You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having

(Rhymesavers; 2005)

By Aaron Newell | 18 October 2007

The burning question: is the Mohawk serious? Does it know what it’s doing? Or is the Mohawk making an ironic commentary on its wearer’s music? How much fun is the Mohawk having, exactly? How do we measure this? Is fun metric? The Mohawk looks like it’s having a great time.” Slug doesn’t.” Slug looks bored.” Of fun.”

I’ll tell you why in one short little song analysis: on “The Arrival” there is a continuation of the lazy teenbait writing that started around God Loves Ugly.” Given the wit and wisdom of just about every song on the Lucy Ford EP full-length (especially “They’re All Gonna Laugh @ You”), it’s hard to sit through the near-misses that occur when Slug sets himself up for a clincher, only to bottom-out with a dismaying ad-lib or a fall-short meaningful bad word instead.” To halfwit: “They’ve arrived / and they can’t save the planet, or the children, or the pandas, or themselves / god damn it (snort).”” It’s the giving-in to the one-draft rabble-rouse temptation that betrays the active listener, like we’re expected to get behind that shit, push someone next to us, scowl in unison.” Five years ago Slug would have followed-through on the line and snuck in a snark, or made us hate something other than ourselves, instead of peeing in his pants.” With that said, it probably works great live, causes fans’ brains to expand before his eyes as they bust out of their trucker-hat mesh, creating visors on-spec, thereby selling more hats.” You have to wonder why artists sometimes retread the same ground, making shallower footprints with each lap (answer at bottom, but here’s a hint: it’s our own fault).”

And you also have to wonder why the prince of sometimey-thoughtful writing (I’m not being ironic, the default position should be that Slug is good at what he does but sometimes goes underboard) won’t let the Dose-One thing be bygone.” Back on 2002’s The No Music, Drucker, then pissy at Daley’s post-Puddle tendency to let his sword (penis) be his pen (penis) in his music (pick-up lines), turned a couple of offensive phrases in “Good People Check” to attention-gets: “this is a dissong / dissong absolute / because you can’t respect me / because I can’t respect you” and “you cheated / and ate where you shit” and “you fell on your sword (pen/penis, right)” and “shove that gun (1 guess) up your ass”.” And stuff.” Yay, poetic indie rap beef that no one cares about except Slug.” While arguably not a direct retaliation, “Watch Out” sounds like a comeback, three years later: “you got issues / I feel sorry for you / shittin on me is so 2002.”” Well, yeah, 2002, nice job counting backwards.” Slug concludes: “This song is for your underground-rap elitist mindstate mixed with how you find your identity through things you hate.” Grow up, dorks.”” Not a subtle kiss-off to a certain era in Daley’s career, and it therefore doubles as a bold statement given the flack that he catches from the thousands of whiney me’s who wouldn’t mind a little more Deep Puddle, a little less surface-skimming.”

The saving lyrical can-kick, however, is the blanket-statement that finds its way into the hook: “If you don’t like the sound / fuck you / I’m just trying to put it down for my hometown.”” I’m ok with saying this: the more you know about Rhymesayers, generally, the richer Slug’s writing gets.” Remember that as Atmosphere’s pan-am popularity started booming in/around God Loves Ugly, Slug’s writing began to increasingly cater to a specific audience.” As it must be with any artist who began by being impressively honest and dedicatedly creative on record, the simple-smartniceties that initially attracted Slug’s former core fanbase have survived to present (ie they can’t be eschewed altogether because they’re a part of the man).” Some of the fanbase has, too, but these are the folks who all have stories about how Slug once gave them a ride to a gig and got them on bar tab, or snuck them on a tour bus with Cannibal Ox in England.” Recently, however, object and subject both have had memories diluted with thoughts of liquidation, assets, turnaround.” I’m not saying “sellout,” because there’s no real signified for that term any more, but when you look close you can see that Sean Daley is a small business, man.” When you look closer, however, he’s still the Sluggo who put “Scapegoat” in bunch of guilty mouths (no joke, on the Australian version of American Idol – ie Australian Idol – some kid from Brisbane gets up in front of the judges and recites “Scapegoat” and then gets told that while he would make a fantastic “street poet,” he’s not what they are looking for in a pop star; I am not here commenting on any cue Slug should/not take from this.”)

In any event: how it’s progressed: 1) Atmosphere release an album, 2) there is a crazy, maddening multiple tour-regime in support, 3) they come back home for a 5-show welcome-back extravaganza, 4) 5th Element hires a new dude, 5) new act(s) show(s) up on Rhymesayers.” Re-investment in the community, right? Now consider things like the one-shot deal with Epitaph for Seven’s Travels, where RSE tapped that label’s resources and distro to officially get the name out, and then promptly pulled out again, mission accomplished.” Now a new arrangement with Minneapolis super-indie Navarre, landing You Can’t Imagine everywhere ever, and RSE is not-coincidentally expanding its roster with pop-culture-goth-rap (Grayskul), otherwise-unheralded Seattle and Atlanta duespayers (Boom Bap Project, I Self Divine), sorta-Saul Williamses (P.”O.”S.”), former tour-partner-freestyle-phenoms (Mac Lethal), and an underdog/overtalented female MC (Psalm-One from Chicago).” RSE has more stable acts than Def Jux: Los Nativos, Brother Ali, Eyedea and Abilities, Blueprint, MF Doom’s non-alias work, Semi-Official, Soul Position (can we get a couple of Gene Poole guest spots already?).” 5th Element is now a thriving rap-shop in uptown Mpls.”, Rhymesayers Entertainment has lawyers plural, Slug and Murs started an indie rock label, and give work to under-appreciated comic book artists.” Soon we’ll see a Slug rap like “Micranots could be one hit away their whole career / long as I’m alive their lunch is on Atmosphere.”” Or maybe “Sean Daley doesn’t care about Pennywise and Dropkick Murphys”.” Sean Daley does promote his friends to rap positions of authority, however, and actually knows they won’t fuck up.”

And this is what the “If you don’t like the sound / fuck you / I’m just trying to put it down for my hometown” means (don’t mess with Minnesota).” While some of the above acts might be more charitable causes than steadfast bricks in the fortress, the label that Slug and Siddiq started with un-dj’d Headshots mixtapes ten years ago has, through no small amount of hard work (coupled with a shitload of dumbing-it-down for the Vans Warped Tour) fed a lot of dudes.” Until Jay-Z and Nas and “associates” skipped to each others’ loos two weeks ago at that NY marketing blitz I mean televised concert, a greater display of the power of music-community was sub-radar.” Especially if you were looking for community founded on a genuine network of mutual support by like-minded artists, rather than strategic, satellite-sold “business partnerships”.”

What I’m getting at: in the Se7en liner notes, Slug writes “People still tell me that Overcast! is my best record.”” Maybe it is his best, but it’s definitely Ant’s shittiest.” It’s the reason why Ant’s publishing company is called “Ant Turn that Snare Down (ASCAP)”.” Listening to Overcast! will make you blink involuntarily, repeatedly, at roughly 80 bpm, for 45 minutes straight.” The drums are rain-on-tin, the overall sound is two-dimensional and lacklustre.” If I was in charge, dude would have been fired, and Overcast! may have been acapella.” But Slug’s smarter than I am.” He’s been working with the same guys for over 10 years, knowing all along that everyone would grow artistically and, if not, at least he’d have some dudes to drink with.” Maybe Ant’s first real burner was “Blamegame,” but have you heard “Brother” from Murs’ The End of the Beginning? Ant used to be a janitor with a heap of soul records, a second-hand MPC 2000, and probably a Whisper 3000.” But now he’s that guy, the creator of a massive soul/funk-based cruncher of an instrumental lp with brilliant, layered, multi-rhythmic drum programming that also features some Slug raps.” Ant’s beats on You Can’t Believe are probably what Kanye’s Registration rough drafts would sound like if Roc-A-Fella hired Pete Rock instead of John Brion.” Slick, soulful, seismic and often stripped-down and pulsating.” He does the kinetic banger thing as well as he does the static mood-piece.” He can accomplish both in one beat, and still have time for some Bomb Squad throwback (“Panic Attack,” complete with layered rolls and snares, manic buzzes, guitar stabs, vocal juts, filtered bass, and Slug’s perfectly-cadenced megaphone-at-a-distance vocals, is the best song on the record, despite being social-com dressed in drug apologetica).”

And this new, flossy hydra-Ant is a beautiful thing, because it’s a testament to what a little in-house loyalty and grassroots planting can sprout over time.” It’s safe to say that Slug would not be going where he is today without Ant, the formerly-mockable tourrettes-inducing beatmaker of 10 years ago.” And as sweet as his one-off “RPM” collab with El-P was, and as stupid as it is that he’s probably never getting another Jel beat, Slug kept Atmosphere out of a rut by letting Ant buck trends (and start some, dude was the first in the 00’s to use sped-up soul vocals, makes you wonder who’s listening), going against the current norms to create a sound that’s “unique” (but only insofar as 2004/5 is concerned).” Layered breakbeats, dusty soul/funk licks, and subtle noise touches recall Sir Jinx and Boogie Men as much as “I Got A Love”-era Pete Rock, and are a million miles away from the tinny synth-percussion and hollow, stick-of-gum arrangements on 90% of the Top 40’s current “urban” hits (“With one click of a mouse, you too can make a club banger”).” And you have to note: Ant would certainly not have given us this set of fantastic beats if Slug didn’t have his inherent sense of community.” Slug certainly would not be holding our attention like he does on You Can’t Imagine’s not-so-better moments without Ant’s well-nurtured consistency.” It, therefore, goes around.” This is proof.” Apologies for writing the after-school special, but it’s a great little story, with a huge musical payoff.”

And then the reviewer noted that some of Ant’s beats are even done better-than justice.” “Musical Chairs” sounds like Rza-the-pimp, beautifully-haunty harmonized vocal loops complement the shocking piano drop while Slug psychoanalyzes successfully (largely because his observations on anything outside his own head are generally more poignant than his own-own-musings).” “That Night” mismatches a too-bouncy beat to compelling writing about a real life on-tour tragedy.” It sounds forced, but in that “this was difficult to record” kind of way, which awkwardly backflips into sincerity despite itself.”

Less memorable vocals: “Pour Me Another” one-ups “Woman With the Tattooed Hands” with its sad, bitter, bluesy, dusty, irresistible singular piano/guitar loop, zero layering, and best-fit vocal snips on the chorus.” Slug drinks, counts his shots, is sad, and all you remember is the picture, not the words; could be a case of too much juice in the MPC engine, and should be a no-fault accident on Slug’s part.” “Hockey Hair,” on the other hand, definitely does not reference the wtf cover photo, and sees “the insecure Slug” attempt a sincere complaint about getting too much head on tour.” Heartbreaking, for all the wrong reasons.”

But despite the hit-and-miss subject matter you can’t ever get mad.” Daley consistently does a fantastic job with his (underrated) delivery, which has improved drastically over the last three records.” He has a new-found ability to stick three syllables onto one snare and still catch the bass kick without choking on a gasp in the interim.” If these were still the Overcast! days, I’d say “he flips it” throughout the record, if I ever actually talked like that (I did).” In any event, the “rapping” is always better, whereas the “wording” might not be.” More Peedi, less Buck 65.” Which is what you have to do get your milestone on.” Unfortunately, though, it’s the opposite of what you have to do to get people to look harder.”

Anyway, that’s why.”