Atmosphere's MC explains how the underground stays up.
It's 9:30 p.m. in Irvine, CA, and Atmosphere just got done rocking a crowd of over 13,000 screaming fans. Dripping with sweat, but still looking like he's got enough energy to jump into a prizefight, Slug — one-half of the veteran underground duo that also includes DJ/producer, Ant — chopped it up with BET.com about Macklemore comparisons and why, despite the myriad of changes in hip hop over the last 20 years, the most important part of success is still being true to yourself.
"Forget trying to lie to people to get them to like you. Use whatever strengths you got and really nail them in a way that gets them to appreciate you for that," he said. "That's why our audience, that's why guys like Tech N9ne's audience, is what it is."
Like Atmosphere, fellow Midwesterner and friend Tech N9ne has cultivated one of the most loyal legions of fans in hip hop — and that flow of independent income that comes with it.
"Tech is touching people," Slug said. "Like he's reaching into people's hearts with what he's got to say. After meeting Tech, and seeing him do his thing I'm like, 'Man, he is really being himself and he is really putting himself into these kids.'"
Remaining true to one's self can include expanding, however. In addition to Atmosphere, Slug has three collaborative albums with West Coast MC, Murs. The collection is known as the critically acclaimed Felt projects, and another may be on the way, but "there's a pressure on it to be something more than those other ones had to be," Slug said, adding, "I know that we have so much fun making s--- together that there's no way we're not gonna make more music together."
Meanwhile, in the pop parallel world, there's been the rise of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, which of course came with comparisons to Atmosphere. But Slug is so in his own zone that he takes those comparisons more as a reflection on the one who makes them rather than on how he views success.
"Macklemore blew the f--- up," he said. "So when you come to me and go 'Slug, he sounds like you,' it makes me look at you like, you're looking at another man's s--- and you're judging him on it because you didn't get nowhere with it."
And now you're gonna be mad at Macklemore or Danny Brown or f---in' Action Bronson. Man shut the f--- up and let these dudes do their thing because, for better or worse, they are the face of the youth hip hop movement!"
In fact, he continued, "Hip hop is very interesting right now ... If you can't recognize what Kendrick's doing or [Joey Bada$$ is] doing or Bronson's doing or f---in' Macklemore's doing, if you can't recognize them as being part of the greater good of this s---, I don't know what to tell you, man."
Atmosphere's latest single, "Bob Seger," is available on iTunes and you can check them out this summer with reggae-rockers Slightly Stoopid on the "Kickin' Up Dust" tour.
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(Photo: Jeff Gentner/Getty Images)