By: Tom Nealon
September 7, 2011

Minneapolis’s own SLUG (Sean Daley, born 1972) has been performing his particular brand of auto-psychotherapy since the mid ’90s, most successfully as the MC of the indie hip hop act Atmosphere (ably DJed and produced by Ant). Often making only desultory use of hooks or traditional rap structures, Slug tells us stories; sometimes as vaguely concealed allegory or half-heartedly masked metaphor, but just as often straight from his life. Lots of rappers use personal experience to inform their work, but it’s rare that it is so unadorned and unobfuscated. By artistry or fact, Slug’s rhymes are still redolent with the life they were torn from; it’s this immediacy that makes Atmosphere such a singular experience — you’re pulled in because there’s no other choice, no distance (ironic or otherwise) of any sort; you’re in or you’re out. On “It Goes,” Slug raps:

I bet my fans know me better than my friends do
Because my friends don’t pay that much attention
The fans memorize every single sentence
Which makes them far too smart to ever start a friendship
I need to start writing pieces about other people’s problems
‘Cause strangers are starting to get worried

Why worry? Because at his best, on Lucy Ford (2001) or You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005), his problems with alcohol, women, and navigating day to day life take on a heightened, naturalist insistence. Like the best naturalism, it evokes the real by surpassing it — in grittiness, honesty and sometimes braggadocio: “I’m gonna be the biggest thing to hit these little kids. Bigger than guns, bigger than cigarettes.” And so he is; he’s the Zola of hip-hop.


HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc | Gil Scott-Heron | Slick Rick | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels | Afrika Bambaataa | Biz Markie | U-God | Slug | Adam Yauch | Ghostface Killah | DJ Run | Flavor Flav | Scott La Rock | GZA | Schoolly D | Aesop Rock | Terminator X | Notorious B.I.G. | Melle Mel | Doug E. Fresh | Kool Keith | Rick Rubin | Rakim | Ol’ Dirty Bastard | Madlib | Talib Kweli | Danger Mouse | Kool Moe Dee | Chuck D | Dizzee Rascal | RZA | Cee-Lo Green | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Buddy Holly.

READ MORE about members of the Reconstructionist Generation (1964-73).


HiLo Heroes, Hip Hop, Music