“Keeping it real” used to be a phrase that epitomized Hip-Hop culture, but in recent years the expression that once defined an MC has been played out to the fullest. It seems as though the genuine significance of the phrase has been replaced with the profitable ideals of commercialism. Today, when most rappers say, “keeping it real” they hold little to no validity behind their words. However, there are a few exceptions. One of them is Slug, the voice behind the Minnesota based duo Atmosphere. Slug keeps it realer than anyone in the game and gets little to no credit for it. Instead he is accustom to getting critized for being over emotional and too sensitive with his lyrics. When Slug spits about being lonely, bad relationships or drinking away his pain people are quick to label it, when all he is doing is painting very accurate and detailed pictures of his life, which is what keeping it real is all about. However the once self abusive Slug is now almost forty years old with a child, and as Slug matures, so does the content of his music. Atmosphere’s new album The Family Sign deals with themes such as family, fatherhood and the understanding of oneself. As a result The Family Sign does not have the dark and sometimes humorous tone that previous Atmosphere albums contain. Instead it consists of a very adult approach to the music, which in the end isn’t as entertaining but deserves props for keeping it one hundred.
The Family Sign opens with a very thematic introduction to the album in the form of the song “My Key”. “My Key” is a song that discusses growth as man and the importance of family. It begins with childish piano chords that transition into powerful yet mellow guitar rifts which symbolizes growth through becoming a father just as much as Slugs lyrics when he spits “Guess that means if my people hurt / Somebody please disturb my peaceful smirk / Take everything that I bring with me / Make who I be now / Hear my family now”. “My Key” is a testament to the chemistry Ant (the instrumental half of atmosphere) has with Slug because nine times out of ten Ant makes a beat that is parallel to Slug’s lyrics and “My Key” is a perfect example of him doing so. In fact, many of the beats on The Family Sign are soft and easy going in order to co exist with Slugs more mature approach to song writing. Songs such as “My Notes” and “The Last To Say” come to mind, but the gentlest song on the album is “Something So”. The tranquil production featured on the track and Slug’s soft singing on the chorus make “Something So” literally sound like a lullaby, a very peaceful and enjoyable lullaby.
On the other hand, there are a handful of beats that do go hard like “She’s Enough” and “Bad Bad Daddy”. “Bad Bad Daddy” is an interesting cut because it is the only glimpse listeners have at the old school satirical, heavy drinking, numb to the world Slug on The Family Sign. With comical Lyrics like “Sittin at the bar just mindin my biz / I came down with all nine of my kids / And they all got an attitude / Mad cuz I said we can’t go to the zoo / It’s not a lie / But Daddy’s too high / If I drive I will probably catch a DUI / Here play with this pitcher of beer / Sit in these chairs and don’t disappear” one can only hope Slug is taking a break from keeping it real to joke about the type of father he’d be if he was raising his kids with a “Pour Me Another” mentality.
Other notable tracks include “If You Can Save Me Now” due to the dope beat. Ant, who is a master with the keys, mixes a catchy piano melody with a gritty baseline to make the production on “If You Can Save Me Now” arguably the best on the album. The songs “Who I’ll Never Be” and “Millennium Dodo” also deserve praise for Slug’s always consistent ability to convey stories through song.
Overall, The Family Sign is a solid project. The fatherhood and family oriented themes are carried out from start to finish and while there aren’t any extraordinary tracks there aren’t any terrible ones either. It is always admirable the way Slug takes stories from his life and transforms them into beautiful poetry. However, the bottom line is that Slug, the pensive middle-aged father isn’t as fun to listen to as Slug, the lonely borderline alcoholic. But Atmosphere fans must accept that this is where Slug is at in his life right now therefore this is the type of music he is going to make because the man always keeps it real.
3 Mics Out Of 5 Mics