Nearly everyone whoís familiar with him sees Slug as one of the best emcees spitting today. Virtuoso wordsmith, straight up dedicated hip-hopper, modern embodiment of 1800ís Romantic art; this guy covers all the bases. "Anticon" is a word that tends to polarize hip hop fans, but Slugís loose affiliation with that collective has forced a lot of people to open their minds to an entirely new yet often reverent branch of music. Caught between pretentious poetic types and brainless materialists, every Slug song bleeds pure honesty. In the spirit of his intense connection with his listeners (and "to eat better while on the road," as he explains in "Hungry Fuck"), Slug has released a 40-minute non-album of his solo works named "Sad Clown (Bad Dub Part II)". Whether or not you can make it to one of his Atmosphere shows, this is a disc that you canít let yourself miss.
The disc kicks off intensely with the title track, "Sad Clown". Slug has amazing skill at using sober language to outline the deepest of feelings, in this case a meditation on living as an entertainer. Over ANTís (the dude who produced the whole album) wandering guitar lick and hypnotic bass line, Slug sounds downright soulful as he dispenses his slow-paced lyrics: "íhey daddy, tell me why the clown is cryiní/íwell son, heís got the task of cheering up the ill and dying/on top of that, everybody thinks heís insane/canít fathom why heíd want to ease they painí". More poignant description follows later in the verse: "the clown stays sad, the ground stays hard/with a couple pounds of migraine, a pocketful of scars/but the face stays painted on, for everyone to gaze upon/continuing the bad dream Ďtill he wakes up gone". Itís truly an amazing way to start an album (or whatever it is). Somehow, Slug manages to keep up that level of focused energy and feeling for the next song, the puzzling yet insightful "Body Pillow". If youíre not acquainted with Slugís forays into what the less educated might call love songs, this is as good a place to start as any. He describes disparate fragments of a relationship in an intensely visual way, and somehow there exists a piano loop that lives up to and compliments his rhymes. The beat is one of the nicest on the album, and after itís through, all the listener can do is reflect with awe on the wild ride theyíve been taken on.
The third track, "The Pill", is a good example of a very different type of Slug piece, more of a rambling collections of whatever words of wisdom that were on his mind. The beat is smooth and relaxing, but some people might take issue with Slugís uncharacteristic singsong flow. "Running With Scissors" has a similar style, with our hero dispensing many kinds of "advice on how to think for self". A notable line: "nine out of ten doctors prefer their secretaries/ícuz theyíre sick of going home and going down on what they married". The next song sees Slug picking up the emotional pace, contemplating a female airplane passenger and the basis on which she runs her life. Delicately combining bitterness with sympathy, Slug ponders, "How could she fall on her face for some man-child? /maybe itís his voice, or maybe itís his damn smile/maybe itís the whole package, from the kiss to the mattress/to the sarcastic jokes, to the social status". This just reinforces Slugís position as one of the most poignant rappers in the world when it comes to females. He isnít overly disdainful, but he definitely wonít sugarcoat his lyrics either.
This brings us to song 6: "The Wind". A subdued drumbeat and bass line accompany a woodwind sample that whistles like... well, you get the idea. This isnít a song thatíll get you hyped up at the club, but Slug veritably drowns the listener in beautiful wording. For example: "Maybe my issues are not your issues/but everybodyís got to sleep and everybody carries weight/you canít escape regret, but you might regret escape/if you closed your eyes and held it, would you recognize itís shape?" Slug doesnít follow the trend of rhyming as many syllables as possible, but he doesnít need to. His raw talent is put on display in "Hungry", a short track that seems to set the mood for "Hellís Playgroud". Both of these songs are by turns philosophical and damningly apathetic. In the hands of any other rapper, this material might be somewhat unappealing, but Slug can carry it off with flair both vocally and lyrically. The next song is "The Ocean", and I wonít betray it by interpretation. Just check out some quotes:"Itís a quarter to two, Iím still waiting anxious/got the surface, the tools, the motivation to paint this/donít know which colors to use, detail is not my game/so now Iím through differentiating heaven and pain"..."speaking to the mirror trying to gather the reflection/sold my sense of direction for some affection"..."if you canít take it with you then fuck it, I ainít goiní/Iíll just sit here for now and think about the ocean". The beat fits, the lyrics are more than straight, to just enjoy it.
Iím going to completely skip the mention of two very worthy songs and get right to the grand finale: "The River" is one of the most touching songs Iíve ever heard. ANT flips a Beethoven sample over an incredibly engaging string of bass notes, but Slug could kick this song over a broken fax machine connection and still have do the same thing: blow you away. The song is a tribute to a friend of Slugís who passed on early, and you can feel the pain and loss in every syllable. A somewhat long excerpt:
"If I could run through the woods, and speed like the light
Iíd find the answers to why, and be back by tonight
If I could fly through the fog and look at this rock
Iíd figure out how to keep Hell off of my block
But as it stands, I stay content
Tyriní to be the magic man, and pay my rent
Wishing that Brian would turn me on to the secrets he sought
While we keep burning the dawn, just to keep the day hot
If I could ask you one question, Iíd ask where you went
You could teach me a lesson every time I got bent
But the alcohol donít make me forget about it all
Doesnít matter the season, the leaves can still fall"
Thereís no way text can get this across, just listen to the song for yourself. The soul of loss, of helplessness, of reminiscence... itís all here. Though the point is put across in a much different way, this song reminds me a little of T.R.O.Y. Both efforts take someone youíve never even met and make them as real as your everyday acquaintances, and both songs touch that sweet sorrow that thrives within tragedy like a pearl. Slug has been through a lot, and he arms himself with his wits and his pen. Let these words change your life. Some songs are abrupt and some are unfocused, but this is as real a recording as you can get your hands on.