Atmosphere has been a touchy subject for hip-hop fans. The average listener jumps on a beat, rides it the entire song and smirks at the witty quips that are made occasionally. A lot of the poetry in rap has been watered down to an obnoxious bass line, along with a rapper that rhymes the word “grill” repeatedly. Enter the duo of Atmosphere, consisting of DJ Ant and MC Slug. Ant’s samples are top-notch, but Slug’s lyrical style makes the two-some unique.
While the group has its share of party songs, Slug is known for his intense storytelling, which captures hard-hitting situations. Numerous critics pat themselves on the back and label Atmosphere “emo-rap,” and move on to the next ignorant tagline.
The word “emo” has such a negative connotation these days that Atmosphere is easily dismissed. To these unconcerned rap critics, storytelling must consist of at least one encounter with the opposite sex, where an alpha-male flexes his overpowering muscles with an adoring groupie, with some casual violence and drug abuse for good measure. But Slug loves his intricate storytelling, it is what he’s best at, and with the new record “When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold,” he flexes his muscles.
This title is very fitting and is more than something to drunkenly scream at your next party. Slug runs off stories about how people cope. He touches on all of their circumstances, and Ant provides him with his backdrop. On the album’s soothing opening track, “Like the Rest of Us,” Slug calmly recites “You gotta let people be hypocrites / Count your blessing and mind your business.”
“Puppets” provides Slug with soulful background, while he criticizes an ungrateful druggie. Slug then juggles between an insecure girl in the drum heavy “The Skinny” to another girl who moves on from her tribulations in the free-flowing surf-y “Dreamer.” The pulsating “Shoulda Known” follows, describing a delusional user and a love interest that wishes to provide the same rush without the drugs. “You” has a funky bass line moving it along, and Slug speaks about a girl who’s simply trying to get by while making everyone but herself happy.
“Painting” starts off with a beautiful sliding guitar that sticks throughout the song. Slug talks about dealing with a guilty conscience. “Ain’t no color paint gonna cover the stains / But if the oxygen escapes it’ll smother the flames / No introduction, doesn’t speak his own name / Gonna beat them demons at they own game.” “Your Glass House” contrasts “Painting” with synth reminiscent of something by Justice, and the song describes the slippery slope of alcohol and its effects on unsuspecting victims. This heavy electronic sound takes a bit away from Slug’s personal lyrics, and later on “Can’t Break” does the same.
A few of the more introspective songs come up next. “Yesterday” has Slug talking about the void left by his dad, while “Guarantees” features only a soft guitar and Slug’s problems. Here he sings, “The only guarantee in life is a life worth dying for.” This gorgeous, simplistic guitar, a lost art in hip-hop, powers “Me” as well. The lyrics come off as incredibly delicate, with trembling female backing vocals adding an extra effect.
The horns and psychedelic guitar give “Wild Wild Horses” a groovy feel. While this song is about the one that got away, “The Waitress” is about the one that you could never get to. The record closes with “In Her Music Box,” which is about a daughter who innocently looks up to her father, despite all his flaws. Her music box is her escape from reality.
Slug’s vulnerable delivery isn’t as smooth as some of hip-hop’s upper echelon, but it’s this same honesty that has made Atmosphere’s fan base so loyal. You won’t hear cars blasting Atmosphere CDs, because often the lyrics catch you so hard that you have to stop and listen to all of them. With “When Life Gives You Lemons,” Slug drops the romantic baggage that occasionally bogged down his music and returns to the roots of his storytelling. The result is effortless, and music is best when it comes out naturally.