It was Saturday night, and a mob had taken control of the corner of Ste. Catherine and St. Laurent. Traffic slowed down; steel rails were placed to keep people back from the entrance. There seemed to be no hope in getting in unless one was willing to stand in line for hours. As I asked the bouncer if I could skip the line since I already had my ticket, he pointed to the entrance next door. It was an open doorway where people came and went freely. Standing behind a line of young ladies with short dresses and stilettos were less than a dozen people with baseball caps, baggy clothes and skate shoes. This was more like it. Nothing less should be expected from a small rap show performed by an indie group from Minnesota. That’s right, this hip hop duo is from the Midwest.
Atmosphere consists of emcee Sean Daley (Slug) and producer Anthony Davis (Ant). They’ve been paired up since ’98, the year in which they notably released their first album At Overcast. During their progression, they slowly grinded their way through show after show at small venues until they eventually started touring in Europe and even as far as Japan. But through it all, they still managed to stay under the surface of the mainstream as they turned down offers from Interscope, Sony, Warner Brothers, Atlantic and Universal and continued on their own label: the Rhymesayers.
The scene at Les Saints seemed true to the grassroots approach of the group as they sold CDs by various artists in the Rhymesayers corps as well as T-shirts off of a table. Although there was only about 200 people at Les Saints, the hands that came up in the air when Atmosphere hit the stage (and during every song) show that the small fan base in Montreal are passionate followers of this group from Minnesota. It must be said that Slug put on a great performance and truly made it enjoyable for the crowd to be there, but it’s the music that is proof of his talent. Slug’s best works are driven by an earnestness that is uncapped in revealing many personal truths about this artist, making his lyrics so genuine that it has become his trademark. On stage, he gave his best to the faithful with “The Woman with the Tattooed Hands”, a number which builds an erotic and very sensual metaphor to describe Slug’s personal take on spirituality. He takes the listener with him as he reminisces of his old neighbourhood in “Always Coming Back Home to You”, and the walk is neither glorified nor lacking in intimacy. Though he didn’t perform “F**k you Lucy” on stage, this track is definitely worth getting a sample of because it brings out his most powerful outcry of anger, despair, and anguish in the stanzas. His narrative being this intimate, the persona of his everyday life is reflected in his lines. This is a rare style when most rappers today are so intent on idolizing themselves in their lyrics, distancing themselves from the people who listen to their music as a consequence. Slug plants himself down by giving us a high degree of rawness, humility, and sometimes even self-deprecation. We got to see a glimpse of his persona on stage in between songs; some time during the night he said “I don’t care if you don’t like the songs, or if you think the lyrics are wack, just put a smile on your face, that’s all I wanna see.”
One must wonder why he keeps touring so much. He will have done eight more shows before the end of this month. Things haven’t changed much since ’98 when he traveled sixty miles or so in. Other than signing with Epitaph for a distribution deal, he never took up any of the offers from the major labels. Perhaps this could sum it up best: as hundreds of people packed the corner of Ste. Catherine and St. Laurent that night for the opening of Club Opera, Slug strolled through the front of Les Saints just next door.