Q&A: All about Atmosphere


POSTED: Friday, November 21, 2008

FIVE albums into their career, Minnesota-based hip-hop duo Atmosphere seems primed to make the jump to mainstream success.






        With local openers Creed Chameleon with The Spacifics and DJ Kavet the Catalyst


Place: Pipeline Cafe


Time: 9 p.m. Saturday


Tickets: $30


Call: 589-1999



For rapper Sean “;Slug”; Daley and DJ/producer Anthony “;Ant”; Davis, life has been a series of small steps forward since the release of their debut album, “;Overcast,”; in 1997. But those steps are turning into leaps and bounds as the pair enjoys the exposure that's accompanied their current “;Paint the Nation”; tour, which arrives in Honolulu this weekend.

In recent months, Atmosphere has appeared in Rolling Stone and performed live on “;Late Night with Conan O'Brien”; and “;The Jimmy Kimmel Show.”; In July, Daley sported a Barack Obama T-shirt and utilized a live band to back him up - two subtle, yet bold statements he wouldn't have made just a few years ago.

Earlier this month, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin got in touch with Daley as he got ready to perform in Lawrence, Kansas. He discussed his reaction to the presidential election held just two days prior, how his bi-racial upbringing affects him as an artist and how incorporating live instrumentation and more general subject matter on Atmosphere's latest album, “;When Life Hands You Lemons…,”; was a risk that appears to have paid off.







Question: Less than 48 hours ago, millions of Americans were at the polls to decide who would be the next President of the United States. Where were you?

Answer: I was home in Minneapolis. We had scheduled a few days off so we could go home and vote. So I was hanging out with family and friends, watching the whole Presidential Super Bowl, or whatever.

Q: What was your reaction when it was announced Barack Obama won the election?

A: Immediately after the fact, the thing that crossed my mind and still sticks with me is that I should make another baby. I think that might have been something I would have never even have contemplated if it went the other way.

In general, you know, I think this election was important for a lot of reasons. I'm 36 and have been paying attention to politics since I was 12, and I've never seen nothing like that.

Ultimately, in my world, it's not so much about Obama as it's about the people he was able to motivate. If these people, myself included, can stay motivated ... I think that maybe America could be better represented by what it's supposed to look and sound like.

No politician is gonna save us. But that dude has the charisma that might inspire (people) to save themselves.

Actually, Brother Ali said something about wanting to go and put an American flag in his front yard and I'm kinda feeling him. When I get home, I kinda think I might put a pole up and put a flag on it.

I've got three decades of conspiracies and anger ... and this is maybe one of the first times since I was a little kid that I've actually been like, man, I can't wait for the 4th of July parade.

Q: Will the Obama presidency change the way you make music?

A: I think I was destined to grow in one direction or another.

What it will do is affect my person, my life, so it will affect my music. It'll probably affect the way I drive!

Q: The issue of race was a big factor in the election. On a hip-hop level, is race as much a factor in your career as it was when you first got started?

A: I really do think that with these younger kids, it's not as big a factor to them as it is to me. I don't think my son is ever gonna differentiate between Eminem and 50 Cent.

But as for me? Yeah, it will always be a factor.

I got family members who I could see, once I hit my teen years, how they might have been a little different towards me and my siblings. And I got family members on my dad's side who treated me a little different because I looked white. I was welcomed on both sides, but at the same time, I also got to see how both sides would hold their tongue.

I learned early on not to kick. I learned kicking isn't as productive to me as just watching and observing.

Q: You've been in the hip-hop game for nearly two decades. When did you realize you were in it for the long haul and needed to “;grow up”; as an artist?

A: It started when I had a kid ... around the time I was 21. Prior to that, I just wanted to smoke weed and have sex.

But you know, every two years I go, 'Oh man, I gotta be a better decision maker.' (laughs)

Q: Atmosphere's current tour is called “;Paint the Nation.”; Did you really visit all 50 states?

A: We didn't play Mississippi and we didn't play Alaska. And we didn't play Wyoming, but I think we made it to just about everywhere else.

Q: You've gotten a lot of exposure during the last few months. Is 2008 the year Atmosphere hits it big with the mainstream crowd?

A: It's hard to tell. We're still kinda in that purgatory area, where we haven't really gotten to see all the results of this extra exposure yet.

Our shows are still our shows, and they still feel like what our shows felt like a year ago. The fans still talk to me the way they did a year ago.

I think once this all calms down and I get to go home, I think I'll be able to tell once the checks start coming. And I'm not even saying that in a (sarcastic) way.

I think that's when we can tell if Atmosphere just managed to take another baby step up, or if we've taken a huge step up.

Q: But it's got to feel good to get some shine outside of the underground scene.

A: It's funny. I've become so ... accustomed to playing this game, that the validation doesn't really come from there, like I thought it would when I was a kid.

Now, when I'm in a room with some of my heroes, I see them as people. The validation really came when my kid asked me if he could have a plus-two on the guest list.

Q: You made some changes to the recording process with “;When Life Hands You Lemons…”; Are you happy with the way things turned out?

A: Usually me and Ant, we set a couple of rules and challenges when we make a record. Nothing too crazy, because I'm not that dude who's trying to push the envelope for the sake of pushing it.

Usually we hit about 80 out of 100. This time, I think we hit 90, which I think is the best we ever did, as far as trying to achieve the goals we set out to reach. From my standpoint, it's really ironic that this has been our most commercially successful record to date.

That one song, 'You,' both of us thought that was the most ridiculous song in the world. The point of putting that song on the record was to show we weren't afraid of being ridiculous.

Q: Has performing in front of a crowd gotten any easier?

A: On the inside, I'm still as nervous and neurotic as I've ever been. If anything, we've just gotten better at hiding it, at not showing the fear.

It's one of those things like when they say a wolf can sense your fear and take advantage of it. So I've gotten better at hiding my fear, because I can't let that wolf get me, you know?