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Throw the Rules Out the Window: Atmosphere hides the vitamins in the Twinkies and gets the punk kids to listen.

Atmosphere pic #1
There are a hell of a lot of rules in hip-hop. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, since hip-hop's pretty much supposed to be all about breaking through boundaries and stirring shit up and all that, but that's the reality. If you don't do things a certain way, or sound a certain way, or look a certain way, people look at you funny or, worse, label you a lightweight, a sellout, or a dozen other tags meant to kick rappers and DJs who don't stick to the script to the curb.
So how in the hell does Atmosphere do what it does? The duo don't fit any of the preconceived roles hip-hop artists are supposed to jump into -- they're not gangstas bragging about their skill at the hustle, they're not thugs threatening to kill somebody, they're not Big Willies rapping about the bling life. Hell, they don't even fall into the "backpack rap"/"sensitive rap"/"emo-rap" categories critics have coined pretty much specifically for them. Atmosphere -- rapper Slug (Sean Daley) and DJ Ant (Anthony Davis) -- defy all the labels. These two guys just do what they do, and they're brilliant at it, as displayed on the duo's latest release, You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having (on Rhymesayers, the label co-owned/co-run by Slug).
Unlike the minimal melodicism and smooth grooves that amble with a loopy smile off the last disc, Seven's Travels, the new album slams in with a bang. "The Arrival" comes in with authority, not angry but supremely confident, and Ant's beats range boldly into Terminator X territory -- the sinister hums and military cadences make Slug sound positively Chuck D-like (and yeah, that's a good thing).
There's plenty of trademarked Atmosphere intelligence here, mind you, as well as brutally honest, down-to-earth musings on the nature of fatherhood, love, finding your identity, and the nature of hip-hop. And then, close to the end, there's "That Night," a chilling real-life story of a murder that hit close to home for the whole Rhymesayers crew. It's dangerous and painful -- as it should be -- and backed by the murkiest soul sample I've heard in a long time. On the whole, it's an amazing piece of work that ignores any hip-hop convention imaginable.
So, how do Slug and Ant do it? I meant to ask when I spoke to Slug a little while back but somehow, in the middle of all the talking about touring, hip-hop, record distro, and all the rest, I forgot...
Atmosphere plays in H-town on Sunday, March 19th at Warehouse Live (813 Saint Emanuel Street, Houston, TX. 77003), along with Los Nativos and Nosaprise.


Slug: What's goin' on, cuz?
SCR: I guess you've got a lot of interviews going on right now, huh?
Yeah, it's that time of year -- you know how we do. [laughs]
Are you out on the road already, or no?
No, not yet, man. I'm at my apartment, but we leave pretty soon.
Oh, okay. I heard that Ant was actually going with you guys for the first time.
Actually, no -- his first time was last fall. This'll be his second. But two is close to one, so...
[laughs] Thanks for making me feel better.
Y'know, honestly, every time feels like the first time. And I'm not even saying that on some like, corny, "artist" shit -- although I'm a pretty corny artist -- but the anticipation... I've had tours where I've dreaded going out, because there's other things going on in my life that the last thing I needed was to be out rapping, y'know what I mean? Still, the anticipation that comes every time really makes you feel like the first time. It's kind of like... Have you ever toured? Are you in a band?
No. Used to be, but we never got out of Houston.
I knew it, man -- you fucking journalists...
That's us.
It's -- ah, man -- it's like when you're with a girl that you know you like 'cause she's super-fuckin'... She's so on-point with her shit, and you haven't known her long enough to realize how nuts she really is? It's kinda like that first time of having sex. Now every time, you break up with her, and then you wait a year and then you get back together, and you feel that fucking nervousness again and then she's nuts again, she's psycho again. It's the same thing. It's an ongoing cycle.
And I guess that's me and my codependency issues at work, because I do treat touring and my relationship with touring a lot like a girlfriend, like a real relationship.
So it's the "newness" part of it. You don't really know what you're getting into, so... You think you do, but you don't, really, on some level. So who all is going out with you this time, I guess?
I've got a four-piece band, and I have Ant, my DJ and producer and copilot and best friend and bodyguard. [laughs]
-- Atmosphere record cover
(Music courtesy of Rhymesayers Entertainment.)

You need a bodyguard?
Nah, he's not my bodyguard.
I thought you were the taller one?
No, we're both the same height. But actually, yeah, maybe I'm a little taller. But his ponytail's longer.
Ah, okay.
And then, ah, Los Nativos is coming, and they're another group on the Rhymesayers imprint. And one of the members from Los Nas sits in with the band on percussion, which is pretty cool. Um... And who else is coming? I think that might be who all is coming with me on this tour.
I've heard of Los Nativos -- I think they were on a compilation I saw recently, and then I saw 'em on the Website.
I like those guys. They're really, really good. Sonically, their music is really incredible, but onstage the energy they have is like... It's really welcome, for me. Because they have a lot of political things to say, but they way they present them is very "warm." The way they present them, it doesn't alienate anybody, y'know? Even dumb kids. [laughs]
"Even the dumb kids can enjoy it!"
Yeah, even the stupid children. So bring your stupid friends to the show, 'cause even the stupid kids can gain something from this. And who knows, man? Maybe if the stupid kids hang out with enough smart kids often enough, like it's totally, they're gonna get off on it and be like, "I'd rather be a smart kid!"
You'd hope that's how it works. I dunno, though -- the smart kids still get beaten up in high school.
If smart kids got laid more, it'd be so much more a, y'know, it'd look better to the stupid kids. The stupid kids would really want to be down. But what needs to be brought across is "no, smart kids don't get laid more -- they get laid better." [laughs]
I'll have to remember that one...
Well, they get more laid. "They don't get laid more -- they just get more laid..."
It's just the quality; it's not the quantity.
That's what I'm saying.
You mentioned the political thing, and I was kind of surprised -- I've never really thought of you as a "political artist" or anything.
The funny thing is I think that I've done a good job of not presenting that side of me. I have had my own kind of issues with when and how it's time for me to show that side of me. Y'know, it's like... I'm not wearing complete blinders. I'm not completely dumb to the fact that there is room for me to glean a lot of resource through power and there is room for me to get a lot of ears.
And with that in mind, y'know, when I started seeing -- I used to be a much more political artist, but when I started seeing the network grow and started seeing how people responded to what I was doing when I was being myself, I realized that I kinda wanted to spark this off on a more internal consciousness, as opposed to just coming straight out on "conscious". Y'know what I mean? I didn't want it to be straight-up conscious rap; I wanted to kinda creep in the correct way. Because y'know, I'd seen a lot of room, man -- there was a lot of us in this quote-unquote "independent movement" who were stating our claims and putting them out there very hardcore, and I saw the alienation that was coming from a lot of different areas. And I also saw a little problem with preaching to the choir, man. I didn't want to get caught in that.
So, in a weird way, me bringing a group like Los Nativos or me bringing a Brother Ali is kind of my magic trick, in the sense of making sure to apply some of that consciousness. Like P.O.S. and [Brother Ali] coming out on tour with me the last couple of tours has been kinda my way of going, "Okay, look: I've got these kids that, y'know, they're almost there, they're ready to fuckin'..."
Like, plenty of 'em are there, but there's a lot of kids at my shows that don't really yet know why they're at my shows. They're there because it's a scene, they're there because there's something to do, they're there because they think they're really into Atmosphere, whatever it might be. They haven't yet realized that it's kinda bigger than Atmosphere. They haven't yet realized what hip-hop is. They haven't yet realized how like massive this movement can be. So I saw myself as kinda like this doorway drug for some of these kids, who weren't even into rap but, y'know...
Luckily, I got to do the Warped Tour and got to grab a bunch of these punk-pop kids, who were like, "Wow, man, I really liked what you did!" See 'em a year later, and they're like, "hey, man -- I fuckin' checked out Aesop Rock and this and that, and now I listen to rap."
So I see the room for that and so I'm gonna make sure -- I mean, we've all read The Art of War way too many times, y'know. You've gotta remember, I am a rapper, and we're all conspiracy theorists, so this is my conspiracy, man. This is where I keep my kind of relationship with the revolution on some "the revolution starts inside of your heart"-type shit. And as I get a little bit more founded and get taken a little bit more serious by -- we'll say the market as a whole -- that's when I can start actually pushing out some of the other consciousness, y'know?
But at the intro, I really see how a lot of my contemporaries and peers put themselves into boxes that they can't really break out of. Whereas I kind of made myself my box, so therefore I'm going to reach the point where anything I do have to say is worthy of one of my fans -- at least just listening. And being like, "I don't agree with him; he's on bullshit." Y'know what I mean?
Yeah. It'll all fit.
Or figure out whether or not they agree with me. Y'know, the funny this is I get into crazy arguments with some of my contemporaries about my theories on this. Like you've got a Sage Francis, who's very direct and outspoken about what he says and believes, and he turns to me and he's like, "Dude, you have so much power; you have all these fucking kids at your shows -- why are you not feeding them what I know you have?"
And then I explained to him my theory on how it should be done by somebody like me. There is room for me to get more than just the kids who already fucking know what I'm talking about. And I don't know if it's because maybe I've got the right haircut, maybe I've got the right swagger... Whatever it is these kids are fuckin' seeing in me and maybe not some of my contemporaries, I'm not gonna abuse that, I'm gonna use that.
Y'know, it's the fuckin' Pied Piper theory. It's the same thing Tupac was doing, only he was doing it on a massive level. But it's the same concept.
Yeah, he was pretty political, but he wasn't exactly that up-front about it, as well.
He wasn't that up-front about it. And when he was, he kept it very understandable by people who were not political. Y'know? He broke down what the acronym for what N-I-G-G-A was, and he broke it into like a positive message.
It's things like that -- it's kinda like, c'mon, everybody understands acronyms. Well, check it out, dude: I'm trying to fucking reach out to a bunch of kids made complacent by motherfuckin' PlayStation 2 and get them to be part of this movement. And I can't do it by coming out and beating them in the head a million times: "Fuck George Bush!" Y'know what I'm saying?
If my ceiling was only gonna be 50,000 fans, then it would make more sense for me to actually stir those 50,000 up. But I do feel as if you can get me into the hands of 500,000 kids, I can get 500,000 kids on this fucking team. And I do think that benefits everybody in the movement, as opposed to me being another one of these guys on a soapbox, preaching to the choir that already knows and agrees with what you're preaching about.
That's true; it can put people off when you're that forceful and kinda blunt about it.
Yeah, and the people that agree with you will fuckin' love you forever. And I fucking love that, and I feel that. But it's like me and Sage are on the same path, we're just... Because of who we are and because of what we do and how we do it, we just have to take two different routes to getting there. But at the same time, at the end of the day, me and him both recognize that we are on the same fucking path. It's just that I'm not allowed to be that smart yet. I still have to smile and shuck-and-jive a little bit, y'know, just to fuckin'... I always use the metaphor of, like, I gotta hide the vitamins in the Twinkie, still.
[laughs] It's funny, actually, 'cause the new album -- I don't know if you're gonna like this or not, but it's actually kind of reminds me a lot of Sage's new album.
Of A Healthy Distrust?
Yeah. Not the lyrics, as much, but more the sound of it.
And I think Ant actually did some of the production on that, so that might be part of it.
I think he might've did something, yeah; I can't remember if A did get anything on Healthy Distrust or not. It's funny, 'cause we were making the record at the same time; it's just that he got his to get out first because I was busy. I started working on that fucking Felt record and kinda switched up my whole schedule, y'know what I mean? And then... Yeah.
It was crazy, 'cause when I went to Providence, where he's from -- not having anything to do with him, but I went there with the girl I was seeing at the time for a wedding, some of her friends getting married. And I decided to go out there, and we immediately broke up the minute we got out there -- of course, that's what you do, it's a fucking wedding, right? So I called Sage and had him come to the hotel and hang out, and that's when he came and he started playing me Healthy Distrust. That was, uh, September of '04, yeah. So started playing him my record, and it was like... It was an awesome moment.
That would be, yeah.
It was kind of this thing where we were both totally fuckin' inspired by what the other one was doing but both incredibly neurotic about what we were doing. "Is this one okay? What about this one?" Y'know what I mean? And I can't say that about a lot of my peers, man, I can't say that I have that type of connection with anybody out there aside from him and Murs [Ed. Note: West Coast rapper, part of the Living Legends crew]. Murs is the only other guy, y'know?
And I don't really count the Rhymesayers kids, the kids that live here, 'cause I connect with them 'cause I see them all the time. But as far as people who are not involved with our family, they're the only two dudes that I really, really connect like that.
I get along with everybody -- there aren't too many artists that don't like me. Most of 'em don't like my records, but as far as I go, most of 'em are usually like, "I like Sean, though; I just don't really care about his 'girl' songs." I get along with most of these guys, man. I'm a pretty easygoing dude; I don't fuckin' step into the circle wearing a bunch of fuckin' pride on my sleeves, y'know? I hide that shit in my boot with my gun.
I actually kinda like that about your records, because it's not the typical gangsta bullshit -- "Oh, I'm gonna kill anybody who looks at me the wrong way!", that kind of thing. 'Cause that gets old.
Yeah, I got over the pissing contest a long time ago. I realized, man, while everybody's trying to out-piss each other, I'm gonna run around and fuck all their girlfriends.
[laughs] And probably have a better time doing it.
Yeah, but in the end it turned out to be just as, y'know, just as negative a fuckin' situation.
I also realized there's a trend here: I'm older than most of my peers. Most of these guys are like hittin' 28 now, and I'm like, "Goddamn, I wish I was 28..."
How old are you now?
33. Ain't that much older, but it's not 28, cuz. [laughs]
It does make a difference, yeah. With the Rhymesayers group, too, a lot of those guys didn't really start doing what they were doing until after you'd already been kind of established, so...
Yeah. It became a bit... Like, there was a lot of acts that we were trying to put out and work. But Atmosphere took off first. 'Cause Eyedea & Abilities were workin' on their stuff, Musab was working on his stuff, Ali was working on his stuff, but Atmosphere, with one of the vinyl releases we did, did well with college radio. And suddenly I started going out and doing shows.
So I took Eyedea with me, at first, took him on the road, him and Abilities, just trying to break them in to the audience, as well. So that we could all go back home after the tour and then could put out their record and get the same audience. Same with Ali, and so on and so forth. But since I was the one that broke first, I'm still kinda like just a baby-step ahead of everybody else.
Yeah, like the big brother.
It works, in a way, because it's in my characteristic to learn as much as I can about what I do and bring it home and teach everybody else it, so they can apply it already, y'know? It's like for every step I do take forward, everybody kinda gets the resources I get. Everybody gets access to the information, to the connection, y'know, just by way of that.
And the more the label builds up, the more they benefit, too. You're a lot more likely to buy a record from a label you know, where you know somebody else on the label, than some random no-name label you've never heard of before.
And everybody knew I had no problem being the guinea pig to begin with. I really had nothing better going for me, y'know? I was driving a truck, and that was pretty much gonna be what I was gonna do for the rest of my life at that point.
Wow. And now look how far you've come...
Yeah. And now I drive a van. Awesome. [laughs]
Well, yeah, but it's what you do when you get there, y'know? That's the difference.
Instead of unloading boxes, I'm unloading T-shirts...
Did you ever think you'd get to this point?
Oh, hell no, man! And not only that, but any time you ever hear or read a complaint out of my mouth, understand that I am blessed to have the complaints that I have. I know that. I've never been that guy that's been like, "oh my God, this is so hard!", I'm the guy that goes, "oh my God, this is so much easier than worrying about the light bill!"
I wanted to ask you, actually, about the Rhymesayers thing. Are you basically still running the show, there?
Oh no, man -- I'm just one-fourth of the pie. There's four of us that own Rhymesayers. For the most part, when I started traveling more, we realized that that was my strongest strength with Rhymesayers, was to continue pushing Atmosphere as far as I could, to just gain the networking and resources, y'know?
But there's a time coming that I get to sit back down at the table and do math, which is my other strength. It is what it is -- we all are kind of multitaskers. There is no title for any of us, for the most part, because we all carry so many different titles, each of us. And so this year, I get to be a rapper still.
Atmosphere pic #2
So it is pretty much a collective thing? I'd heard the term, but...
Yeah, it is. Because we never really knew how to break it up, and y'know, when we had to start gettin' "official" and become an LLC and all that kind of shit, in the eyes of the government. And so we said, let's just run it like we've been running it, and break it up four ways.
Yeah, I don't even know what you do when you've gotten to that point. It's kind of bizarre. Kind of also on the label thing, I know the last album was out on Epitaph...
Yeah -- it was distributed by Epitaph. Y'know, we didn't actually do an album deal with them, we did a license agreement for distro.
Ah, okay.
We pushed it as hard as we could to kind of like to show... We kept the Rhymesayers thing on full-blast with it, but we also wanted to kind of push the Epitaph thing, because there was a strong understanding that we were kind of guinea-pigging each other.
We needed to see what would happen if I suddenly caught world distribution and was able to really hit these markets and not worry about whether or not there was some -- 'cause, y'know, you go to some fuckin', a city like Boise, and there are no independent stores. And so how available is my record if like Target and Best Buy don't carry it?
So it was a guinea pig situation for us to just kind of get out there -- I knew I was gonna tour heavy that year, so I wanted my record in all these stores so that when I played these small towns, the kids did have access to it -- and it was a guinea pig situation for them, they wanted to see what would happen if they fucked with rap, y'know? They had some projects on the table coming up, Sage being one, this cool record, the Blackalicious and all the Quannum stuff, but they'd never done it, and they saw me as kind of a low-risk vehicle for it. Because I'd already kind of figured out touring and figured out all this other shit on my own and was already a viable, moving vehicle. So for them -- for both of us -- it was a really low-risk, guinea pig situation.
You didn't want to do it again this time?
Well, there was really no need to, and we'd never really discussed doing it any further. We both kinda knew what kind of coup we were trying to create there, and I think it pretty much worked for both of us. It definitely got my exposure global, and with the next record, Best Buy and Target took the new one. Without Epitaph.
And not only that, but they're taking the label serious -- they're carrying the Brother Ali record, they're carrying the Felt stuff, they're carrying the Musab stuff. And so it totally worked in our favor, and it totally worked in their favor, because you've got me running around talking to all these rap guys. When they're asking, "So how was that Epitaph thing?", I say, "Man, it was great! I have no complaints."
Like, those dudes went further than they needed to go for me. They went far beyond what they owed me as far as what kind of support they gave me. So Epitaph got what they wanted -- they got some credibility within the rap world, which was important for them because, y'know, they're a punk label, like half their shit is based on what is and what isn't credible. They totally kept their hands clean, man, and we totally fuckin' got to sell records in Iran, y'know what I mean? It definitely worked both ways for us.
Now, I'm sure that if I'd have went to them and said, "Do you want to do the next record?", they probably would've said "yeah." But that would've defeated why I did it in the first place. I didn't do it because I wanted to put somebody else's hands in the mix and start giving out a percentage and start, y'know, working it like a real, actual major act. I wanted to do it just to kind of like "surprise" the industry, whatever you want to call it.
You wanted to hang onto that control as much as possible.
Oh, yeah -- totally, totally. And they gave me full control; they let me hang onto it. The funny thing is, with that record... The record was done. And we were about to put it out. And I just on a whim was talking to Andy, 'cause he would call and be like, "Yo, what do you think of Busdriver?" He would call me and ask me about rappers that he was interested in talking to; he wanted to find out if they were nice guys or not, or find out what I thought of their ability to sell records, or whatever. Me and him had a pretty decent relationship like that.
He had stepped to me a while ago, and I'd told him "no; nothing," and then after that me and him kinda became friends. And so here I was like two years later going, "Hey, I've got this record that's done, and I could put it out through fuckin' Rhymesayers and catch BMG Distribution again...", but BMG Distribution was like the paperboy, y'know -- they throw the records out, and sometimes it lands on the porch, sometimes it lands in the bushes, y'know what I mean? And so I called him and said, "I've got this done record, would you guys want to help me with the distro?" And he was like, "Dude, I could come up with an agreement that is like four sentences long, and it could work to everybody's fuckin' needs." So he was like, "Let me hear the record," and I sent it to him, he said yeah, and it was as-is.
They didn't touch it?
They didn't touch anything, they didn't ask for anything. I had it done. I was ready to put it out our normal style; I was ready to put it out myself. And they were just like, "Fuck yeah, we'll take this." So it pushed the record back like two months, because now they wanted to do a real campaign for it, whereas I was gonna put it out like, y'know, how I was used to putting records out -- "There's a new record, it came out Monday, not even Tuesday..." But yeah, they wanted to get down, and so I was like, "Fuck it, let's try it."
I have to admit, I was kind of surprised when I was at Borders the other day and I saw the last record and the new record and a whole bunch of other Rhymesayers stuff, too -- "Holy crap, at Borders?"
Yeah, I have to say that they definitely helped us stake our claim a little bit sooner. Everybody was like, "Wow, these guys turned down Interscope's offer... but they licensed a record to Epitaph? What the fuck are they thinkin'?" And then when they saw what I was thinkin' -- well, yeah, I licensed the record to Epitaph and then did fuckin' a hundred and eighty dates that year -- they're like, "Okay, I get it." Everybody was like, "Oh, my God -- dude is selling 400 records out of a fucking Best Buy in Boise, our fucking pop bands aren't even doing that," y'know what I mean?
And with that, I saw everybody start running to all the indie rappers -- "Yo yo yo yo yo! Yo yo yo yo! Yo yo yo yo!" I think that what you're gonna see next is a lot of independent labels linking up with your Universals and your Interscopes, because Interscope doesn't wanna know that somebody's out there selling records without their help.
They want a piece of it, somehow.
And so kind of what we saw with your Vagrants and your Fat Wreck Chords and a lot of your indie emo labels or indie punk labels, what happened to them five years ago is about to happen to the indie rap world. And the majors aren't going to have expectations of any of these guys selling 500,000 -- they'll be happy with 80,000, they'll be happy with 50,000, because it was all done on low scale, it was all done with low maintenance, it was all done themselves, and they still get to see 15 cents off of every fuckin' record for doing the distro.
So in the end, I think it helps everybody. I'm not trying to take credit for that -- I think it was part of the tide, y'know, I think that shit was coming, regardless of which one of us got to take part in it. I think that it was the next step, because there's a lot of kids out there buying these fuckin' Aesop Rock records, y'know what I'm saying? I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
There's nothing wrong with that.
Nah, I ain't mad at that. [laughs]
Well, I wanted to ask you about the album a little bit. I guess it sounded kinda different from what I was expecting. I don't know if you guys were going out and trying to do something... I've listened to Seven's Travels and all that, and it seemed kind of "sparse," I guess? It seems mostly focused on vocals, but the new one seems a lot less like that. I dunno if you guys intended that, or...?
We definitely had a vision. And the vision was nowhere near the vision that we had with Seven's Travels. Seven's Travels was my De La Soul record. I wanted to make a record... Because everybody was fuckin' -- and of course, it was my fault -- everybody was looking at me like I was The Angry Rapper. Like I was the guy that had "issues," like I was the guy who was kicking rocks 'cause I was mad at my girlfriend. Y'know what I mean?
And so I wanted to make a record that was happier without being fuckin' super happy. I wanted to make a record that had some bigger sounds but not too big; I wanted to make a record that was more yellows and oranges, because my prior records, God Loves Ugly, as well as Lucy Ford, had more browns and blues.
So that was kind of the intention with Seven's Travels, and then after that was over, I was like, "Alright, now I wanna make the record that people..." I think what we did with this new one was that was the record that everybody wanted Seven's Travels to be -- especially with it being on Epitaph. Everybody was expecting us to go a little bit further in the "rock" area, a little bit harder; they weren't expecting this kind of lackadaisical, laugh-y record on the fuckin' Epitaph label.
So I kinda was happy that it worked out the way that it worked out, 'cause when Seven's Travels was said and done, Epitaph put it out, I was happy with the results, and then when it was time for me to make another record, I was just like, "Y'know, I kinda want to go in a direction we haven't gone yet," and Ant's laughing: "Motherfucker, you say that every time!"
I guess I do. I guess, in a weird way, I do. The difference is, it's me no matter what; when I listen to it, it's me, and so it's always the same record to me. It's still me. Now granted, if I'm put it on and hear fuckin' "The world is a vampire" [Ed. Note: "Flesh," off of God Loves Ugly] or one'a them dumb fuckin' songs, I don't necessarily go, "Oh, yeah -- that's me right now," but I can totally remember where I was when that was me.
It was a different stage.
Yeah. It's not really fair for me, 'cause I don't hear the same shit that everybody else gets to hear, y'know? And in a weird way, maybe that's good -- maybe I don't want to hear what everybody else gets to hear. What I hear is just a continuation of me stating my thoughts, my ideas, and my politics.
And it kinda comes out different every time; I think that's basically how it goes.
It wouldn't be rap if it wasn't contradictory.
I meant to ask you, by the way, since you mentioned it earlier -- you were talking about people not figuring out what hip-hop was about. What is it about, then?
I mean, it's about community. I guess it's about... Similar to punk, it's about making the best that you can make with what little you have to make it with. It's about creating something out of nothin'.
The funny thing is, I hear these kids that are nineteen and they're using hip-hop to form their identities and they say things like "Fuck the Black-Eyed Peas, 'cause they're fuckin' sellouts, blah, blah, blah..." And I just scratch my head, like, "Don't you know that the Black-Eyed Peas is truer to the roots of what hip-hop is about than any of us backpackin' idiots are?" Just because one of us might make a song about how much we love hip-hop and how I wanna write graffiti and breakdance and spin on my face and whatever...
The Black-Eyed Peas are making songs to make people forget about their problems. And I could be mistaken, but that's kinda what the Sugarhill Gang was all about. That's kinda what the Parties in the Park were all about. There was no burnt-out building in the Bronx where they were fuckin' rapping about how fucked-up the welfare system is. Those people didn't want to fuckin' hear about that, because those people were fuckin' on the welfare system. Those people wanted to hear about a party, they wanted to have a good time, y'know what I'm sayin'?
Even shit like 50 Cent, man, so many kids have such issues with 50 Cent because of rap issues -- are you fuckin' kidding me? If you want to have issues with America's culture of violence and with parenting and parents not explaining 50 Cent records to their children correctly, yeah, that's totally an issue. Same issue that, y'know, these fuckin' action-packed, violent movies are. You should have the same issue with anything that Quentin Tarantino puts his name to. Quite honestly, it's the same problem.
To me, 50 Cent is a good thing, man -- you've got some 26-year-old who hates his job of being a Subway sandwich artist and goes out to his car and instead of going back in and shooting his boss in the face, he plays a fuckin' violent record on his way home and totally gets it out. Do you know what I mean? He fuckin' climbs into that world and gets it out. The only real problem is you've got 14-year-olds who take it too serious, because their parents aren't doing a good enough job at describing life to them.
And the other problem is, man, why don't we let women like rap? What the fuck is up with these people, man? For starters, "It's okay for chicks to like Slug, because he's sensitive," or some dumb shit like that, right? And it's okay for chicks to like 50 Cent, because he takes his shirt off and he's fuckin' hot. But why can't women like Bun B? Why is it not okay for women to fuckin' get into fuckin' Dead Prez, for fuck's sake? I'll tell you why: because in rap, and in the music industry in general, they only let women be fuckin' fan-slash-groupies or publicists.
It's a boys' club.
It's a boys' club. And gangsta rap scares women. Revolutionary rap fuckin' doesn't make sense to most people, nobody's tryin' to hear that -- it's the whole preaching-to-the-choir issue, again. Then you've got this underground backpack rap -- what the fuck are these guys saying that some woman can relate to?
The bottom line is... It's funny how much flak I can get from some peers and contemporaries about my female "following" -- or even journalists go "Y'know, I read that your shows are fifty percent women and fifty percent men; why is that?" Well, it's because I'm not alienating women by getting onstage rapping about a bunch of shit they don't wanna fuckin' hear about. I'm not necessarily rapping about shit they do wanna hear about -- I'm rapping about me. But at the same time, it's not scary, y'know what I'm saying?
You get a woman who does like thug rap, and everybody thinks she's a fuckin' dyke! That's not fun. That's not fair. I think rap needs to get over its fuckin' insecurities, man. Rock got over it; why can't rap? Rock used to be like, "I rock you! I rock you all night! We rock, we rock, we rock, yeah, man!" And now rock can be whatever the fuck it wants to be, and rap is still trying to fuckin' break through that. It's just time for rap to get comfortable in its own skin and be okay with the fact that rapping is okay -- you don't have to "prove" that you rap, just go make a song. I love Outkast for that reason.
Oh, yeah. I'm sure they've gotten a lot of shit from hip-hop purists and all that stuff, but they're writing good songs.
They're writing good songs, and they're anyman-and-everyman songs, y'know? It's like anybody can fuckin' get into it and listen to it.
Another thing I wanted to ask -- you kinda mentioned the parent thing, and I noticed on this album that you talk a little bit about your son, and I was wondering, I guess, how old he was, 'cause you haven't really talked about him too much before.
He's eleven.
He's closer to the age of my fans than I am. Which, you know, in a big way is part of the direction that I am attempting to go with this. It's kinda like I'm seeing these kids who I'm rapping to, and they're fifteen years old, and I on the one hand have to be careful not to treat them like I treat my kid because, y'know, I'm gonna be very protective of my kid. I don't wanna be the thing protecting these kids.
You can't be their parent.
Right. I can't be their parent -- I wanna be the thing that makes them go ask their parents questions, you know what I mean?
I really liked "That Night," by the way, on the album -- I was really surprised by that one. It's sort of on the parenting thing, as well, but it was kind of a left-field turn, there. Did that actually happen?
Yeah, it did. It happened, uh, summer of 2003. It took a long time for me to even discuss that incident, much less write a song about it, much less end up feeling like, responsibly, I needed to release that song. So, yeah.
It's a weird thing too, man, 'cause there's a huge neurosis that I don't want a single person to ever think that I exploited that incident to make a song for my record. So I've been very touchy about that song whenever it's brought up, just because I'm just like, "Uhhh, yeah -- thanks..."
I'm not trying to touch a nerve or anything... Actually, I didn't think at all that it was exploitative; I thought it was very honest, just a brutally honest reaction to it, to a horrible event. So I don't see how that could really be seen as exploiting anything.
Well, I did get some drunk e-mails from a young lady who lives in California who was friends with the victim.
Oh, God.
And it was totally, man, it totally knocked me off my block, y'know what I mean? It was just kind of like... Even though, in the real world, I do understand that you can't make everybody happy or please everyone, it was such a very tender place for me that she did permeate me with that. She did get through.
All I could really do was respond to her by saying "Y'know what, you got through to me, and I'm sorry that you took it the way you took it, and I dunno what else I can do," y'know? But you know, that's part of the job, man -- not the job of rap, but I mean the job of life -- is to go through struggles and then go through the reactions to the struggles. It's just part of the game, man. END