Back in 2003, Atmosphere didn’t have the cult following they have now. The Minneapolis hip-hop duo — rapper Sean “Slug” Daley and producer Anthony “Ant” Davis — weren't even sure if they could make a living out of hip-hop, so they were grateful for every chance they got.
“The first tour brought us all the way to Dallas / Seven deep in the MPV to keep the balance / A van full of talent, with no place to sleep,” Slug raps in the 2003 song “Travel.”
Once the overcrowded van reaches the city, he observes, “Deep Ellum is decorated with Rhymesayers stickers,” referring to the duo’s label, which they founded over two decades ago, long before Atmosphere was headlining Rhymesayers Entertainment’s own music festival, Soundset. Last year they took the stage at the fest along with other big names in hip-hop such as A$AP Rocky, Future, Common and Danny Brown.
Back in '03, Slug was just thankful that “at least we got to go to Dallas,” he says over the phone from his tour bus, which is undoubtedly nicer than their MPVs, or multi-purpose vehicles, of yore. “Texas is always close to my heart,” he adds, mentioning the support Atmosphere received early on here.
On Saturday, Jan. 21, Atmosphere will bring their "Freshwater Fly Fisherman Tour" to the Bomb Factory, along with a handful of fellow Rhymesayers Entertainment artists from the Twin Cities, including the thought-provoking lyricist Brother Ali, the up-and-coming deM atlaS, and more.
Since their first official album in 1997, Overcast!, Atmosphere have consistently toured and put out music. And if their latest studio album, Fishing Blues, is any indication, the group has still got it. The 18-track album features DOOM, Aesop Rock, Kool Keith, The Grouch, deM atlaS and others.
Slug is now in his 40s, which means his career has lasted longer than some of today’s hit rappers have been alive.
“The goal was not to ‘hit it and quit it,’” he says, adding that it's never been about the money. “I don’t want to be dependent on music forever — I want to make music forever."
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At the Bomb Factory, Atmosphere will play songs from the new album, but also cover the classics such as “Trying to Find a Balance” from 2003’s Seven’s Travels; “Sunshine,” from 2007’s Sad Clown Bad Summer 9; and “Yesterday,” from 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold. If the show is anything like the previous Atmosphere concerts, the crowd should be singing along to every tune.
Fans have stuck with Atmosphere for decades, and Slug says he doesn't really understand how it happened. He jokes that if he did know, he'd write a book so others could follow his path.
"We want to enjoy it for as long as we can," he says.
Atmosphere play the Bomb Factory (2713 Canton St.) at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21. Tickets are $25 at thebombfactory.com.