When it comes to Atmosphere, music critics will invariably say one thing: Atmosphere is a welcomed relief from the greedy, ultra-violent state of modern hip-hop. This is entirely true, but to say that Atmosphere is not Fitty Cent is to say nothing at all. The deafening underground buzz around this enthusiastic album seems to have overwhelmed the sound of the music.
Beneath all of the Rhymesayers fuss and the hollow concept of “indie rap” (don’t get me started on “emo rap”), Atmosphere has recorded a self-effacing purge of personal reflection. Producer Ant’s beats bounce back and forth between layered funk and aggressive jolts of rhythm. Standouts tracks include “Reflections” and “Trying to Find A Balance,” but one of the album’s most endearing songs is a patriotic ode to Minnesota, which is found hidden after the end of the album’s closer, “Always Coming Back To You.”
Seven’s Travels refers to the literal and emotional travels of Slug, who succeeds in one of the most important goals that a rhyme sayer can strive for — the development of an engaging and complex persona. Much like his presence on the album’s breakthrough predecessor, God Loves Ugly, Slug comes across as a lustful, booze-soaked wanderer (“I pledge allegiance to Budweiser and free drugs,” he boasts on the hilarious “National Disgrace”). At his best, he is a conflicted ladies’ man, an unabashed fool, and an insightful critic of the American pop culture into which he is being absorbed.
Given Atmosphere’s dedication, these weaknesses may evolve with time. But for now, we can take Seven’s Travels for what it is: a joy ride through Slug’s imagination over some thumping, contemplative beats. More so than most groups of their genre, Atmosphere allows the listener to explore the depths of its humble, charismatic frontman. “Suicide Girls” features a phone message of a young woman berating Slug. She rants, “Being fucked up is not a good excuse to piss in the fish tank.” Perhaps this is an answer to all those who have wondered how to interpret the home-grown honesty of Atmosphere as compared to their ultra-violent contemporaries: If nothing else, Seven’s Travels is a charming confessional for anyone who has ever woken up drunk, half naked and confused about last night.