Atmosphere have been around for a long time. Even if I didn’t know that already, it would be obvious from the crowd – with an average age a bit older than, say, Action Bronson’s, or Outkast’s, it's a mixed age audience, but not quite as mixed as Public Enemy or KRS One.
It’s not a sell-out (Tuesday night innit), but The Trinity Centre is full enough for a party, and I’m glad to see a lot of familiar faces, including a few that I haven’t seen for a very long time: Big Shout Out to The St Tom’s kids, the Thornbury Passive, Kit, The "Sex People", (and the lad who recognised me (!)at the bar: “Are you Clayton Blizzard?” - “Yyeeeesss…?”) and everyone else. Good to see you all enjoying some quality Hip Hop.
The IndieRap (aka Backpacker Hip Hop) tag that some heads stick on Atmosphere is tired, but like most tags of the kind, has some truth to it. Slug’s lyrics are deeply personal and the beats are of the classic (ie, good, ie, no obnoxious wompwomp “of the moment” shit that will sound dated in six months) variety.
I’ll take classic over hot-right-now ANY DAY, thanks.
MH greets me with “Atmosphere – it’s just a ten-letter word/discretion is the name of my cement-feathered bird/and if you didn’t hear, then fuck whatever’s heard.” I join in halfway through. When they play that song, we both join in. Good times.
“The last time we were in town, we played on a boat. This time it’s a church. Next time, who knows...?"
A lot of rap groups play 30-second versions of their best tunes live. It’s annoying. Atmosphere don’t do it. Which is good. They also play a lot of old stuff, which is very good. There’s tunes from the Lucy Ford EP and God Loves Ugly, the records that first got me interested in this group nearly ten years ago. I discover I was late to the party when Slug says "This song is from 1996* – it’s the only song from that time that we’re not too embarrassed to play for you."
I wrote some songs in 1996*, so I know the feeling.
"Been paying dues for a decade plus/before that, I was just another face on the bus..."
“We’re Minneapolis, we’re from Atmosphere.”
Classic line of stage banter there from Slug; lovely stuff.
After a few more of the old classics, I turn to DG: “If they play If I Was Santa Claus, I’m gonna lose my shit.” That was the tune that first alerted me to Minnesota’s finest**, when I heard it on an ATP compilation at The Penthouse Suite where I lived with Gray, in a previous life. (I got introduced to a lot of music I still love at that place and in that way – Thanks, Gray.) The song was an instant classic: an obvious sample, perfectly cut (it’s from the Christmas hymn Oh Night Divine, in case you’re interested) to a hot beat with a tight flow and some interesting lyrics. What more could you want? It set a high standard, and a lot of their output since has lived up to it.
Sadly, they don't play it, but they play a few from that era so I'm happy enough.
So, I’m not familiar with everything (there’s at least two albums I still haven’t heard), but it all sounds good to me. And when we get to an upbeat number, BP and I actually jump when the MC says to (which I don’t normally do). I am happy to report that it feels good.
“I’m not stupid, I know I can’t finish the set without some freestyle”
There follows an impressive freestyle tune. I sometimes don't enjoy freestyling, because if it's really good, it sounds like it's written and then awkwardly staged, with a falseness to it; and if it's obviously improvised it can be utter shit. And the "shout out a word, I'll freestyle on it" displays skill but I never enjoy it as much as the tunes these dudes have written that made me like them in the first place. So I'm not bothered about it from someone I know of, and it's often a bit poor from whoever.
Still, Slug is one of the best live MCs I’ve seen. He's engaging without being too demonstrative, his rhymes are clear, and delivered as well as on the records.
“The reason I keep telling you to put your hands up and make some noise isn;t just because I've got a big ego, it's so that you're a part of it. 'Cos this is the closest to church some of us are gonna get.”
Word up. Go, the mass has ended…
*Or was it 1997…?
**With props also for Brother Ali, their labelmate.