My dad has a saying. “When life smacks you in the head, it comes back and smacks you in the head again.” It’s his funny way of saying life is hard, and you might as well expect it to be. He’s always taught me to be very thankful for where I’m at, and when things get tough he asks me if I have food and shelter. And since the answer is yes, he tells me I “got no business complaining” then... And really I should go out and use all the advantages I have to take things to a higher level.
Which brings us to the hip-hop artist Slug and his band Atmosphere. Lots of Slug’s songs are about his very difficult life. Crazy women, kids without fathers, the trials of being homeless. But he believes, like my dad, “When life gives you lemons, you paint that shit gold.” That was even then name of his last album.
Atmosphere is one of those bands who don’t have an album that I listen to all the way through. Rather, they have several brilliant songs that stay on rotation in my shows at KEXP (and in New York City on WNYE) and on “mixtapes” I make for myself and friends. My favorite song is probably “Puppets”. The talk about someone with a rockstar life, whose life is as empty as his full beer glass…the piano loop, the gospel vocal sample, it all strikes deep.
“The Waitress” is also a song about a dark character. A woman surrounded by a city full of people. She treats Slug’s like he’s “the bad dog who got into the garbage” cause he’s sleeping on the streets.
Another thing about Atmosphere is – it’s not just Slug’s hard-hitting yet sensitive lyrics and rhythmic literary sense. It’s DJ Ant’s loops – infused with so much soul. Lots of female vocal samples and simple warm drum takes. The first song I ever loved of Atmosphere’s was “Smart Went Crazy”.
I don’t know who said it, but “It’s not what happens to you. It’s how you react to it that matters.”
Check out the Michele Myers Show this Saturday from 3-6pm. We’ll do this feature and also play this week’s KEXP Documentary on Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith’s “St Louis Blues”. Michele Myers hosts for KEXP in Seattle and New York and her full-time job at KEXP is as the producer for KEXP Documentaries.