Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Some Old Sluggo Guest Spots

Today I'm revisiting a couple of early guest appearances by Slug, as in the lead MC of Minnesota's Atmosphere, plus Deep Puddle Dynamics, Dynospectrum, etc. These are some local, home state collabos from long before Atmosphere ever got on MTV or any of that craziness. It's also more traditionally b-boy kinda stuff, compared to the material with any rock influences that might've creeped into his music later on. He's young, his friends are young. Not that this is his very earliest material, that I suppose would be the first Headshots tape when he still used the full name Sluggo. But this is pretty raw, don't worry.

First up is Beyond. This one's pretty obvious, since he was a fellow Dynospectrum member; but it came out in 1996, which seems to make these Slug's first properly written and recorded verses (since the early Headshots tapes were just freestyles and live performances, not proper songs like the later tapes). Beyond went on to change his name and record as Musab, but his debut album, Beyond Comparison, is the first vinyl and CD Rhymesayers ever pressed, preceded only by those first Headshots tapes.

So Beyond's got two songs featuring Slug: "B.L.A.K. Culture" and "Unaligned Sperms" (the latter of which is only on the CD version), both produced by A.N.T. The beats are pretty simple boom bap drums with a couple samples on top, but "B.L.A.K." has Slug performing a catchy hook that goes, "Life, love, stress and set-backs. For those trying to breath, show me where your head's at." That's all he contributes to that song, however; the raps are all Beyond.

"Unaligned Sperms," on the other hand, opens with Slug rapping. He's actually kicking a verse from Headshots 4. But I guess it would be more accurate to say he's performing that bit he recorded for this album live on the Headshots tape. But either way, it became a fairly famous (by indie, underground 4 track rap standards) verse by Slug. "Shut your eyes and count to twenty 'cause I'm hidden. Religion made you think that you saw me comin', but you didn't. The jizzim and I come past; you dumb ass kids that be tryin' to run past these tongue lashes. I must be numb 'cause I don't feel you. Arise from your sleep and smell the burnt brain cells, kid. You felt it hurts; the truth hurts, but no pain is no gain. So cut your cocaine with Rogaine. I aim to clench you by your nose hairs. You flinch from the air he hits. I'm taking care of kids. Happily, rappers be catatonic when I splatter vomit verbal yellow chunks. Smell the spunk and the lacerations that I castigate when I notice the mental masquerades and focus on the masturbation. Out come: dripping fascination. You can ask my sibling Nathan; he knows the Headshots sinks from the hatred. I scratch 'till it flakes, and I scratch 'till it aches, and I scratch 'till it breaks like the back that I dismantle on a Camel Light 100. No, I'm straight, dude. And when you're dead, I hope somebody digs you up and rapes you. I hate you and your fake crew, but I'ma bust a fat nut in your embalming fluid. Beyond, run through it."

It's got a lot of raw wordplay, rambling cleverness mixed with youthful, slightly cringey gags. You know, putting the phrase "bust a fat nut" into a battle rap is pretty teenagery; and I'm sure Slug would never write a trite punchline like "I must be numb 'cause I don't feel you." So maybe it hasn't aged so well; but you can still see why all us 90s backpackers would've sweated it. With the way he keeps flipping his delivery and making so many different lines instantly memorable, you could tell Slug was the MC to watch of the crew, the guy who'd be going places. And that's just the first minute of the song, which has three more of Beyond and Slug just passing the mic back and forth, dropping names and flexing their skills.

Then, in 1998, A crew called Kanser dropped one of their earliest tapes, called Network. It's a purple tape, a la The Cella Dwellas, Raekwon and Sonya C. They've got two guest spots by Slug, one called "Progress" and one simply titled "4/10/98," which is presumably the day the song was recorded. Interestingly, A.N.T. produced their first tape, and has a song on here, but not one of the ones with Slug, which are both handled by Kanser's own Mesh.

"4/10/98" is just a fun, freestyle song with head nodding flows over a strange, little beat. The Kanser guys sound really good on here, but their voices are all kinda eye, so it's a welcome moment when Slug's baritone kicks in, "Yo yo yo, tell 'em to shut the fuck down and tell 'em what they feel, 'cause I've been flippin' lyrics since D-Nice had a deal. Back when the Jungle Brothers was on Warner Brothers, I was on a Minnesota corner flippin' rhymes with ya older brothers. And oh brother, if they could only see you now, they'd whup that ass and make ya go home to work on ya style. So I'm a stand tall 'till all starts fallin' and The Source starts writing an obituary column." It all feels off the cuff, like it was freestyled in one take, errors (you can even hear the twitchy slip of the tongue where "shut the fuck up" accidentally fuses with "sit the fuck down" to form "shut the fuck down" as he says it) and all. This has aged well, since it's still a blast; and any flaws that might be more apparent today just trip more nostalgia anyway.

"Progress" feels like a more polished song, but Kanser brings all the same qualities here that they did there. Slug's verse feels a little more mature, too; although he still squeezes in tacky (literally!) innuendos like, "eat that sandwich. Ingredients is good for ya head. Plus I spread my special mayo on both sides of the bread." Maybe it's not high art, but both of these Kanser songs have high replay value that I'm still getting a kick out of in 2015.

Finally, let's look at a song called "Hunger Pains II" by Oddjobs. It's off their debut album, Conflicts and Compromise, from 1999. Their line-up has changed a bit over the years, but on this album it's Anatomy, Deetalz, Advizer and Crescent Moon. Besides Slug, "Hunger Pains II" features a guy named Carnage and New, one of the guys from Kanser. In fact, Oddjobs were on Network, too, just not the songs with Slug. The CD's booklet doesn't specify production credits (although it tells us there's some live guitar by someone named Alex Macintosh on the song), so I guess it's just by Oddjobs as a collective.

The beat's kind of a perfect blend of upbeat and hard, just right for a big ol' posse cut. Although Slug describes it another way on his verse, "this ain't a posse cut; it's a farmer co-op. And I'm a vendor pushing vegetables to boil on your stove top. Hungry? To hell with hungry, I'm starvin'. I'm tryin' to catch a carton of Camels and some land so I can grow a garden. Pardon me, but I'm just tryin' to handle. It's hip-hop, and everywhere I walk is an example. And I linked more words to the ink in this pen, than I do the ink printed on that paper that you spend. Silly rapper, your rapper ego don't move me. You studied too many actors, you've watched too many movies. And soon we will capture the wasted canned soupy attention spans that gather near the base of my loose leaf. So here's a slap on the wrist. Class dismissed. Go home and practice before that ass ends up a past tense. Quit tryin' to be like and sound like him. Plant your own seeds and grow your own limbs. Minneapolis!" This was the kinda rhymes Slug was delivering in the 90s, tongue twisty battle rhymes with plenty of Camels cigarette references.

By the way, if you're wondering about "Hunger Pains 1," you've got me. I guess it's from some obscure demo? In 2004, Crescent Moon made "Hunger Pains Three," though, with Doomtree member P.O.S., for Rhymesayers Ent.

Anyway, it's kinda fun to think all those fancy new Atmosphere songs sprung from this. It's also nice to hear him without the rock and country elements that've drifted into his more recent music. Everything wasn't all better back then, shit was flawed, and dude was just beginning to find himself. And maybe nostalgia's infecting my tastes a bit. But I'll still take these messy old songs over the last couple Atmosphere albums any day of the week.

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