I’ve written quite a bit about the critically applauded and commercially successful Minneapolis, MN-based hip-hop act Atmosphere over this site’s eight-plus year history — and as you may recall the act initially formed over 20 years ago as a trio featuring Slug, Spawn D and Ant under the name Urban Atmosphere. Interestingly, whether as a trio or a duo, Atmosphere has developed and maintained a long-held reputation for pushing the boundaries of what hip-hop should sound like and concern itself with thematically — especially as the members of the act age, and find themselves inching towards middle age.
2016’s Fishing Blues continued a string of insightful, soulful and mature material reflecting men, who evolved from tortured hedonists into settled down family men, who have seen and experienced much more than they can put into words. And while setting down in a much-deserved and peaceful bliss of family and art seems ideal in almost every circumstance, the world we currently inhabit has fundamentally changed in a frighteningly uncertain fashion. Certainly, if you’re a sensitive, thoughtful person, you can’t help but be aware that while you may have your own little paradise, hate within a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world, that sense of paradise won’t (and can’t) last; that “nothing lasts forever,” as a song says.
Unsurprisingly, Atmosphere’s seventh album Mi Vida Loca thematically finds the pair grappling with their own mortality, and the anxiety and fear that comes with the painful acknowledgment that you’re powerless — and that you can’t possibly protect yourself, let alone your loved ones from the dangers of the world. Although thematically sobering, the album much like the bulk of their creative output is centered around the duo’s deep and abiding friendship.
“Virgo,” Mi Vida Loca‘s first single may arguably be the most intimate and urgent song they’ve ever written and recorded — and just because the song evokes (and focuses on) the anxieties and fears of our moment, it isn’t completely dark and hopeless. The song proudly and sincerely says that as a man, it’s okay to admit that you’re scared shitless and not know what the fuck to do about anything; that when you’re uncertain and afraid that there are friends and loved ones, and music; small joys and small victories; and sweet and tender moments that we need to cling to and cherish with every fiber of our beings. Sonically, the song featured a bluesy production centered around strummed guitar, twinkling old-timey keys and eerily buzzing synths that nodded at Everlast’s Whitey Ford Sings the Blues but somehow starker. The album’s second single, album opening track “Jerome” continues in a similar vein — centered around a production consisting of a looped sample of boozy and woozy buzzing power chords, rumbling and thumping percussion, brief blasts of twinkling and shimmering synths. Throughout Slug rhymes about the weight of familial history, aging, death, the vapidity and insincerity of social media and a bevy of other things with an incredibly dexterous rhyme scheme but underneath the swaggering self-assuredness of Slug’s delivery is a vulnerability and aching, world weariness. “Graffiti,” found Slug rhyming about the painful slings and arrows of life; the small pleasures of friendship, family and music; the inevitable heartache of lost love and death; that life is ultimately about people coming and going without anyone really knowing why or how — and goddamn it, does it hurt. And yet, as our ancestors did, we move on somehow, and so will our descendants. We all have the same tale: born, loved, hated, dreamt, longed, lusted, died — and yet almost always alone. Much like its predecessors, the song’s production evokes a deep, religious-like yearning as it was centered around a soaring choral sample, backed by twinkling keys, boom bap beats and a looped, bluesy guitar line.
The Minneapolis-based duo close out a successful 2018 with the release of “Drown,” one of the few songs of their catalog with features — but it features some equally dope labelmates and tourmates The Lioness and deM atLas trading bars on an eerie yet modern production that evokes anxiety, uncertainty and confusion as its centered around plinking keys, shuffling beats and a soulful hook sung by Cashinova. Each of the artists offer an unflinching and unguarded look into troubled and dysfunctional relationship and heartache, of loss and the difficulties in moving on with your dignity and sanity intact.
Directed by Tomas Aksamit, the recently released video is features Slug, Cashinova, The Lioness and deM atLas in a dramatically shot black and white and intimate close ups, to catch the emotion of each artist.