Atmosphere expands under pressure
Forget everything youve learned about the atmosphere in science class: in the world of music, the planet gravitates around Atmosphere, not the other way around. This may be the one rule to live by in todays continually growing music scene, as the Minneapolis rap duo of rapper Slug (aka Sean Daley) and producer Ant play sellout shows in support of their latest release, You Cant Imagine How Much Fun Were Having.
Indeed, it may very well be hard to imagine the amount of fun that Atmosphere is having in the two years since the release of their breakout Sevens Travels. With a headlining stint at Warped Tours 10 year anniversary, a critically acclaimed album (Travels) on various top ten lists, the re-release of their hard-to-find masterpiece Se7en, another headlining stint, and a recent collaboration with fellow MC and compatriot Murs under the moniker Felt, Atmosphere decide to take on and release another album. All this, and being held as the emperors of the emo-rap movement, comprised of underground rappers, most of whom are members of the Rhymesayers label, who focus on more personal issues than that of the self-indulgence and massive consumption of more mainstream artists, can add up to a huge weight cast on the shoulders of two rap lovers from Minneapolis.
Fortunately, like the new rule in music science states, Atmosphere thrives under pressure, and You Cant Imagine is as much fun to listen to as the title suggests. Balancing the ideals of how to answer to a growing fan base, yet still appeal to the purists who hail Atmospheres God Loves Ugly as a classic, Atmosphere kicks Imagine off with more than just a bang with The Arrival. Much like the title suggests, the album and the song are Atmospheres arrival to the music world at-large and to those unfamiliar with Slugs inventive and enjoyable rhymes. Ant steps up on the production values of the track and the album as a whole;
while previous Atmosphere albums tend to take a more laid-back, minimal approach that highlights Slugs thrashing verbal skills, the tracks production rivals that of many mainstream instrumental direction. Still, the track holds true to Atmospheres ideals of more inventive rap, harkening back to the genres Old School roots, and the instrumentation holds true to the duos imaginative nature. The wall of sound Ant creates blends well with Slugs hard-hitting rhymes.
Shortly after a shout-out to their heroes of the Old School and lamenting the state of hip-hop and answering personal attacks on Watch Out, Atmosphere kick it up a notch with Musical Chairs. The track combines the highlights from the past eight years of Atmosphere recordings, with the exception of any mention of Lucy Ford, Slugs semi-fabricated love/muse/object of emotional pain, into one of the most enjoyable rap songs made in the past decade. Ant approaches the song with a simplicity that made Trying to Find a Balance (off Travels) one of the more unique and highly satisfying rap songs recently released, one which even the hardcore punks who convene at Warped Tour could find entertaining. Yet, it is Ants uniquely enticing flow and the rare appearance of his beat-boxing skills that truly carry the track to hip-hops musical highlights.
With Musical Chairs, the rest of the album could be complete garbage and still land on practically every top 10 list for the years best albums. Fortunately, unlike most musicians today, Atmosphere placed as much effort into that one single as they put into the album in its entirety. Smart Went Crazy thrives off the Ant-assembled guitar sampling and particularly interesting combination with organs and the closing harmonica piece, and is all pulled together by Slugs rather laid-back rapping. The gospel instrumentation of Get Fly makes for a rather unique track, even by Atmospheres standards, reminiscent of OutKasts Roses, yet complete with a smoother flow and generally catchier brand of lyrics. The closing track, Little Man, an ode to the working and traveling musician and his son, is complete with Atmospheres patented high-pitched vocal sampling in the background. Although the track may come off as an Eminem knockoff, the song itself is more personal and more accessible than any of Eminems work could ever hope to achieve.
With the hip-hop world at an ideological crossroads, Atmosphere has emerged as one act at the head of the pack of an astounding group of intellectually proficient and rather thoughtful rappers. As the mainstream ideals of gangsta rap begins to lose touch with music listeners the world over, Atmosphere has stepped up to the challenge of who can lead rap into its next movement with Imagine, winning over fans of every genre who would ordinarily never connect to rap. With Imagine, the rule that the music world revolves around Atmosphere has truly proved itself.