Atmosphere - Southsiders

Atmosphere's new album is the aptly named Southsiders, due to the group's roots in the south side of Minneapolis. Vocalist Slug (Sean Daley) and producer/DJ Ant (Anthony Davis) gave us a taste of what was to come with their last release, The Family Sign (Rhymesayers Entertainment 2011), as it touched upon Slug's life as a family man and his trials and tribulations that came along with being a father. Prior to its release, many of Slug's lyrics included bits of humour, but The Family Sign started a trend toward a more morose tone that continues on Southsiders.

Southsiders is a bit over the edge, from dark to borderline depressing. It seems as though Slug is working through his own issues fighting the mundaneness of a nuclear family lifestyle. He seems caught in his disdain and directs this feeling to the general world, telling his audience that hope can be strived for through writing ones feelings onto paper. The more one listens to the album, it becomes increasingly clear that in retrospect, this attempt is futile, happiness is unattainable, and death is imminent. Slug uses a series of metaphors and similes in an attempt to be profound, but it ends up just being confusing. On the other hand, he can be overtly obvious in rhetoric, with such lines as "I love you like a brother, even though I'm not your brother". He's slightly repetitive in tone and word usage, repeating several words such as dreams, stars, devil, drinking and cigarettes. The overall theme seems to be the fear of death.

The beats are some of best out of any released Atmosphere album. Many of them have a melancholy and mysterious vibe, a deep unlit subway-cart style, implementing audio clips of midtown subway trains. However, not all of the beats are like this; they are compiled of many different styles, a grimy electro beat in "Star Shaped Heart", and that typical gospel Rhymesayers steez in "Fortunate". My favourite tracks (specifically because of the instrumentals) are "My Lady Got Two Men" because of its Hawaiian-meets-gospel influence, and "Mrs. Interpret", with its French classical twist. My least favourite is called "Kanye West". The chorus "Put your hands in the air like you really do care" mocks Kanye's new song with Dev, called "In The Dark", in which the lyrics include, "Put your hands in the sky right now, now, now, now, now. Unfortunately for the rest of y'all. I'm way better than the best of all." The song gives Kanye's ego more power by mentioning him in the first place, and I think the key is to ignore such artists completely and concentrate on the prosperity and message of one's own music. 

Slug lost the goal of the album with his intertwined messages of hope versus fear, and his own negative view on life is clouding the intention of the album. The riddle-induced metaphors make it hard to grab onto a concept and take something out of it. Overall, the album is worth a listen due to Arts' production quality, but it is certainly not one of Atmosphere's best, lyrically speaking. Due to Atmosphere's successful musical history, perhaps the album's faults can be blamed on an attempt at concept change in the group, or maybe even rushing the release. Regardless, many clearly enjoyed the album (Southsiders made a solid debut at number 8 on the Billboard 200 chart, and topped the iTunes hip-hop chart), and it's good to know that Atmosphere has a strong following. Even in his "dark" times, his audience will be there to support him.

--DJ Misschief hosts Greedy Graffiti every Thursday at 2 PM EST on CJLO.