Tracks/Length: 15 tracks, 59 minutes (iTunes Deluxe version is 20 tracks, 77 minutes. TOTALLY worth it)
Notable Guest Appearances: No guest spots. Just a rapper and a DJ, being awesome
Album Genre/Tone: Basement style flow (very comfortable and personal), Overall cynical tone
Lead Single: “Bitter”
The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.
A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.
B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally enjoyable.
C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.
D: This album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs.
F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.
History Behind the Album
Through the years, Atmosphere has garnered quite the cult following. From what started as high school friends laying tracks together has ended up filling up amphitheaters across the country. Together, rapper Sean Daley AKA Slug and DJ Anthony Davis (not the eyebrow guy) AKA Ant, along with a couple other friends, founded Rhymesayers, a independent record label focused on making good music. Since opening their doors in 1995, Rhymesayers has been home to Hip-Hop underground royalty like Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, Evidence and Eyedea & Abilities. Rhymesayers artists are heralded for the way they relate to the masses. Atmosphere notably does this by bringing our most common disgraces and embarrassments and celebrating them in a way that makes listeners feel like they are not alone in these dark feelings.
For almost two decades, Slug and Ant have released great music, improving technique with each release. I first got into Atmosphere with their 2008 release When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold. I bought it purely off of the name and nothing more; I can still remember picking up the Deluxe Edition, which came with a children’s story to summarize the tracks in the album. It was a true attestation to the hard work and detail that was put into each album. There were plenty of bars that made me laugh, ooh and ah, but they were portrayed in a way that never made you take for granted the fact that Slug was opening the door to the home of his scarred heart and letting you Rick James all over the couch with your shoes on; from alcoholism and drug abuse to relationships with women to just straight up having a shitty day, there’s an Atmosphere song for every mood.
Those close to Rhymesayers, or Hip-Hop news in general, can remember the tragic loss of fellow label-mate and Slugs close friend, Micheal Larsen (Eyedea), who passed away in 2010. The loss shook the whole Rhymesayers house, and has really changed the entire tone of Atmosphere’s music. The songs became tinged with cynicism, and an emphasis on the importance of family and where you come from. Even the album titles The Family Sign and Southsiders echo these tones. The “young and stupid” days of Atmosphere are over; there are no more waking up in “Glasshouses” or resentment towards Lucy. Southsiders is very much the product of the matured artists it comes from, and if you’ve been along for the ride so far, then this is just the next stop on the bus.
What You’re in For
Southsiders is the eighth studio release from Atmosphere; suffice to say, they’ve done this before. Ant brings back the beats and unique instrumentals, while Slug keeps the words flowing effortlessly over the beats. For the second record in a row, Atmosphere has recorded an album with live instrumentals, and it really pays off. I mean, Ant has always been a phenomenal producer, but using live instrumentals allows him to try out different beats that he has not before. With each track given such a unique flavor, there’s a wide range of sounds that come across on Southsiders, and not all of them will impress the same way with the same people.
While Ant’s production has always been the heart of Atmosphere, the real power of Southsiders is in the voice. The mellow bravado that Slug shows throughout the album is a testament to how comfortable he is while on the mic. Even the subject matter has been dialed up a notch, taking on subject matter from totalitarian fear-mongering on “The World Might Not Live Through Tonight” (“And put your hands up in the air like a drone/Now hold ’em over your head like your home got invaded by the FEDs”), social equality on “I Love You Like A Brother” (“Unless you slept a night in my nest/You shouldn’t waste your breath trying to criticize my mess”). Slug has become extremely comfortable letting fans into his life, and we’re all thankful for it.
Listening to Southsiders, it’s very apparent that they know this, too. In the words of Pharoahe Monch, Slug is a sadomasochist MC – he bites himself. There are about a dozen lines throughout the album that allude to an earlier piece of work from the duo (let us know how many you find!). It’s very rewarding to long-time fans to hear references to their earlier work. Slug’s strongest trait is that he can write songs like short stories. There is a clear point to every song; I never feel like Slug is rapping just to rap. It’s also worth noting that Slug enunciates everything he says, which is really helpful for fans who struggle keeping up with Hip-Hop’s fast-paced lyrics; word to Riley Freeman, maybe it’s because “white people say the whole word, like this.”
Slug’s mellow bravado could only be that of a veteran MC. He’s always been able to glide across Ant’s instrumentals, but he straight-up flies over the smooth sounds of Southsiders. This should be taken largely as a compliment to Slug’s intimacy with his fans, but pessimists can view it as a form of apathy. I see it as more of a reflection of the connection Atmosphere has built with their fans. Just because the fury that built “Bird Sings Why The Cage I Know” or the desperation that created “Pour Me Another” isn’t in the songs doesn’t mean that there isn’t just as much emotion in each bar on Southsiders. This album is a tribute to the house that love built, Southside Minneapolis and the Rhymesayers dynasty. It’s a legacy that Slug and Ant should be extremely proud of.
Songs On Repeat
You can stream the entire album on Pandora. You lucky people, you.
Lyrics to Go: “I could look you in the face for all time/And even if I fall blind I’ll still see you in my mind/You got the grace of a raven/It ain’t no misbehaving if I tell you that you’re the taste that I’m cravin’”
This might seem like the obligatory love song at first, but “Mrs. Interpret” is a hilarious analogy to how dumb-struck men can get over a beautiful woman. Laced with the beautiful voice of a French girl on the hook, “Mrs. Interpret” eloquently explains how easy it is to get lost in the eyes of a loved one when they talk. The song is relatable and guaranteed to get yourself out of a fight with your significant other over whether or not you listen to them. It has a playful ambiance, which is a welcome break from the darker tone of the rest of the album.
Lyrics to Go: “Now I’m tryna write a song for a dead songwriter/That wrote they own songs about life and death/And every breath is full of self-awareness/Don’t ever be afraid to be embarrassed”
“Became,” the tale of how he lost a friend who became a “wolf” on The Family Sign, was thought to be an ode to late label-mate Micheal Larsen, AKA Eyedea. “Flicker” takes that concept even further, and doesn’t beat around the bush this time, and we get an uplifting anthem for the fallen MC, rivaling “Yesterday” in terms of earnestness. I can only hope that I get a eulogy of this magnitude. Although the concept is sorrowful, the light-hearted instrumentals of Ant and powerfully upbeat voice of Slug really gives Eyedea the celebrated exit he deserved. While “Became” was more for Sean, “Flicker” is for Micheal.
“My Lady Got Two Men”
Lyrics to Go: “My lady got two lovers/One for the funk and the other for the comfort/I’m trying to understand/But I gotta figure out which one I am”
Slug has a knack for telling 90% of a story, and then completing the art with the stroke of a pen at the end of the song. This song walks listeners through the battles of adult relationships – straddling the line between fun lover and man of the house. This is a phase that comes with growing up and, as their fan base grows older, so must their music mature. It’s also inspiring to see Slug’s personal development unfold; with no disrespect to Sean Daley, if he can go from “Trying to Find a Balance” to actually finding a balance, so can I.
The Quick and Dirty
Slug and Ant are on their grown man shit on Southsiders. Atmosphere might not have the pep in their step that they used to, but that doesn’t mean that the message isn’t any less powerful. While Ant’s experimentation on the production side can be hit or miss with me, there are a few tracks that the beats alone warrant a spot in the all-time rotation. Fans of Atmosphere will recognize the beat and the movement, especially when Slug drops his own Easter Eggs over his own tracks, but there’s a distinct difference in the level of maturity that carries on through the album. It’s refreshing for a Hip-Hop album to show a mature stance on life, and Southsiders is an exemplification of where Atmosphere has taken their work, but I’m not sure it brings enough to the table for new fans to want to look back on the journey with us.