Though they hail from Minnesota — a locale to which they have remained true over the course of their two and a half decades in the game — hip-hop group Atmosphere, the duo of producer Anthony “Ant” Davis and emcee Sean “Slug” Daley, are no strangers to the Bay Area.
Their current tour, which brings them to the Greek Theatre in Berkeley tomorrow, also features the innovative DJ Z-Trip and the legendary weed luminaries Cypress Hill. The combined experience is staggering, and the marquee suggests a guarantee of stoner anthems, masterful DJ sets, and choice moments from Atmosphere’s renowned songbook.
Atmosphere are on the road in support of their most recent effort WORD?, which is slated for an Oct. 8 release.
In advance of their planned performances — their first local shows since February 2020 — we caught up with Slug and asked him to reveal his favorite five Bay Area hip-hop jams.
“I just want to say first that I’m sad I had to only pick five,” Daley said in prefacing his selections. “I had ‘Life is Too Short’ and others, but I just went with these. How can you leave out E-40 and MC Hammer? How can you not have Latyrx? I mean, the Bay has so much.”
Nevertheless. He indulged us. Read his responses, edited for length and clarity, below.
‘93 Til Infinity’
Souls of Mischief
It’s the best backpacker anthem of all time. It’s a feel-good song. It’s something you play it the summertime, or in your car with the windows down, or on your motorcycle, or while you’re at a BBQ. It’s just classic. And it’s not even just a Bay Area thing, it’s a worldwide classic. This one I felt weird putting on here because it’s too obvious. But then, if I’m not acknowledging this, then I’d be missing out. For me, I wasn’t even into optimistic sounds before this. I always liked darker shit, Mobb Deep and Cypress Hill, stuff like that. Even my underground favorites was stuff like Boot Camp Clik. It was all dark. Souls made a happy song and I was like, “You can do that?” I didn’t know you can make an underground song like that. Now that I know, and I’ve been trying to recreate that joint ever since.
There’s a melancholy vibe to me here. Not a lot of people had figured out how to create that kind of feel, and it’s a feel that’s hard to do. I feel like we can all relate to each other through the dark stuff, while the happy stuff is hard to make. I look at Pharrell and wonder how he’s made 30 happy hits because it’s hard to make truly happy music. But melancholy is hard and something I understand. It’s happy but realistic. “Swan Lake” captured that. I can’t even think of another group making anything that sounded like this. It was also the first time I heard Gift of Gab. I heard this on a mixtape then I went out and bought the Melodica EP. When I heard Gab I was blown away. Who is this dude? He’s just a normal guy? That whole era, you had Hiero, Blackalicious, then you had Living Legends; you had these groups that weren’t pretending to be cooler than the listener, they were letting you know that they were like you.
Del The Funky Homosapien
I became a fan of Del immediately after I Wish My Brother George Was Here, because he spoke to me in ways that emcees prior to him didn’t. Emcees all seemed older than me or that they were teaching something, or preaching something. And they didn’t always seem to walk my walk, you know? Del was talking about sneaking out at night, smoking bidis, and just being kind of bitter and pessimistic. He made anthems for common people who had complaints. This is the type of antagonist shit I was on. This was the B-side to “Doctor Bombay” and I was a 12-inch collector at that point. And when I took the record home, it literally changed my life. His main point wasn’t anything but “Here, get to know me a little.” Del quickly became my favorite rapper of all time. He replaced LL and Melle Mel for me. He even replaced KRS for me. In hindsight, I’d still say LL is probably my favorite but Del is a top-10 emcee for sure. And in terms of personal importance, he’s way high for me, like top five.
‘Freaks of the Industry’
When “DoWhatChaLike” came out, it was like a birthday party on a 12-inch. I wasn’t even into fun rap. I was into shoot-the-police rap. And I was into the revolution is coming rap. Things like X-Clan and Public Enemy. So this wasn’t the stuff I was usually into, but I loved them. It unlocked a part of me, the goofball inside when I was in my revolutionary rap phase. It showed me that I can be both. Shock G was a genius. He was a visionary and was able to see shit, then put it together. I know how hard it is to get three people on the same page, so for him to get seven, eight, maybe nine people on the same page is not something that most of us can do. It requires a genius like Quincy Jones — yes I just compared Shock to Quincy. How they flipped the sample was bonkers. Shock’s ear, his ability to see talent, and do something with it is untouchable. He sort of discovered Pac? That’s Dr. Dre shit. As a young horny teenager, “Freaks” was the closest to musical porn as you can get.
‘Fat Cats and Bigga Fish’
Boots man, there’s so many songs I could’ve put here. “Me and Jesus the Pimp in a 1979 Granada Last Night” is probably my favorite Coup song, but I was thinking that when people read this piece, and decide to go look up these songs, I want them to hear “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish” first. Boots’ writing is so incredible. It’s crazy to me that he does screenplays now because that’s what he always done. So when he started making films, I was like “Of course this is what he’s doing!” I would suggest everyone listen to his catalogue, specifically his writing, because he makes valuable music. What I love about these Oakland artists is the funk and how they stay true to it. A lot of cats would sample Funkadelic and that’s where their funk came from. But all these Oakland guys, their funk came from within. Too $hort had so much funk and all he had was a drum machine and a bass guitar. Same with E-40, and same with The Coup. Boots is the perfect example of what funk looks like from a hip-hop perspective. It reminds me of Prince. I know he’s not from the Bay but he had a way of making funk that wasn’t like he was emulating but more creating the funk from within — if that makes sense. That’s how I see The Bay. It has its own kind of funk and it’s untouchable.
David Ma is a longtime music journalist whose work appears in NPR, The Paris Review, Billboard, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere. He’s part owner of Needle To The Groove Entertainment, co-hosts DadBodRapPod, and teaches a course on hip-hop at San Jose State University.