If Eminem is the Elvis of hip hop — taking sounds of urban America and repacking them for the suburbs — Sean Daley (aka Slug) of Minneapolis indie-rap legend Atmosphere is Eminem in reverse: taking the subjects of suburban life and repacking them for the inner city.
After making his name through a blend of real street poetry and rap bravado, Slug lately has struggled to find an identity as one of hip hop’s first family men. The cover image from 2011’s album The Family Sign is the hand of Daley’s child. The official video for the song “Southsiders” from this year’s album of the same name features Daley wearing a T-shirt spouting “Coolest Dad Ever.”
What happens to a rapper when he grows up? The results are uneven. But if you’ve grown up with rap music, it’s nice to know there’s an ally growing up with you.
Never afraid to be crass and raw, Slug is a writer and storyteller first and a rhymer second —appealing to a listener’s intelligence rather than offering cheap thrills. This trend continues with Southsiders. From the track “Kanye West,” Daley implores, “Put your hands in the air like you really do care,” a nice idea that in the hands of Michael Franti would be all spliffs and beach volleyball, but in Daley’s hands it is the Cornell West cry of a community organizer.
Throughout, Daley’s producer Ant rolls out smooth R&B-influenced beats when once he was hard, like a Midwestern Public Enemy. There’s still some NWA to be found in the song “Southsiders,” but now, more often than not, Ant aims for Al Green.
DJ Fundo, deM atlaS and Prof open for Atmosphere 8 pm Thursday, Sept. 11, at McDonald Theatre; $25 adv., $30 door.