As soon as upon a time, I fucked round and satisfied myself that “The Bass And The Motion,” the second music on Environment’s album God Loves Ugly, could possibly be successful. I don’t know what I used to be pondering. Perhaps it was that Environment rapper Slug, a man whose biggest topic was his personal self-hatred, was lastly attacking the microphone with one thing resembling swagger. Perhaps it was that the hesitating stutter-step in Environment producer Ant’s beat jogged my memory a little bit of the stuff I used to be listening to on the radio. Perhaps it was the urgency or the hardness — two qualities that weren’t ample in Environment’s nook of the indie-rap world. Regardless of the case, “The Bass And The Motion” was not successful, and it by no means might’ve been successful. It’s an incredible rap music, although.
“The Bass And The Motion” works due to stress. There’s stress within the beat itself, with its evil-eyed bass-roll and in the best way that limping drum-pattern looks as if it’s continuously about to collapse like a Jenga tower. There’s stress in listening to Slug trying to puff his chest out and discuss some shit, typically by the use of threatening metaphorical penis-based violence: “Stuff ’em filled with dick until the opening rips,” “disgraceful, you may catch a face filled with phallus.” Perhaps it’s the stress between that music and Environment’s traditional brain-cluttered self-laceration. To me, “The Bass And The Motion” gave the impression of two guys keen themselves to cease awkwardly overthinking issues and to only make an anthem. Perhaps I heard it as an anthem due to my very own tendencies towards awkward overthinking.
Environment have been relatable. This was the gross sales pitch when the Minneapolis group grew to become the main lights of a non-genre that was briefly recognized, over the objections of the individuals who really made the music, as emo-rap. However that relatability wasn’t simply the gross sales pitch; it was the truth. The primary time I noticed Environment was in the summertime of 2000, throughout what would possibly’ve been their first journey to the East Coast. I used to be working the door on the Knitting Manufacturing facility, a membership in Manhattan, and I went to each rap present on the membership that summer season. There weren’t many. Environment occurred to be the opening act on a gig that was filled with huge personalities. The headlining act was Konfrontation Kamp, the terribly-named and short-lived rap-metal band led by Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Professor Griff. The invoice additionally included MF DOOM, who’d solely simply launched Operation: Doomsday however whose larger-than-life persona was already well-established. Konfrontation Kamp and MF DOOM didn’t belong on a invoice collectively, and Environment actually didn’t belong on a invoice with both of them.
On the time, Environment have been nonetheless preventing their method out of the Midwestern rap underground. They already had an entire historical past — title adjustments, lineup adjustments, album releases, aspect initiatives. I’d by no means heard of them, and I didn’t know something about that. I didn’t know that one of many two rappers onstage wasn’t even in Environment; he was Eyedea, the Scribble Jam prodigy who’d simply gained the televised Blaze Battle and who would die of an unintended overdose a decade later, on the age of 28. What I noticed — or what I assumed I noticed, anyway — was two gawky white children who gained over an unfamiliar crowd and who appeared to essentially get pleasure from rapping. (Slug is blended, not white, however I didn’t know that, both. I simply assumed he was white, and lots of different individuals have made that very same mistake over time.)
The a part of the present I bear in mind most vividly was Slug and Eyedea getting right into a good-natured impromptu battle, rapping about topics supplied up by viewers members. When somebody instructed them to rap about girls, Slug burst out with this: “I can’t get ’em out of my head, can’t get ’em out of my home, can’t appear to get their clitoris out of my mouth.” If you wish to get a New York rap viewers to love you, say some shit like that.
Perhaps Slug got here up with that line so simply as a result of he spent a lot of his time writing about girls, or concerning the horrible feeling of seeing himself mirrored again by way of the eyes of girls. A few months after that present, Environment would launch their two Lucy Ford EPs, conceptual works primarily based round a fictional girls whose title sounds an entire lot like “Lucifer.” Individuals needed Lucy Ford to be a metaphor for one thing — possibly alcohol, possibly rap music, possibly all girls lumped collectively — but it surely was most likely simply Slug venting about his ex. He did that lots.
Environment began off within the mid-’90s, and the duo of Slug and Ant gelled fairly rapidly, although it took them just a few years to get seen. Self-deprecation appeared baked into the group; why else would a rapper select to call himself Slug? (He actually named himself after his father, who’d had the nickname Sluggo, however nonetheless.) Ant’s beats nodded in the direction of vibed-out abstraction, however they nonetheless saved the punch of traditional boom-bap. Slug typically rapped on-beat, one thing that wasn’t true of most of his syllable-happy backpacker friends, however he was extra prone to rap about his personal perceived inadequacies then to flex on the mic. Generally, he gave the impression of he was flexing about his personal perceived in adequacies. On a observe like “Like At the moment,” Slug manages the uncommon trick of rapping about jerking off whereas hungover and sounding proud about it.
These Lucy Ford EPs, collected on a single 2001 CD and launched on the group’s personal Rhymesayers label, gave Environment one thing resembling a nationwide fame. Because the Lucy Ford EPs began to catch on, Environment grew to become a touring machine. (Ant, the manufacturing half, stayed residence to maintain making beats, whereas Slug and his Minneapolis indie-rap associates hit the street with Mr. Dibbs, a DJ with a penchant for kicking off moshpits by scratching up Black Sabbath data.) Environment acquired a bit of press, however I bear in mind most of their buzz coming from the nascent rap messageboards that will ultimately spawn an entire media industrial advanced. God Loves Ugly, which can flip 20 tomorrow, was technically Environment’s second album, following 1997’s Overcast!, the group’s locals-only debut. However God Loves Ugly was actually the follow-up to Lucy Ford, and when it arrived, the world was prepared. A few of us have been so prepared that we even thought “The Bass And The Motion” would possibly begin popping up on the radio.
That sort of pondering appears much more absurd now, 20 years later, listening again to God Loves Ugly — an incredible album and in addition an deliberately off-putting one. Time and again, Slug raps about himself as a broke and determined loser whose relationships with girls are all dysfunctional. Lucy Ford reappears, as in: “Fuck you, Lucy, for leaving me/ Fuck you, Lucy, for not needing me.” Slug informs us that he wears his scars just like the rings on a pump and that he sleeps subsequent to girls that he doesn’t deserve — evocative strains that don’t precisely converse to a wholesome self-image. The between-songs skits are largely girls berating Slug for being both bodily or spiritually ugly or berating each other for locating Slug enticing. This man was by no means precisely an idol in ready.
Very like the precise emo bands who typically performed the identical golf equipment as Environment, Slug had an over-dramatic method of writing about breakups. Like these bands, he might generally be hostile to the ladies who’d deigned to this point him: “Most of this rubbish I write that these individuals appear to love/ Is about you and the way I allow you to infect my life.” Very like so many different rappers, Slug was additionally rather more consumed with the individuals who didn’t like his music than those who did. Rappers, like emo bands, are a delicate bunch. That sort of relentless toxicity hits completely different right now, and a document like God Loves Ugly would possibly curdle my abdomen if it got here out on this local weather. I used to be extra poisonous then, too.
On the time, although, Slug acquired away with a sure nastiness as a result of he was much more vicious when speaking about himself than when speaking about anybody else. Even when Slug tries to brag about his music, he runs himself down: “It’s stable, contemporary, dope, no matter you wanna name it/ Not dangerous for an aspiring sociopathic alcoholic.” He additionally acquired away with it as a result of the music was actually, actually good.
A lot of the credit score for God Loves Ugly belongs to Slug, a gifted author who rapped charismatically about his lack of charisma and who carried conviction in his voice even when describing crippling dysfunction. When Slug would riff on traditional rap strains, one thing that he did typically, the distinction was implicit. He was an outsider, a hero-worshipper, who knew that he might by no means harness the arrogance that he heard within the rappers that he worshipped. Slug was additionally massive on native specificity, describing his hometown with self-deprecating satisfaction. He might spin a yarn, too. One of many album’s massive standouts is “Hair,” the place Slug spends a complete music describing a flirtation that looks as if it might develop into one thing extra. A couple of corny pickup strains develop into a deep, drunken dialog, after which he ends with this: “She missed a pink gentle, hit a pickup truck, and we each died.”
A lot of the credit score additionally belongs to Ant, a fairly singular producer. On the time, lots of underground rap beatmakers have been getting deeply experimental — remaking boom-bap as jagged industrial, say, or chopping up rappers’ voices over meditative ambient music, or some mixture of these issues. Ant’s beats might be jagged or meditative, however they have been all the time comparatively simple, they usually by no means ventured too removed from the deeply satisfying moody lurch of the RZA or Havoc. I liked the plangent pianos of “A Music About A Buddy” and the mournful violins of “Lovelife.” Even when Ant when on the market, as on the gorgeously ghostly dub-skank of “Shrapnel,” his tracks nonetheless banged. Ant served as a vital ballast on these Environment data. Every time Slug threatened to get too far up his personal ass, these Ant beats saved him anchored.
To an entire lot of younger individuals like me, the mixture of ability and self-hatred displayed on God Loves Ugly was intoxicating. On the time, I regarded Slug and Conor Oberst, two Midwestern self-starters who wrote poetically about their very own anxieties and failings, as friends. Slug by no means acquired the next-Dylan hosannas that quickly greeted Oberst, and “The Bass And The Motion” was by no means successful, however Environment did develop into a cult sensation, particularly across the Midwest. The Rhymesayers label found out a distribution take care of the hallowed New York indie-rap store Fats Beats. God Loves Ugly debuted within the decrease reaches of the Billboard 200, again when that was a severe achievement for an underground group, and it offered within the six figures. I noticed Environment lots of occasions within the years after God Loves Ugly, and the crowds acquired greater each time they got here by way of city.
I haven’t seen Environment in additional than a decade, however the group continues to be going and nonetheless, so far as I can inform, thriving. Whereas the opposite massive backpack-rap indies of the period largely died out, Rhymesayers continues to be in enterprise. (Over time, there have been tales about individuals concerned within the label committing acts of sexual and emotional abuse. In 2020, the label dropped two acts, and Slug put out an announcement that he was “searching for private development” and “reflecting and processing all of the methods I’ve contributed to those issues,” however not one of the allegations ever named both Slug or Ant personally.) Environment ultimately did play alongside mainstream rap acts at their very own Minneapolis pageant Soundset and on tour; they’ll hit shed venues with Cypress Hill this summer season. In some way, that specific pressure of self-abasing backpack rap grew to become a sustainable profession, and that’s most likely higher than successful music anyway.