By: Tom Nealon | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Hip Hop, Music

Minneapolis’s own SLUG (Sean Daley, born 1972) has been performing his particular brand of auto-psychotherapy since the mid ’90s, most successfully as the MC of the indie hip hop act Atmosphere (ably DJed and produced by Ant). Often making only desultory use of hooks or traditional rap structures, Slug tells us stories; sometimes as vaguely concealed allegory or half-heartedly masked metaphor, but just as often straight from his life. Lots of rappers use personal experience to inform their work, but it’s rare that it is so unadorned and unobfuscated. By artistry or fact, Slug’s rhymes are still redolent with the life they were torn from; it’s this immediacy that makes Atmosphere such a singular experience — you’re pulled in because there’s no other choice, no distance (ironic or otherwise) of any sort; you’re in or you’re out. On “It Goes,” Slug raps:

I bet my fans know me better than my friends do
Because my friends don’t pay that much attention
The fans memorize every single sentence
Which makes them far too smart to ever start a friendship
I need to start writing pieces about other people’s problems
‘Cause strangers are starting to get worried

Why worry? Because at his best, on Lucy Ford (2001) or You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005), his problems with alcohol, women, and navigating day to day life take on a heightened, naturalist insistence. Like the best naturalism, it evokes the real by surpassing it — in grittiness, honesty and sometimes braggadocio: “I’m gonna be the biggest thing to hit these little kids. Bigger than guns, bigger than cigarettes.” And so he is; he’s the Zola of hip-hop.


HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc as HiLo Hero | Gil Scott-Heron as HiLo Hero | Slick Rick as HiLo Hero | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels as HiLo Hero | Afrika Bambaataa as HiLo Hero | Biz Markie as HiLo Hero | Eric B as HiLo Hero (forthcoming in November) | U-God as HiLo Hero | Slug as HiLo Hero | Adam Yauch as HiLo Hero | Ghostface Killah as HiLo Hero | DJ Run as HiLo Hero | Flavor Flav as HiLo Hero | Scott La Rock as HiLo Hero | GZA as HiLo Hero | Schoolly D as HiLo Hero | Aesop Rock as HiLo Hero | Notorious B.I.G. as HiLo Hero | Melle Mel as HiLo Hero | Rick Rubin as HiLo Hero | Rakim as HiLo Hero | Ol’ Dirty Bastard as HiLo Hero | Madlib as HiLo Hero | Talib Kweli as HiLo Hero | Danger Mouse as HiLo Hero | Kool Moe Dee as HiLo Hero | Chuck D as HiLo Hero | Dizzee Rascal as HiLo Hero | RZA as HiLo Hero | Cee-Lo Green as HiLo Hero | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Buddy Holly.

READ MORE about members of the Reconstructionist Generation (1964-73).



Tom Nealon runs the online rare bookshop Pazzo Books specializing in early printed books, cookery and literature. In his spare time he works on barbecue techniques in the test pit in his backyard. He can be found at and @pazzobooks on twitter.