Atmosphere: WORD? (Rhymesayers) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, November 28th, 2022  




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Nearly 25 years since the release of their killer debut Overcast!, Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere (composed of rapper Slug and producer Ant) still consistently put out music long after many of their peers have thrown in the towel. Generally labeled as a “weirdo rapper” upon the duo’s initial hype, Slug has always chosen to champion honesty in his lyricism, eschewing bravado in favor of being vulnerable with his listeners. Over the years, he has opened up about his struggle with mental health and addiction as well as his grappling with getting older in the midst of this struggle.

In recent years, detractors have stated that Slug has begun to run out of source material for his rhymes, but this can be a somewhat reductive outlook. The music of Atmosphere has always been about mining honesty in life as it exists off record. Slug speaks on adapting to life as it changes, and it isn’t always cinematic and eventful—for most people, growing older contains quite a bit of mundanity and monotony, full of desk jobs and family commitments. Call it “dad rap” if you want—Slug and Ant would probably agree with you anyway.

On their latest release, WORD?, Atmosphere continue on the path they have gone down for decades. Slug’s voice on the record is weathered by experience and time, making the years that have gone by since their debut all the more apparent on tracks such as “Something,” where he raps about “getting too old to act young” and being “lost in a cloud of fear and self-doubt.” Slug’s melancholy descriptions of nostalgic desire for the past are backdropped by Ant’s boom-bap production, which is sprinkled with modern electronic sensibilities and seems to reflect Slug’s lyricism—it has one foot planted in the present and the other stuck in the old-school Minneapolis hip hop scene.

While this lends to the album’s charm, it can also prove to be its downfall at times. The production on WORD? doesn’t quite have the classic appeal of old-school Atmosphere records and doesn’t lean far enough into its electronic qualities to make the most out of either one of the two genres. It’s a delicate balance that was achieved on their previous album, The Day Before Halloween, to very unique and daring results, but is rather underwhelmingly rendered on WORD? There is a heavy-handedness to the production which fails to reflect the irony in some of Slug’s verses; the quirky eclecticism which riddled Ant’s beats on previous albums and provided the perfect complement for Slug’s verbal zaniness is nowhere to be found, leaving the album a bit one-note in its execution.

There are still hidden gems of moments on the album, however. “Skull” sees Slug continuing a narrative that he has been creating since 2002’s God Loves Ugly, providing a haunting update to a story about a fatal accident from the perspective of a passerby. There is also a posthumous verse from MF DOOM on album closer “Barcade,” which could very well likely be the last verse he ever recorded before his untimely passing last year. And, of course, those beat switch-ups at the end of certain songs are OG Atmosphere and definitely keep things interesting. WORD? successfully proves that Atmosphere still have the chops to pull off a compelling record, but the record itself would be even more compelling if it didn’t feel the need to be so serious all the time. (

Author rating: 6.5/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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