Slug (Sean Daley)
b. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1973
1998: The Dynospectrum (with The Dynospectrum)1998: Overcast. 2000: Taste Rain, Why Kneel? (with Deep Puddle Dynamics) 2001: Lucy Ford, the Atmosphere EPs. 2002: God Loves Ugly 2002: Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci (with MURS). 2003: Seven's Travels 2005: Headshots: Se7en. 2005: Felt: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet (with MURS). 2005: You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having.
The first time I really listened to Slug, I felt unclean. An unspoken rule when rapping about partying and casual sex is that you keep it light and bawdy, celebrating all the transitory pleasures of getting drunk off your ass and hooking up with a stranger while cutting away right before things get weird and complicated. Slug doesn't follow this rule. His rhymes are full of blackouts, hangovers, and hateful glances from girls he barely knows. The world of Slug's rhymes is messy and ugly and often without redemption, mostly because Slug's attempts at uplift sound like a junkie swearing he's going to quit drugs, get a job, get married, etc, even though the idea of those things were what made him start using in the first place.
The Lucy Ford EPs is usually brought up as the high water mark for Atmosphere, Slug, and emo-rap in general. On the surface a series of EPs about Slug's relationship with his on-and-off girlfriend and mother to his son, Lucy Ford (not necessarily her real name), the EP is more about Slug's neurosis, from thoughts of murder and suicide ("Between the Lines"), his ambivalence about fame ("Guns and Cigarettes"), his problems with women ("Don't Ever Fucking Question That"), and his existential anxiety ("They're All Gonna Laugh At You" and pretty much every other song on the EPs). Slug succeeds on the Lucy Ford EPs when he runs headfirst at his demons, like when he explores his own rage and violence through the eyes of a cop and a schizophrenic woman in "Between the Lines," but when he tries, as he does throughout the EPs, to convince himself he should just stop rapping and raise a family, it never sounds like his heart is in it.
A serious mark against Slug is his almost total lack of humor (except for on Seven's Travels' "National Disgrace," which I'll talk about in a second). While he sometimes raps punchlines, they're usually something like "Dot your Ts, close your Is, and blow me counterclockwise" or "Open invitation to catch today's ejaculation," and delivered in an aggrieved tone that makes you want to pull him aside and tell him dick jokes are supposed to be funny. Whereas other albums wrapped in self-doubt, rage, and despair, like Elliott Smith's XO or Sly and the Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On, have enough melodies and different sounds to sustain a listener over an album, Atmosphere albums can't often musically bear the weight of Slug's angst and self-talk
As mentioned above, "National Disgrace" is one song where Slug cracks a smile, or more accurately, a smirk. Written by a rapper who could see mainstream success over the next hill, the song takes aim at celebrity culture by depicting its nonstop debauchery as mind-numbingly dumb, but also kind of hilarious. Lines like "Last thing I remember was the Ogden Theatre/ Backstage bathroom making out with all three of ya/ Kicked out of Tomcats--for where I put the vomit at/Finally passed out in a laundry mat/ Malnourished and topless, slurring and obnoxious/ Like 'Yo, we got this!'" do a perfect job of balancing Slug's contempt for thoughtless celebrities and his fascination with them. It's hard to hear "National Disgrace" without wondering why Slug's sense of humor has to hide away 99.9% of the time.
At heart, I think Slug wants to be a singer-songwriter, not a rapper. He's got a record label offshoot of Rhymesayers for signing rock bands, he name checks Tom Waits as an influence in interviews, and he raps about how, as a kid, he hated when LL Cool J started rapping about girls, even though any rap fan knows LLs been rapping about the ladies from the beginning. In this article, Slug says that a Cage song sampling Built to Spill's "I Could Hurt A Fly" was " one of the first hip-hop songs that touched me in a way outside of me wanting to bop my head or punch a cop." I'm not trying to make a federal case here, but isn't it odd that a guy who raps for a living would associate hip-hop with exclusively those two reactions?
Atmosphere's most recent album, You Can't Imagine All The Fun We're Having, was probably the best thing thing Slug has done since the Lucy Ford EPs. With his producer partner Ant providing bigger, more cinematic beats, Slug sounds more urgent, even if he's rapping about the same old things. Songs like "Smart Went Crazy" and "Get Fly" may not be the Cobain-esque self flaggelations found on the Lucy Ford EPs or God Loves Ugly, but it's about time that Slug took a backseat to the music.
Songs You Should Have On Your iPod
"Guns and Cigarettes" (off Lucy Ford EPs)
"Don't Ever Fucking Question That" (off Lucy Ford EPs)
"The Woman With the Tattooed Hands" (off Lucy Ford EPs)
"Hot Bars" (off Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci)
"All I Can Do" (off Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci)
"Fuck You Lucy" (off God Loves Ugly)
"God Loves Ugly" (off God Loves Ugly)
"A Girl Named Hope" (off God Loves Ugly)
"Godlovesugly reprise" (off God Loves Ugly)
"Modern Man's Hustle" (off God Loves Ugly)
"Trying to Find a Balance" (off Seven's Travels)
"National Disgrace" (off Seven's Travels)
"Smart Went Crazy" (off You Can't Imagine..)
"Get Fly" (off You Can't Imagine...)
"Hockey Hair" (off You Can't Imagine..)
"The Arrival" (off You Can't Imagine...)