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My problems with Slug have never had anything to do with his rapping ability. In the course of his ten year career, the man born Sean Daley has been frequently brilliant, turning in three very good albums, (the first three), one of which, Overcast!. I consider to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever made.

 

But to loosely paraphrase J.D. Salinger, my favorite rappers have always been the dudes that you’d want to call up on the phone to invite over to smoke a blunt. This is why I’ve always vastly preferred Jay-Z to Nas. While vintage Jay was the sort of dude you’d go out with and end up surrounded by models, popping Crystal on a yacht in St. Tropez, Nas was the sort of guy who’d still be on the model-strewn yacht, but would perpetually be fucking things up by lecturing the models for not knowing who Mansa Musa was.

 

The point is, I’ve never really wanted to smoke a blunt with Slug. Ok, well maybe I did at one point, but I was about 20 years old and would’ve probably smoked a blunt with Satan himself then (provided that it was good chronic). But this all went out the window when I caught a lackluster Atmosphere show in late 2002, wherein Slug took a thong thrown from the audience and shoved it into his mouth like it was thanksgiving dinner. Nothing against guys that don’t see the several dozen hygenic problems posed by that situation, but ultimately, I wouldn’t want to be the next guy to hit the blunt either.

Listerine Anyone?

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I’d seen Atmosphere three times since the infamous thong-eating fiasco and each time I walked away impressed. The thing is, Slug can rap really really well and when he’s not trying to make dull and overly simplistic 808-heavy beats, Ant remains one of the finest producers in the underground (despite looking identical to Norm McDonald playing Burt Reynolds on SNL Celebrity Jeopardy.) But you sort of have to accept the fact that the guy who wrote “Scapegoat” is the same one whose idea of a joke is writing a line like “open invitation/ to catch today’s ejaculation /all across the front of your pretty little apron.”

But Wednesday night at the Henry Fonda brought me back the infamous “naked lunch” of 2002 and it had nothing to do with it being a bad show (it wasn’t). The thing is, Slug now sports a creepy mustache, which coupled with Ant’s sinister upper lip, makes the duo look a pair 70’s porn stars going to a costume party dressed as Snidely Whiplash and Boris of Boris and Natasha. It’s weird and it’s hard to take Atmosphere’s brand of hip-hop melodrama seriously when the guys look like they’re trying to invent Nambla rap. I respect Slug. The guy’s talented and has built up a die-hard underground fan base, started one of the best labels around, and created some great music, thanks to a relentless work ethic and DIY approach. But the mustache just isn’t a good look, particularly coupled with his newfound penchant for wearing different hats during the course of the performance, including a police officer’s cap which convinced me that he was going to launch into a cover of “YMCA.”

By all conventional standards, it was a good show. Slug is a charismatic (if not overly cocky) front-man and he rocked the sold-out crowd with a mic presence that reflected the hundreds of thousands of miles and performances he’s logged perfecting his craft. But between the mustache (really, you just can’t trust anyone with a mustache) and his live band’s insistence on re-interpreting Ant’s beats as though played by Average White Band, I just couldn’t get into it. Thing is, I sort of miss the days before it became de rigeur for every conscious/indie-leaning rapper to play with a full band. I can’t even remember the last time a rapper came on-stage with just a rapper and a DJ, no hypeman, no wank-prone backing band, just some vinyl and some microphone cords. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still check for Atmosphere’s records (this summer’s EP, Sad Clown Bad Summer No. 9 was a welcome return to form), but it might be the last time I ever see them in concert. Unless they decide to shave.

Download:
MP3: Atmosphere-“Sunshine”
MP3: Atmosphere-“Say Hey There”

 

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