Producer Ant of Atmosphere, the duo that released Southsiders, the #8 album in last week's Billboard Top 200 albums chart, says he's always wanted to craft albums the way another respected producer has.
"If you have never experienced a Dr. Dre record properly, then you obviously don’t understand that that’s the goal," Ant says in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. "That’s the achievement that you want in music and Hip Hop. It’s not even something I could describe. It’s like a clarity and a perfection to it doesn’t exist in a lot of people’s music. The perfection of it and the dream it has in it. But it’s all based on Hip Hop. It’s based on some pure ass fucking thought. It’s been that way since the '80s. My early records, of course I wanted to but I couldn’t afford…I didn’t even have the brainpower for it. I barely have it now. I’m fucking 43 years old. I’ve been fucking chasing this shit all my life."
In chasing this goal, Ant has transitioned from sampling songs directly on beats earlier in his career to having samples replayed by musicians in the studio for the past few Atmosphere projects, a technique that has given him new freedom.
"Now I can sample anything," he says. "I could sample from the point of view of...Shit, you hear that piano in the background? That’s all I want. I think about music in multiple ways now. That doesn’t matter, that guitar. I just want that piano part. Then when I have that piano part, we can build around that, 'cause of the emotion of that song is that piano. I bet you the people that made the sample that I’m sampling don’t even know it. That’s the luxury I have now. I can get to the emotion of the sample. Before, my samples were dictating my emotion. Now I’m in control."
An example of this can be found on "The Waitress," a track off 2008's When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold. The song begins with piano keys, lending the emotion Ant describes.
"That was one of those things [where] that wasn’t part of the sample," Ant says. "What I had made and what ended up created in the studio were two different things, technically, especially on that intro [to the song]."
Atmosphere's Ant Says He Is Proud Of "Emotionally Charged Hip Hop Music"
While proud of the work he's done with emotionally charged projects, Ant says he feels he's never made "bangers."
"I make music in a way that’s all about the heart," he says. "I don’t have any bangers. I’ve never made a banger in my life. Ever. Everything I’ve made has some kind of emotional baggage or something. So, someone like Slug writes to something like that, his words are so…he’s so poetic that he can turn anything in the shape of what that music is saying. So, I think he’s saying what I wish I could say. I think I’m making that music that he wishes he made. So I think that’s what we got going on.
"A banger would be half of 50 Cent’s collection or ‘In Da Club’ or something," he says. "I never made the ‘In Da Club’ song. I never did that. Never made a, Jake One made that ‘Cocaine Flow.’ I’ve never been able to make something like that. Those are bangers...I’ve never made one of those. I’m not mad that I haven’t. I’m very proud of my work. But I make a different version of work.
"I make some emotionally charged Hip Hop music and I really am proud and assured of myself that I’m really good at it," he adds. "I’m good at it, at the emotional stuff. I’m not good at bangers and there’s nothing wrong with that."
The emotional edge of Ant's production lends itself to some of Slug's rhymes, Ant says. Critics have agreed. This was acknowledged in HipHopDX's 2011 review of The Family Sign, for instance. "Slug and Ant are, once again, in near-perfect concert with regard to their vision for what the album should sound like, and what sort of thoughts and emotions it should convey and evoke," HipHopDX said at the time.
A more current example of this might lie in one of Southsiders' most introspective cuts, "Flicker," an ode to Eyedea, a Rhymesayers Entertainment artist, who died in October 2010. The emotional tilt of the beat works with Slug's reflections on the track. Examples like this showcase how Atmosphere's camaraderie and chemistry has continued to evolve.
Ant Details Evolution Of Role In Atmosphere
Ant's production has also gone through an evolution.
He went from crafting beats for friends in Minnesota to being touted as one of the genre's most respected. In October 2005, for example, Ant was called "arguably the game's finest producer" by HipHopDX in a review of the group's You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having. The praise has continued to pour in and his work on the new Atmosphere set has also been celebrated by critics. "The production on Southsiders may very well represent some of Ant’s best work," HipHopDX said in its review of the album.
Southsiders represents an evolution for the group, according to Ant, and of his production.
"I feel that it is right on target," Ant says of this evolution. "It’s exactly what I’m supposed to do as an artist. I’m supposed to evolve, change and improve...It's something you should do as an artist, I think. You are supposed to grow."
When he reflects on the scope of the production he's done, Ant says he sees plenty of change.
"I think the difference is I’m older," he says. "Just trying to make something that is important for me. That guy in the ‘90s was just trying to get on, let’s say. I was just trying to make some fucking shit. I couldn’t even believe that I got to do it. Now, I’ve been doing it for so long, that I just want to make sure that everything I do I can be proud of. I just want to be proud. I wasn’t proud of that work back then. I had intentions of just being heard. That’s the big difference now. When I show my music to people now I’m convinced that it’s good. Back then, I was just trying to fucking make it. To be something. Just trying at something."
With the release of Southsiders, he says he's "convinced that it's dope."
Ant says his dynamics with Slug have also changed as the group has progressed through its career.
"With the early music, I only cared about my goal," he says. "Now it’s the end goal. Back when we first started, I had to make sure the beat was tight and had to make sure he at least sounded passable. That was all that mattered. Now that’s not the case. Now I want him to be the best. I want to be the best. I want everyone to be the best. That’s the main difference."
Atmosphere is slated to perform at Soundset 2014 along with Wiz Khalifa, Nas, 2 Chainz and Cypress Hill, among others. The event takes place May 25.
Photograph By: Dan Monick