Last Tuesday, backpack hip-hop duo Atmosphere kicked off their tour in support of When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold. The album dropped the same day that producer Anthony “Ant” Davis and MC Sean “Slug” Daley rolled into Chicago. An apt city for the group to start a tour, the Midwest seems to plays a huge roll in Daley’s apparently autobiographical song writing (he’s a Minneapolis native); in additon, stories of modern isolation, alcoholism, drug use, one-night stands and failed relationships have been a consistent theme in Atmosphere’s music.
The show itself was a 50/50 mixture of the new album and older favorites, which the crowd obligingly (and somewhat ironically) rhymed along too. Accompanied by a live keyboard and guitar player as well as back-up singer, the quasi-live band is a formula that more hip-hop groups should apply to the live show. The crowd was somewhat subdued at the start — possibly due to the early show time — and the Metro was an absolute sauna. But despite these negatives the show was very, very solid.
The stripped down (see: old school) beats that Ant is known for were a large part of older tunes played throughout the night, yet the newer stuff feels more complex and “today” than past albums have. A few songs have a glitchy feel to them, most notably the first single, “Shoulda Known”. Relying more heavily on synths and less on the 3/4 beat pattern that dominated You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having, the new album can be accurately described as Atmosphere’s most diverse and far-reaching to date.
The highlights of the night were a re-worked “Angleface” and a song off the new album, “Puppets”, which is simple and soulful. Though I am attracted to Atmosphere’s music more because of the production than the message being conveyed, the crowd’s reception to the rhymes tells a different story for most of the rest of the fans. Many in the crowd seemed to associate more with the stories told in Atmosphere’s songs.
They sang along like they knew the experiences personally and this is one reason why I feel these guys should be much bigger than they are today. A large population of young adults must feel the ennui of being just another carbon copy of the weekend warriors that inhabit so many of America’s cities. It is perplexing to know that Daley is rapping about what so many 18 – 30 year olds are experiencing, yet most choose to listen to mainstream rap music that associates with a life none of them may ever encounter.
Daley’s words are impossible to separate away from the person on stage forming them, though he is less the man chronicled in his records today than he once was. The new tracks are more stories about other people than the autobiographical songs that littered God Loves Ugly and Seven’s Travel. They still rely on the struggle of the average person and can almost make these trials seem like too much to bear. The rhymes elevate Ant’s already stellar production and this is what separates Atmosphere from so many of the banal rap groups in music today.
Atmosphere is on tour for another two months or so, heading out East before crossing the country for a West Coast swing, only to appropriately finish the US tour in their home town of Minneapolis. If you have the opportunity to catch Ant and Slug on tour, do so. There are one of a select few in hip-hop with this level of substance in their music, and the concerts are filled with avid fans who are create an engaging atmosphere, no pun intended.
Apr 26 @ Roxy, Boston
Apr 27 @ Webster Hall, New York
Apr 28 @ Trocadero Theater, Philadelphia
Apr 29 @ 9:30 Club, Washington DC
May 2 @ Waterloo Records, Austin
May 2 @ Emo’s, Austin
May 3 @ Emo’s, Austin
May 5 @ Zia, Tempe
May 5 @ Marquee Theater, Phoenix
May 6 @ Henry Fonda Theater, Los Angeles
May 7 @ Henry Fonda Theater, Los Angeles
May 8 @ Grand Ballroom – Regency, San Francisco
May 9 @ Grand Ballroom – Regency, San Francisco
May 10 @ Rasputin’s, Berkeley
May 12 @ Crystal Ballroom, Portland
May 13 @ Showbox, Seattle
May 14 @ Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver
May 16 @ Graywhale, Salt Lake City
May 16 @ In The Venue, Salt Lake City
May 17 @ Ogden Theater, Denver
May 18 @ Independent, Denver
May 18 @ Ogden Theater, Denver
May 25 @ Metrodome Parking Lot, Minneapolis
A few side notes, Atmosphere put out an unreleased album, Strickly Leakage, in late 2007. You can download it for free through their label, Rhymesayers, right here. In addition, XLR8R is currently featuring a really good article about them. It makes a really strong case for the group, specifically Daley, being a new type of working class hero a la Tom Waits. Check it out…