Maxi-singles and More: Discussing “Word?” with Slug of Atmosphere

By Daniel Paiz

Everything about Atmosphere is different, even when it comes down to how they’re releasing their newest album. “WORD?” is a collection of songs that offer throwbacks to previous projects, while discussing the world around us today. Maxi-singles is a term likely new or unheard of for the past couple generations, but that could change with how this project has been rolled out. There really is no rhyme or reason to the music industry these days. I learned more about that and a host of other things while chatting with Slug on the phone prior to the October 8th release of this album.

Maxi-Singles and More

Now if you’re like me, you might not be all that familiar with what a maxi-single is. It’s an interesting concept that, perhaps after the release of this Atmosphere album, could become more common for music releases. The Twin Cities emcee excitedly had plenty to say about Atmosphere’s approach to launching these tracks to the masses.

When I was a wee lad, we had this thing called the maxi-single. What is was is, here’s your single, your focus track and video. Singles were just created to service DJs. Somebody realized, hey man, if we put some extra cuts on the single, maybe we can move these in retail as well.

Slug on maxi-singles
PC: Dan Monick

Slug breaking down maxi-singles is simple enough. However, there’s a joyous note in his voice as he unfolds what these are. The good news is, he isn’t done yet describing how these throwbacks are tied into this new project.

I was a huge fan as a music collector, because I loved getting all the B sides that didn’t end up showing up on the album later. In this case, obviously, these B sides all show up on the album. But just the idea of dropping four songs with one focus track and a video, was appealing to me.

Slug continuing his maxi-single appreciation

Turns out it was someone at the label who suggested using maxi-singles to roll out the songs. Instead of releasing a few videos and then having fans wait for the full release, this was something different that Slug readily connected to.

Each maxi-single has a focus track, but each release also has a sleeper that isn’t the intended focus. “Something” is a sleeper while “Woes” is the amazing side A feature. “Clocked” and “Strung” battle it out on side B. Side C is all about “Pressed”, but “Vanished” might make you hit play more. And of course for the pending side D, “Barcade” with MF DOOM (the last EVER DOOM-Atmosphere collab) and Aesop Rock is the big splash; but, both “Nekst” and “Skull” are no sleepers. That’s what’s really fun about this project, going back and forth about which one grabs your attention more.

[Fun side note: Both Slug and Ant have one song on the album that they really wanted to make and they’re unconcerned with how it performs commercially. For Slug, it’s “Skull”; we’ll have to listen to the whole thing to figure out which song is Ant’s favorite.]

Guessing Wrong

I’ve always enjoyed listening to music and taking a shot at seeing if I’m interpreting the lyrics correctly. Most of the time, outside of an interview where an artist breaks down said lines, you have no way of knowing. However, this time I get the pleasure of finding out just how wrong I am. To be fair, my interpretations seem appreciated. Our interpretations are how we form deeper connections to the music. I have to attribute my misfires to being a more recent fan of Atmosphere, which I confessed in the interview.

Daniel: Listening to “Strung”, I keep thinking of “God’s Bathroom Floor. Was “Strung” made in the same spirit or am I way off?

Slug: “Strung” is really a song about self-care, it’s about figuring out how to take care of yourself better. “God’s Bathroom Floor”, you know a lot of people presume what that song is about, and I love that, I think that’s how people should listen to music, they should find their own interpretations. But, the real message about that song is parenthood.

-Slug advising me about two similar yet very different songs in “Strung” and “God’s Bathroom Floor”

In addition to the overtly obvious ideas of addiction in both songs, these tracks are sonic siblings. Slug recalls both using breakbeats. Upon listening to both one after the other, that seems right. The melody has a higher pitched loop as well on both songs, although each loop reminds me of the other, but they definitely don’t mirror each other.

Hogan’s Heroes and Hoagies

I had to make another crack at figuring out if my lyrical analysis was in the right ballpark. There are so many lines to break down from this album; the choices are endless. However, after listening to the album several times, I settled on a line most might miss on first listen, or just consider not important. Those folks would be wrong, only because of Slug’s response to my feudal attempt.

Daniel: I was just thinking of the line from, I think it’s from “Vanish”. Does the line “A hero ain’t nothin’ but a hoagie” have anything to do with “Hogan’s Heroes”?

Slug: (laughs) Oh that’s great! No but I love it, because I love Hogan’s Heroes! Holy shit! You’re not old enough to know about Hogan’s Heroes, who the fuck you think you are? Richard Dawson, bro c’mon. Okay so no, but you know what it is, it’s a book from my youth.” There was a book called “A Hero Ain’t Nothing But A Sandwich.”

The rapping half of Atmosphere proceeds to break down this coming-of-age story about a young black youth. The boy in this story is a bit younger than a teenager, and he’s at a crossroads age. He’s between being a carefree youngster, and having to deal with what life is going to be like as a young black youth in America. Apparently it’s a quick read, but one that I was suggested to read regardless (as I’ve added it to my reading list).

Final Words

Growth and learning seem scattered throughout, and that’s something that comes with experience. A track like “Woes” reminds me to acknowledge one’s own shortcomings, and is part of learning acceptance of both self and others. “Carousel” reminds me that life is about learning from the ups and downs, and we all have to maximize what life can be. Each of these fourteen tracks left me with something to reflect on in regards to the bigger picture of life. Not many albums can do that from open to close, and do it without overcomplicating things.

A last moment of Zen brings us to the end. After a rapid thirty-something minute interview it was fitting that Slug also took something away from our phone conversation.

But I love the fact that you pulled out a Hogan’s Heroes reference. I’m gonna tell Ant about that, he’s gonna think that’s fucking hilarious.

-Slug, upon hearing my attempted tie-in between a line on “Vanish” and a 1960’s sitcom

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