Atmosphere's Slug Tells How the Rape and Murder of a Fan Changed His Music and His Life

The murder of Marissa Mathy-Zvaifler forever changed the rapper Slug of Atmosphere. In June of 2003, Marissa, age 16, attended an Atmosphere concert in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That night the venue's janitor promised he would introduce Marissa to Slug, luring her backstage, where he proceeded to rape and murder her. Slug knew he wasn't responsible, but the event drastically shifted his perspective on music and life. After that, Slug says, he realized, “It's not just really about me getting on the stage and having the time of my life talking about how cool I am. It's bigger than that.”

Slug's honesty has always distinguished him as a rapper. Over the last 16 years, his music has chronicled his struggle as a white rapper trying to prove himself, his dependency on substances, his need for acceptance, and his image as a role model for his fans and children. Slug says he saw Marissa's death as “my transition to try to be a more responsible artist not just to the audience but to myself.” Before Atmosphere's performance this Saturday at the Greek Theatre in support of his new album, The Family Sign, we spoke with Slug about this transition, that night, and becoming a responsible figure.

How would you describe the message you're trying to convey to the youth who listen to your music?

If I had to give a blanket statement, I would say it is a message of perseverance. I'm sure you could look at different eras of my involvement and pick different times where I was trying to communicate a different message.

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