Atmosphere – The Family Sign

January 01, 1970



Growing old in hip-hop is a tricky evolution. If you are nearing
middle age and still trying to keep up with the youngbloods, you are in danger
of becoming a cartoon caricature of yourself, thus negating the struggle and
strife you’ve had to endure to earn your respect in the game throughout the
majority of your career, like Method Man and Redman. Or, you can opt to become
the wizened elder statesman who utilizes the experience he has garnered over
the course of 20 or 25 years as an MC or producer as a means to teach a more
enlightened version of the rhyme science you have patented in a more
professorial route. But this course, if you look at the careers of such former
heavy hitters as KRS-One and Chuck D., comes at the expense of obtaining a more
widespread audience enthralled by the ADHD flash of Lil’ Wayne and Wiz Khalifa
than the prospect of learning something about history or ethics.


Or, you could just opt to age with your audience and chronicle the trials and travails of reaching a more
mature age side by side, which is exactly what Slug of Atmosphere seems to be
doing so gracefully from the sound of the Minneapolis
duo’s excellent new album, The Family


For his sixth LP with producer Ant and first since 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That
Shit Gold
, Slug waxes philosophical on these 14 new tracks, foregoing the
hard partying persona of his past decade-and-a-half’s lyrical work in favor of
a more reflective, existential tone that offers a more nuanced outlook on such
topics pertinent to a 38-year-old man as conflict, loyalty, responsibility,
accountability and, above all, family. Sometimes the sarcasm of Atmosphere’s
past efforts shines through above the face of earnestness this album is trying
to evoke, namely the cheeky “Bad Bad Daddy”, where Slug takes his Juvie-bound
kids to the bar with him and lets them run wild, and “Millennium Dodo”, where
he rhymes of Escape from New York and
Les Nessman from WKRP in Cincinnati with
the kitschy panache of his white boy rap forefathers the Beastie Boys.


However, the more somber moments of The Family Sign are what rank the record among the best in the
Atmosphere canon.  “Became” paints a
stark portrait of a man who seems to have been camping in the woods with his
faithful canine companion when he awakes to find him gone and, fearing he was
chased down and attacked by wolves, realizes the dog ran away to join their
pack. Whether one can construe this tune as something literal or metaphorical,
it showcases some of Slug’s most vividly urgent examples of his storytelling
prowess he has yet to deliver to listeners. “Just for Show” details the
complexities of a relationship resting on wobbly stilts, further punctuated by
its amazing video accompaniment, which portrays a family turning its back on
their once-beloved dog, played by the cutest golden retriever, who then takes
to the streets in search of the love it lost when his owners decided to turn
the other cheek. Also of note is the poignant “The Last to Say”, which is as
stark a cautionary tale of domestic violence as Eminem’s “The Way You Lie” or,
better yet, Company Flow’s “Last Good Sleep”. 
However, on “She’s Enough”, Slug extols the virtues of doing whatever it
takes to keep the one you love happy and satisfied.


Punctuating the greatness of the songs on this album is Ant’s
production, which takes a more organic turn with a pastiche of live
instrumentation flavored by acoustic guitar flourishes and grand piano
dramatics, augmented by new crew members guitarist Nate Collis and keyboardist Erick
Anderson respectively, compounding beats that can still snap your neck in two.
It’s also pretty cool to hear Slug experiment with different genres alien to
the Atmosphere idiom, such as early ‘80s new wave on “I Don’t Need Brighter
Days”, spaced-out alt-rock on “My Key” and askew Randy Newman-esque art pop on
“Ain’t Nobody”.


The Family Sign is a prime
example of how to age adroitly in the hip-hop universe, and should serve as a
template for Slug and Ant’s brethren in the indie-rap game to follow if they
want to see any kind of career past the age of 40.


DOWNLOAD: “The Last To
Say”, “Became”, “Just for Show”, “Millennium Dodo”, “I Don’t Need Brighter

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