Southsiders is Atmosphere’s follow-up to their lush, highly musical 2011 album, The Family Sign. The veteran Minneapolis hip-hop group’s last album was a culmination of their evolving sound. Their newest offering, though, is a bit more rugged, with traditional hip hop beats and distorted samples from producer Ant taking the place of live guitar and piano.
Slug, the group’s MC, delivers his trademark relationship humor on the call and response anthem “Kanye West”: “She said she wants somebody she can take care/And right then is when we paired up.”
“She Don’t Know Why She Love It” employs a sinister beat paired with Slug’s unique battle rhymes: “I’m the s**t, I get followed by a courtesy flush.” The album’s opener, “Camera Thief,” sets the tone, with Slug’s sharply syncopated raps. As usual, he is at once abstract and acutely observational:: “Direct attention to the craftsmanship/Neglect to mention that the past will stick/Like the initials carved in the concrete/Like the tattoo that hides on your mommy.”
A long way from his promiscuous, road warrior days, much of Southsiders chronicles Slug’s continued maturity as he, somewhat self-righteously, rips his jealous former acquaintances (“Bitter”) and ditches the hard drinking days of yore (“Hell” as in, “hell yeah, I had a good time”). It’s well tread territory for him and he may be running out of ways to say it.
The album comes to an emotional high point with “Flicker,” an ode to a lost friend (“Who told you you could die before me?”), possibly former collaborator Eyedea, who died in 2010. The best part of the song, perhaps, is Slug’s own admission that his dead friend may not appreciate the tone of it: “I’m certain if you were here right now/You’d ridicule these lyrics, you’d hate the chorus/You’d probably tell me that the concept is too straight forward.”
Amazingly, Atmosphere has been around for roughly 25 years, forming in 1989. In any context, that’s a legend act. In hip hop years, it’s beyond an eternity. The truth is they’re no longer as experimental or as fun as they used to be, just like anyone who gets older. However, they make up for it with expert craftsmanship in their songs. Their dedication to quality and refusal to grab at mainstream success sets them apart and explains their longevity.
Southsiders, like all of the group’s work, doesn’t chase trends, and for that reason it’s likely to sound just as good next year as it does now.
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