voice and Ant’s the noise. They have six studio albums and at least 13 live/tour albums to show for their decade-plus career. Our fair city has been graced with their presence many times over the years and they’ll return on April 12 at In the Venue. The current tour, When God Gives You Ugly, promotes the reissue of the duo’s now-classic album God Loves Ugly. The tracks are all re-mastered and there’s a DVD with concert footage, music videos and other shenanigans for the fanboys. The reissue, released on Rhymesayers Entertainment, hit shelves on Jan. 16 .
SLUG: I watched every single Paint It Gold webisode on YouTube. What made you decide to reach out to the fans and connect with them in that way?
Slug: I don’t know . . . I feel as if they’re kinda my boss. I’ve had tons of jobs over the span of my life and they all sucked. This is the best job I’ve ever had. But this one’s weird, ‘cus instead of one asshole boss, I’ve got like 80,000 bosses and none of them really know how to tell me what to do. With the Paint It Gold, it was twofold: it was a way for me to reach out and be a little bit more communicative with the fans, but also a way for me to feel out what the fuck they want me to do as an employee.
SLUG: You once said Tom Waits was an artist you’d love to collaborate with. What was it like having him beatbox on “The Waitress” on When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold?
Slug: It was ridiculous. Thank you for asking. I think a lot of people don’t realize he’s there ‘cus we didn’t put a sticker on the cover of the record that said he’s there. When I first sent it to him, he was gonna sing on it, not beatbox. So when I came home from tour, the mail was here. And I’m excited to listen to it, I go down in the basement and I put it in the little 4-track player. And there’s no singing. And I’m scanning the tracks looking for it: “There’s no singing, there’s no singing.” Then on one track he plays the guitar, which I didn’t really need ‘cus I already had guitar all over the track. And then on another track he plays a shaker . . . which I didn’t really need ‘cus I’m a professional shaker player. Then on the last track he’s fuckin’ beat-boxing. And I’m just like whoa, what? Really? I was excited nonetheless, because it actually fit. The deal is that I owe him now. I owe him a favor. So any time he calls me and says, “Hey, I need you to rap on something,” I’ll say alright just send it to me . . . And I’m gonna play the oboe on that motherfucker.
SLUG: Is there anyone else on the top of your collaboration list these days?
Slug: Honestly, I kinda got the two I wanted. I got Tom Waits and I got Tunde Adebimpe from TV On The Radio on one of the songs [“Your Glass House”]. I don’t really know who else I like. I mean, I like Billy Joel, but I would never ask him to get on my record, y’know what I mean? He’d fuck it up.
SLUG: On When Life Gives You Lemons, storytelling takes a front seat to dis-raps and personal politics—why the change of pace?
Slug: Age. Pretty much. Age, and, y’know, my kid is a teenager now. I’m not gonna be that guy that hits 40 years old and is still battling the invisible wack MCs. Honestly, I do want to take this and turn it into something more contemporary for myself. I want to make rap music that I would listen to if I wasn’t a rapper. And that’s where I gotta start figuring out how to get on my grown-up shit here—so that I can eventually be that guy who makes rap music for fucking 30-something soccer moms.
SLUG: When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold … That’s optimistic wisdom, Do you consider yourself an optimist?
Slug: … In training.
SLUG: Does your consistent anti-cocaine sentiment stem from a certain time in your life?
Slug: It stems from my childhood. Watching the adults around me, y’know, wreck their lives.
SLUG: Are there any drugs you still enjoy?
Slug: Coffee, beer … weed.
SLUG: That’s a good top three.
Slug: Well yeah, it’s rap, y’know?
SLUG: On Paint It Gold, Ant said that Rakim is the greatest rapper ever. Do you agree?
Slug: I think KRS-One. But honestly, I don’t think that I would ever argue with Ant—mine’s KRS-One, his is Rakim. I think our top fives are probably pretty similar.
SLUG: Go ahead then, who are your top five rappers?
Slug: Second is Rakim, third is Big Daddy Kane, fourth is Ice Cube and fifth is Scarface. But truthfully dog, I don’t listen to a lot of music anymore. I discovered CNN and it’s totally stealing away my music listening time.
SLUG: I’m sorry to hear that.
Slug: Yeah, but it’s phases, you know, we go through phases. I mean, Wolf Blitzer is just so much cuter that 50 Cent.
SLUG: I’ll agree with you there. Lemons dropped about a year ago. When can we expect another studio release?
Slug: My guess is you’ll see Atmosphere within 12 to 16 months.
SLUG: Okay, so I gotta ask: How long have you been calling yourself Slug, cus, you know, we’ve been doing it for 20 years now …
Slug: Ha ha, yeah. Well I’m older than you. My father’s nickname was Sluggo, so as a kid I was Little Sluggo. And it just got shortened to Slug somehow.
SLUG: Damn. Well, I’ll be sure to give credit where credit’s due.
Slug: Now, I don’t want no beef, son.
Check out Slug and Ant’s Salt Lake date on April 12 at In the Venue.