Fans of underground rap music likely know the individual names, Slug (from Atmosphere) and Murs. But they also likely know the two together in their duo project, Felt. Together, Slug and Murs have released four Felt records, including their latest, Felt 4 U, which was produced by longtime Atmosphere beat-maker, Ant (born Anthony Davis). In the past, the two have dedicated records to Christina Ricci, Lisa Bonet and Rosie Perez. The 12-track Felt 4 U incorporates the signature synergy Slug and Murs offer their listeners. The highly skilled emcees bounce between punch lines, setting the other up like volleyball players set teammates up for spikes. The first Felt record came out in 2002 and now the most recent has dropped some eighteen years later. In between, Slug and Murs have sold thousands of albums, independently and together, become parents, married.
A lot can transpire in nearly two decades. But the two bring their best on their latest collaboration. Hits include the energetic “Freeze Tag,” pensive “Sticks & Stones” and sweet “Barboleta.” We caught up with both Slug and Murs to talk about the relationship, “reasoning,” Christina Ricci, vaccinations, fatherhood, MLS soccer and more.
Hello, Murs! Thanks for making some time. It’s nice to speak with you. I enjoyed the new record and I’ve very much appreciated the Felt series to date. So, I suppose, I should say thank you!
Murs: Thank you for taking time to listen.
It’s refreshing. It’s unlike a lot of rap music released today. I’m 37 and it’s reminiscent of music I loved when I was younger. But it’s also upholding a tradition and lineage of rap and hip-hop.
Murs: Old guy rap!
I guess! It’s certainly of a different generation. ‘Old guy’ has a bit of a pejorative connotation and I certainly don’t mean that, though I imagine you’re joking at least a little bit when you say that?
Murs: Yeah, I get into that a lot. Because I feel like “old” is bad in America because it’s a capitalist thing where we don’t value our elders. I don’t think I’m old yet. KRS-ONE, you could consider him old, but he’s 55 and he’s still doing it. So, whenever I can call myself an old guy – I don’t feel useless. I want to help shape the new America where we value our elders even though they’re not buying the next iPhone or they’re collecting social security, which they don’t seem to want us to do. But, yeah, man. That’s my new struggle – old lives matter.
You’re right. Getting older often equates to disposable, in a way. If our computer is old, it’s useless. That thinking doesn’t seem to value wisdom or experience. Felt 4 is interesting, though, because it involves the way you make music decades ago. But the subject matter is often new. It must be important for you to carry on a lineage, speaking of KRS-ONE?
Murs: It’s very important.
Slug: [Hopping on the call] Hey, hey!
Murs: [Sings opening line from Felt 4 U’s sixth track, “Freeze Tag.”] “They call me Daley / I do it nightly.”
I was just listening to that song. It’s my favorite on the record.
Slug: That was not a bar.
Murs: That was a hot bar!
It’s a great opening line.
Slug: That’s all it is. It’s an opening, not a bar. There’s a difference. You don’t always want to open with a bar. You kind of want to, like, open with an introductory.
Murs: An appetizer?
Slug: It’s more like, “Here, let me shake your hand. Now let’s fight!”
It can’t be too complex in the beginning, right? It has to be a bit more open, universal – like an amuse-bouche.
Slug: You don’t want to just come up from sitting inside of a backpack. You want to pull people into the backpack.
Murs: Ahhhh! Pulling people into the backpack!
Lessons everyday! Thank you both for making some time today. I wanted to ask first, how did you two meet?
Murs: We met in 1998 at First Avenue [in Minneapolis]. The Living Legends were on tour opening for Hieroglyphics. We had heard of each other – I had a friend who lived in Chicago and he had told me about Atmosphere because he’d moved to L.A. and been hip to the Midwest scene. I think Sean had heard of me through other dub tapes that were circulating. We met – I want to envision like it’s on stairs. You walk in on the right of First Ave. And I gave him my first album, which was F’Real, and he gave me Overcast. That’s how it happens.
Slug: That was kind of the thing back then. Underground rappers when they met each other, instead of, like, shaking hands or hugging each other, they would hand each other product. Because you would always have a box of product in your hands. So, that was the underground rap handshake. If I handed you a tape and you handed me a tape, we were now officially met.
Murs: The indie business card.
You were then bonded in your ambition.
Murs: Hey, I like that.
Slug: Bond ambition! [Laughs]
What was the impetus for Felt? You’d met at First Avenue and how did you decide to put your powers together on a new collaboration, a new record?
Murs: You know a loop we haven’t talked about, Sean?
Slug: What’s that?
Murs: We met and then I grew fonder of him – aside from loving his music – because we both were big fans of Christina Ricci. That wasn’t the impetus for Felt but I was, like, I like this guy. I had recorded a song about Christina Ricci with a guy named Justice for a label called Galapagos4 in Chicago. I made a whole song about her and I was like, “Yo, someone else is into her and it’s this dude I kind of know that makes music that’s dope? That’s dope!”
Slug: That’s right! I forgot about that. Because I had a song, too, that was like – I mentioned her and [producer] Anthony, who rarely would get his voice on a song, he jumped in from the control booth and decided to record himself from the control booth. He’s like, “Who the fuck is Christina Ricci?” And I was like, “I can’t believe you don’t know who she is!” Actually, we had the conversation in the actual control room. And I was like, “No, stop! We have to record this because it blows my mind that you don’t know who she is.” So, we put it on a song. That’s right. And I heard your song, Murs. Then we did a song. We made a song together in Chicago – Chicago is oddly part of the Felt thing. I never even considered all that.
Slug: But then we made a song and it was fun because we both wrote on the spot. We both could make up stuff right there in the moment and it wasn’t just, like, rapping. We made a conceptual song about being in love with an alien girlfriend – on the spot! You know, Eyedea was the only other person who would do that kind of shit with me. Where it would be like, “Alright, let’s write a song.” And you’d sit down to write it and you’d go, “Alright, what do you want to write about?” And somebody would throw out some kind of weird topic and you just go for it.
Like improv acting.
Slug: That was how we met. But I think Felt came about a little bit later when I wanted to take a trip to Las Angeles and take my first vacation ever of my life. I just didn’t know how to bring myself to do that without actually putting some work into it, like having some sort of productive thing to do. So, I hit Murs up like, “Hey, do you want to make a project while I’m out there?” Because I saw how Living Legends were doing this thing where, like, any two or three of them would get together and make a side project, like, all the time. So, I was like, “Murs, let’s do one. I know I’m not a Legend. But let’s make one!” I think sometime around there, I started to feel like maybe the Midwest representative of Living Legends. Like, I wasn’t actually in the group, but I was making music and hanging out with these dudes so much.
Murs: Yeah, you’re like the fifth Beatle – the ninth Legend.
Slug: Yeah, like I was the fourth member of RUN-DMC [Laughs].
So, you two bonded over your affection for Christina Ricci. That must have obviously impacted the writing and naming of Felt 1: A Tribute to Christina Ricci, which came out in 2002?
Slug: Oh, definitely. I think secretly we both thought we had a shot at going on a date with her.
Murs: Oh, for sure. Delusional.
Slug: Yeah, we were delusional. But at the time we thought the world was ours. Like, I couldn’t think of somebody that I would more want to go on a date with in 2001 than Christina Ricci. She was – I wanted to go have, you know, Thai food with her.
Why was she the one? She was Wednesday Adams, right?
Murs: Wednesday Adams. She was in Casper, Gold Diggers, Pumpkin.
She had horror qualities to her.
Slug: Buffalo ‘66 is what did it for me.
Murs: I’ve never seen that because I can’t do Vincent Gallo. Makes me feel strange.
Have you heard from any of the women that you’ve dedicated the Felt records to – Christina Ricci, Lisa Bonet or Rosie Perez?
Murs: I once saw Lisa Bonet at a Macrobiotic restaurant and I called Sean immediately and he said, “If you don’t go talk to her, you lose ten points.” And she was with her huge, huge husband, Jason Momoa. So, I don’t think I wanted to go up to her and say, “Hey!” This was before Jason Momoa was a thing. I was just like, “Who is this huge guy eating healthy?” I was like, “I’m not saying shit. I’ll take the loss.” I saw recently that someone posted a picture with Christina Ricci. They went to an autograph signing she had and they gave her the cover and she put a sad face on it.
Murs: I was bummed. I was like, “Alright, well. I guess.” Maybe she didn’t like hot bars?
What was then the inspiration for the fourth Felt record? What made you want to get into the studio again and make another album?
Slug: It was a long time coming.
Murs: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. I like that one.
Slug: We started Felt 4 a few times over the last ten years. It just never got off the ground for one reason or another, usually due to timing issues. We actually went through a few different ideas of producers and even got beats from a few different people but it just never lifted off. But that was, like I said, mostly due to scheduling conflicts. Then, finally, Ant was like, “Hey, I want to do this.” So, I hit up Murs like, “Hey, Ant wants to do this. What’s your schedule look like?” And we found a window where we could make it work. You know, every time we make a Felt record – just like the very first time – it’s all based on taking a vacation. And making sure you’re productive during that vacation. So, Murs brought his whole family here to Minneapolis. And our wives are friends, so all the kids and the wives kicked it while me and Murs, you know, made the record in the basement. We would work all night, put the kids to bed, go back to work, and then go to bed, and then wake up the next morning, feed the kids, get them off to playtime with each other. And then go back to work, you know, every day. I think we took two days off. One day we went to the zoo and one day we went fishing. Other than that, though, it was straight fire.
Did that family aspect provide any particular inspiration in any direction?
Slug: I mean, speaking for myself, the record was more of an opportunity to get the fuck away from my family! To keep it real. Having Murs in town and having my family know, “Hey, I have to put this work because he’s only here for ten days,” that really allowed me to, like, kind of not have a lot of responsibilities other than working on the music. I work on music all day every day. I’m at work right now. But I have to take breaks to go and pick up one kid, take him to soccer, go grab this other kid, bring him over – it’s all day long, there’s interruption. So, I just have to take the work in spurts. Whereas when he was here in town, I was just able to plug away for ten hours at a time. But I guess, yeah, it inspires the music for me. Maybe not so much consciously but it seeps in. When I hear the rhymes afterwards – when we’re mixing it and I’m listening to it, that’s when I start to hear all of the ways just that I’ve evolved since, you know, ten years ago, twenty years ago. The evolution of myself as well as the evolution of my friend, Murs. I hear it in his rhymes too. It’s not so much that we’re like, “Oh, let’s make a song for the family.” Even though there is a song on this one that was definitely inspired by the family, the “Borboleta” joint. But even just the ones where we’re spittin’ bars, I hear now – like Murs said, “I only do it for my city and my kids.” It’s like, you can’t really escape that. It’s a part of your world and your life. I don’t care if you’re a plumber or a rapper or a painter or you make cookies, somehow your family is influencing what you’re doing because you’re doing it for them.
Murs: And also we have built a style or a vibe, I think. We’re both very authentic artists. There are artists who have an image and when they go into the studio – you know, I had a lot of experience when I was on a major label with that. It was so weird to me. It became a scene. Like, oh it turns into the clubhouse. You tell your wife that you’re going to work and then you invite all the strippers. Everybody smokes weed and we play the same beat for eight hours, we order food on the record label and we don’t get anything done. So, we have to come back tomorrow because “we’re onto something.” But it’s a party atmosphere because you’re making party music. You’re making music for the club, you know? So, it was always strange to me. I had a lot of hiccups with, like, “Murs doesn’t drink. Murs doesn’t like a lot of people in his session. Murs doesn’t smoke weed.” A lot of producers didn’t want to work a second session with me because it’s not the clubhouse. And I think we have a similar vibe where when we get together, we work. You know, we definitely want to get away from our families but I’m never escaping that I’m a husband and a father. That never leaves me. So, we’ve built that authenticity. When we smoked cigarettes, we rapped about smoking cigarettes, you know? I knew Muddy Waters was a place because these were places Sean went at one point in his life, you know? It came out in the music. Not like he was trying to do commercials for them or plug them. The only art that I know that’s like rap in that way is country music. A country guy will tell you he went to the horses, he went there, he got this kind of beer, got in this kind of truck, he had a fight with his girlfriend at home.
There’s a folk music sensibility to both, yeah.
Slug: Instead of having strippers and a party, we had grapes. We ate so many fucking grapes!
Murs: Yeah and avocados.
Slug: Grapes and avocados! Man! To me, that was the party [Laughs].
Sean, Murs and I were talking about this a little bit before you hopped on. But I wonder how you both think about the idea of lineage or tradition of rap in the music you make? Is it something you make a concerted effort to carry on or does it happen more automatically because that’s just who you are?
Slug: I think on one hand it probably comes pretty naturally because it’s what I do; it’s what I know. But I also do believe it’s heavily influenced by whoever is making the beats. You know, it’s like, if I’m getting beats from Anthony, then there’s probably not going to be a whole lot of fancy high-hat trap shit going on. I already know that. Anything that I want to do within the structure that he’s given me, he’s going to give me free room to do. But I listen to the music and I let the music dictate where I go. So, I do thing that often times if it feels like my music has a personality or some sort of template, it’s probably due to those two parts. One, it depends on who the producer is and, two, it’s who I am, you know what I mean? I’ve never been somebody who wants to, like – I don’t want to make art of the sake of making art. I did all that when I was younger. I went through that phase in the late-90s where I was doing stuff just to be fucking doing it. Now, I want to actually be able to take a step back and look at what I’m communicating and what I’ve got going on and know that’s genuinely a part of me, a piece of me. So, I think that’s what it comes down to for me.
Murs: Yeah, I feel like we chose that a long time ago – when Sean said, like, that’s a given, upholding the legacy, taking this shit seriously. I think that’s something that I think people on our side of the fence chose a long time ago. You know, you hop that fence as soon as you make your first few songs. You kind of get your feeling for who you are, who you want to be and where you want to go. So, that fence is so far behind me – I’ve been on the path of upholding the legacy. That fork in the road, I took that turn already. So, I’m so far gone that there’s no way I can go back. But in doing that means trailblazing. I don’t make the same type of music KRS-ONE or Chuck D did. Because I don’t teach, you know? But in a way I do because I think that a lot of kids who come up after me – I do a workshop in Fort Collins and kid drove from Rock Springs, Wyoming and told me that me and Slug were like his fathers. And I said, “What do you mean? You have a dad, right?” He was like, “Yeah, my dad’s a mortician and he doesn’t get me.” And I’m like, “What?!” I had to tell him, “You’re a white kid from Wyoming, what part of my life do you identify with?” And he expanded my horizon. I guess KRS-ONE and Chuck D taught me – I don’t want to speak for Sean – to be responsible with the art you make. Not that I have to teach, not that I have to change the world. But realizing that it will impact. But never in a million years would I think that me, who didn’t have a father – well I did have a father but a non-present father. I don’t know what it’s like to have a dad. And for someone to see me as a father figure in Rock Spring, Wyoming – there may be one Black person there, you know? It fucked me up. But I was glad that I took this path. I think “responsible” and “authentic” – I do something different than Big Daddy Kane and I do something different than KRS-ONE. But they took it seriously and I don’t think that it’s a conscious thing at this point to uphold that legacy of taking the craft seriously.
Sean, I interviewed you about a year ago for your solo project at the time and I asked you about Felt and you, sort of jokingly, said that you and Murs are easy going for about the first thirty minutes of the session and then you get into an argument or dialogue about something. Was there an important conversation you two had this go-round?
Slug: There were a few – nothing too heavy or intense. I don’t know that it’ll ever go there again because I don’t think either of us drink the way we used to drink. But there were a couple of conversations where there was – I wouldn’t even say that it was debates or arguments. It was just presenting thoughts, bringing thoughts to the table to just work it out and think about it. And the one that I remember specifically was about vaccinations. It’s not that either of us stood on either side of that topic that made that what it was, it was just the fact that both of us were coming to the table with a lot of thought, a lot of analyzing, a lot of collecting information because we both have small children. So, it definitely set a tone for where we are today [Laughs]. It’s like, those types of conversations – I’ve had them with plenty of people. But usually when people have them, they’re already so one-side or the other. There’s not a lot of room for critical thought. On every topic nowadays, everybody has how they feel. They all stand on either one side of the fence or the other and there’s not a lot of critical thinking anymore. I know that’s a phrase that’s getting thrown out a lot, “critical thinking.” But just to exemplify what I’m saying – when we talked about it, it wasn’t that either of us were fighting for one side or the other. It was more about like, “What about this? What do you think about this? I’ve read about this and I heard this!” That’s the kind of shit – I grow from that. I’m almost 50-years-old, so the idea of growth is now – you know, I’ve gone through different phases of what “growth” means. It’s been scary, it’s been inspiring. But now growth is actually just a way to pass the time. So, passing the time like that with Murs, specifically, I appreciate that because he’s a critical thinker.
Murs: In Rasta culture, they call it “reasoning,” you know? Where you may talk with someone or sit down and smoke and you talk about deep ideas. You may disagree, but it’s a reasoning, not an argument, with someone you respect in your tribe, you know? I think we did a lot of reasoning. The most intense reasoning was definitely around vaccinations because we’re fathers and we’ve both looked into this information intensely and he’s someone who is intelligent who wants to make the best choices. But I think you come away with knowledge and a new perspective when you sit with someone you respect and you reason. I feel like, other than that, the funny thing is – the biggest thing where he’s on one side and I’m on the other is the soccer ball. Neither of us grew up into soccer but we’ve become so.
Slug: When I was a kid, my dad sent me to the park to go sign up for soccer. And I came home and was like, “Dad, I signed up for football instead.” He was upset about that and I didn’t understand why my father was upset. I was maybe in the second grade, I think. But I wasn’t going to go and switch. He was like, “No, you have to go back to the park and switch to soccer.” I was like, “No, I can’t go switch. My coach is Mr. Solomon. I’m going to play football for Mr. Solomon.” My dad had to fall back because he played football for Mr. Solomon. He had the same coach when he was a kid, right? I’m like, “Why did you not want me to sign up for football? Why did you want me to sign up for soccer?” I didn’t understand this as a kid but as an adult, I look back on it and I’m like, oh, he didn’t want me to play football for two reasons. One, you could hurt yourself and the idea of having your first-born son catch a concussion on the football field – that would scare me. My kid plays soccer. But, two, football requires money. You have to buy a bunch of uniforms and shit. Soccer back then you just needed a pair of shoes. They didn’t even make us wear shin-guards back then. And I don’t know why I’m telling you this story other than to say I didn’t go to soccer. I went to football. So, as I grew up I was a fan of football. I never really discovered soccer. We had a professional here in Minnesota called The Kicks back in the 80s and I went to a couple of games because one of my aunt’s boyfriends was a fan, or whatever. But it never really clicked for me, professional soccer. Then, over the last few years, due to having children who play soccer, I have become a soccer fan. So, here’s Murs now. He’s a soccer fan, too, which I don’t think either of us were when we started hanging out twenty years ago. Now, he’s a soccer fan and his team just played my team last year in the playoffs and it gave us finally a space to antagonize each other a little bit. Plus we each got involved in it. I got involved in my team’s campaign. And he got involved in his team’s campaign. So, it wasn’t even just that our teams were playing each together. But we both actively went and fucking involved ourselves to bring it to, like, real beef in the streets-type-shit.
For my final question, let me ask a general one. What do you each love most about music today?
Slug: Escapism. It’s still the same thing that it offered me when I was ten it still offers me forty years later. It gives me a space where I can go – just like books do. Books and music do something – movies are different because movies fill it out for you. You don’t really get to use your imagination. But with books and music I’m allowed to actually create my own visuals, create my own setting. I’m allowed to – I can adjust how I want this to feel based on how I feel today. That, to me, will always be the thing that draws me to music, specifically.
Murs: For me, I think it’s – man, it’s a drug. It’s like a high. Now that I’ve been getting high so long, it’s sort of like a time machine. Like, today – I love E-40. I don’t play kids music for my kids because fuck that. My kids curse, my kids are just fucking like me, they’re humans. So, we’re at the gas station putting gas in before we go to the beach and my kids start going, “Gasoline, gasoline, gasoline!” That’s one of my favorite E-40 songs. So, I’m like, I’m going to put this on! And then at the end of the song, he’s like, “Gasoline, gasoline!” So, I can take this and share this moment but at the time, I’m thinking, “Oh, when this song came out, I was in a whole other place.” It was fun. The song has a great beat. My kids don’t know what he’s talking about. But, for me, it’s like, “Man, I can share this moment with him.” It’s all about sharing this drug with my kids now. Like, I had a revelation the other day. “Today is the day I decide that this human gets to experience The Beatles.” And oh shit next month when the My Life Mary J. Blige 25th anniversary vinyl comes, I get to introduce this human to Mary J. Blige. Like, I get to decide when you get high! It’s amazing to me. It gets me so excited. So, I’ve had vinyl collections over the years. I’ve just gotten rid of them when I move; I leave without the records and move on. But these are now the ones I’ll keep and give to them because I’ll make sure we listen to every single record I buy now. Then we put it in rotation and we’ll come back to it. Sean is a huge part of me experiencing music by white Americans. I had no contact with it outside of Vanilla Ice. I didn’t know The Beatles, I didn’t know Sublime, I didn’t know Queens of the Stone Age, I didn’t know Red Hot Chili Peppers, I didn’t know shit about shit. And I don’t want that to be the case for my child, you know? I didn’t hear reggae until I went to someone’s house. I look like the biggest Rasta Bob Marley fan but I didn’t hear Bob Marley until I was 15-years-old. So, music is the past and the future to me, as well. It’s a time traveling device aside from a drug, because I’m definitely addicted.