Before death, a few essential ventures should be undertaken by everyone: visiting the Grand Canyon, skydiving, learning to play an instrument – you get the picture. I propose an addition to the list: taking the time to sit down and experience Atmosphere, specifically Southsiders, their newest album.
Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Atmosphere is a hip-hop group composed of two members: Slug, who writes songs and raps, and Ant, the DJ and producer. What separates Atmosphere’s music from other, mainstream hip-hop artists is Slug’s exceptional storytelling ability and willingness to admit his mistakes through extraordinarily personal lyricism.
What is most intriguing about Atmosphere is the ability to sense, through listening, Slug’s maturation as both a songwriter and a man.
When listening closely to an early Atmosphere album like Overcast! and gradually moving forward in time to something like You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having, listeners feel they are witnessing the personal growth reflected through Slug’s lyricism and Ant’s increasing mastery in refining his production.
Nearly 17 years since the release of their debut album, Atmosphere released their eighth, Southsiders, in early May. While it may be a small step down from earlier, near-perfect albums (When Life Gives You Lemons… and God Loves Ugly), Southsiders has moments as lyrically bright and demonstrably poetic as any others in Atmosphere’s catalog.
Musically, Southsiders is Atmosphere’s most balanced album. Many of the songs have a heavy sound, involving synthesizers and a deep bass. Through it all, Ant’s production is nothing if not polished. The years spent together give Atmosphere the ability to nearly flawlessly complement poetry and production. Most of the album follows this formula, and it is successful because of it.
Tracks from Southsiders that stand out include “Camera Thief” and “Flicker.” Though the album is free from mediocrity, these two stand out as the best.
“Camera Thief” is the first song on the album and opens with a mellow, one-minute instrumental before Slug’s deliberation makes an impact: “Camera thief/ Take pictures/ Run like the parallel stitches/ Attach myself to the path I beat/ Teach myself to keep the answers brief.”
Like poetry, these partially incoherent words, when scrutinized, emerge to form cohesive ideas that cannot be accessed through ordinary language.
Slug, like all adept artists, songwriters, authors, and poets, has an ability to express elements of the human condition through a medium elevated above that of everyday speech.
This is not to say that Atmosphere’s lyrics are inaccessible without studying them in a decrepit, dank room where cobwebs blanket the walls. Rather, they are layered, and can be enjoyed fully only when taking time to do nothing besides listen and contemplate.
Arguably the most emotionally powerful song on Southsiders is “Flicker.” This song deals with Slug’s feelings toward Eyedea, a rapper and friend of the duo who died of an overdose in 2010. While his lyrics are always personal, this track stands apart from the rest as a notably mournful ode to a lost friend.
Southsiders isn’t the best Atmosphere album, but it’s certainly near the top.
Unlike seeing the Grand Canyon, skydiving or learning a new language, checking out Atmosphere is something you can do right now: instant gratification.