2014 looks to be a big year for hip-hop. Admittedly the genre has seen some dark days in recent years, turning more into a pop sensation than an actual artistic exploration. But it seems like some of the game’s most notable acts are refusing to sit back any longer and watch hip-hop be overtaken by lazy lyricism and generic beats. After a long period of silence, the Wu-Tang Clan recently announced their return to the genre’s forefront via a new record that will be produced in only a single physical copy (you can read more about that here).
But the New York collective aren’t the only ones trying to bring the originality back to hip-hop. Minnesota duo Atmosphere has a long-standing reputation for their carefully constructed beats and mesmerizing lyricism. The owners of Rhymesayers Entertainment, Slug and Ant (the vocalist and producer respectively) seem to have high hopes for the new year. The label has already put forth a new record this year from one of its youngest and most promising artists, Grieves. Another frequent associate of Rhymesayers, Blueprint also recently dropped a new record.
So it seems about time for the Minneapolis duo to step off the sidelines. Atmosphere’s last record, The Family Sign, is only three years in the past, but it’s been a long while since they struck the music community with the same thundering impression they had with their first few records. The Family Sign wasn’t weak, but it wasn’t strong either, and that was the biggest problem. It lacked the intensity and focus of most of the duo’s first few albums.
For long-time Atmosphere fans, Southsiders unfortunately probably isn’t the storming assault on the rap game that you were probably hoping for. The album’s first single, “Bitter”, showed a lot a promise, with a lurking beat and and Slug’s infamous authoritative tone poured over fine poetry. The record certainly overshadows its predecessor, returning to many of the ideas and inspirations that caused us to fall in love with Atmosphere in the first place. But the record isn’t consistent. Atmosphere seems to willing to subscribe themselves to the very things that are so wrong with hip-hop these days.
The album’s opening track is impressive, easily measuring up to “Bitter” in quality. But the dark sincerity is quickly lost over the next few tracks, which take on poppy tones and lackluster rhyme schemes. The duo does catch themselves from falling too far on track 5, “I Love You Like a Brother”. The record makes a good run at this point, escalating through a few tracks that truly are worth a listen. However Southsiders remains littered with uninspired and seemingly forced tracks from beginning to end. The album would probably be better off as an EP, focusing on the tracks that do the duo justice. Still, the stand out tracks really do stand out. Southsiders isn’t Atmosphere in their finest hour, but it’s also far from their darkest. Tracks like “Kanye West” and “Bitter” are enough to redeem the album from being discarded. In fact, the record houses a few tracks that do indeed measure up to some of Atmosphere’s finest work. If only they could have applied that work ethic to the entire record.
Atmosphere – Southsiders — Buy on iTunes
Funkadelphia Picks: “Kanye West”, “Flicker”, “She Don’t Know Why She Love It” & “Bitter”
In honor of the album’s release, the duo also put out a new music video for its opening track. You can check it out below.
Atmosphere – “Camera Thief” [Official Video]