Sugar Tongue Slim, better known as STS, and frequent collaborator Khari Mateen studied under some of Hip Hop’s finest. Their new album, Better On A Sunday, drops on Friday (January 26) and represents a culmination of the lessons learned during their time with The Roots.
“Me and Khari started working together, both working with The Roots,” STS told HipHopDX. “We did like three for the Money Making Jam Boy’s project together, but he worked on Game Theory and I worked on How I Got Over. Me and Khari just clicked, and we just kept working together.”
The two developed chemistry due to a shared experience — both men grew up in Atlanta and cut their musical teeth in Philadelphia. Although Better On A Sunday is their first official album as a duo, the two have released EPs and songs together — plus Mateen played a big role in STS’ 2015 LP with acclaimed producer RJD2.
While the duo certainly wants to carve its own path, both men make no secret about following the lead of The Roots. After seeing how the legendary group operates in the studio, STS and Mateen have developed habits that produce positive results.
“The Roots are a big influence on what we do,” STS said. “So, we look at the way they put together projects, especially coming from The Roots days where Rich Nichols, who’s their manager who passed away. Just being in the studio, working with him, and the way they look at records and put everything together.
“Like you take Black Thought’s Funk Flex freestyle, the 10-minute joint — you couldn’t put that on an album. You couldn’t really put that on a record. It had to be in that lane. But when The Roots put together an album, they make sure it’s cohesive. I don’t want people to think I ain’t rapping, but it’s more controlled. We know exactly what sound we’re going for, what type of feel we’re going for and the message we want to get across.”
When it comes to the music, STS and Mateen aren’t trying to make club records. Their southern fried songs mixed with East Coast sensibilities have a different aim in mind.
“The music is down home, it’s relatable, it’s like blue-collar type music,” STS explained. “You have music that you go to the club to, but you don’t live your life at the club. Music is always going on as your personal soundtrack, so we wanted to make music for those other times when you’re just living your life, which is most of the time.”
Although STS is a skilled lyricist able to hold his own on a track with Black Thought, Better On A Sunday takes a music-first approach. Mateen’s versatility as a singer and producer allowed them to create an array of soulful jams, retro funk and lyrically-proficient cuts.
“Musically, he can bounce around and do whatever he wants, but you get him in that soulful range and to me, that’s where I think he shines at,” STS said of Mateen.
The pen game of STS is still potent though. The quality of the LP’s storytelling, such as the standout “Waffle House,” shows listeners how much he’s studied the elite storytellers in Hip Hop.
“I used to always tell everybody when I sit down to write the stuff, WWOD: What would Outkast do?” he explained. “When I write my verses, those are my motivations. I’m looking at Outkast. I’m looking at Hov. I’m looking at Nas. I’m looking at Black Thought. I’m looking at the way these people put together their stories.
“Biggie’s ‘I Got a Story To Tell’ is the best story in Hip Hop history. Slick Rick’s ‘Children Story’ is the first song that I ever learned in my life. So, when I sit down to write a story, to write a record, especially if it has a storyline, it’s really about getting those details.”
The student of the game got a front row seat to see Black Thought’s process during his time working with Money Making Jam Boys and The Roots. While STS isn’t collaborating with him regularly these days, the two remain friends. STS knows Black Thought’s epic 10-minute freestyle on Funkmaster Flex’s show got people excited for a long-awaited solo album, but according to him, it’s still not in the cards at this point.
“The crazy thing is … I hope I can say this. It’s not like he hasn’t done the records,” STS explained. “He’s done some records. I’ve heard some records, like the solo Black Thought record. But The Roots brand is so built up and it’s perfect, especially now with what they’re doing with Jimmy Fallon. They’ve got the best job in Hip Hop.”
STS and Mateen’s Better On A Sunday drops on January 26 via Steel Wool and EMPIRE. Order it here.