"Atmosphere finally made a good record, yeah right, that shit almost sounds convincing...."
Actually, not at all. Sometimes underground hip hop boggles my mind. I'll admit, there are lots of great artists that remain 'underground' or at least avoid regular MTV video rotation and major success. Not to say that either being hugely successful or "staying true to the underground" have any qualities that put one over the other, both have a vast array of garbage sprinkled with a few delightful treats, just like any other genre. What does the boggling is how far underground cred can carry you. Plenty of acts can garner plenty of praise from the underground hip hop kids even if it is just as unoriginal, repetitive, and all around poorly written as some of the mainstream hip hop people love to make fun of.
Case in point, Atmosphere. Sure, the Lucy Ford EPs were alright. They were the real introduction to Slug's introspective and female-inspired lyrical style. At the time, it was somewhat interesting. Most rappers were too hard to express any kind of vulnerability and any ability to recognize their vulnerability, but Slug executed it fairly well. I'd still say even Atmosphere's early work is nothing above the high end of mediocre, but I still don't have too much negativity to expel in their general direction.
With Seven's Travels, Atmosphere take another evolutionary step in the same direction God Loves Ugly was going. Adding even more to the overkill of Slug's once semi-interesting lyrical approach, getting a bit repetitive instrumentally and failing to capture anything special or memorable on this compact disc.
"Trying to Find a Balance" is the first song off of Travels, and it manages to be fairly decent. Ant's productions see their best showing on the record right off the bat. The soul samples charmingly compliment the simple instrumentation, but Slug's harsh vocals tend to bring down the subtle urgency of the track. With witless lines like, "I've got some last words, 'fuck all a' y'all'. Stop writing raps and go play volleyball". Seriously, I know hip hop is filled with not so clever disses, since lame punchlines are worth their weight in gold in the genre, but a line like that is sub-Jordy.
You might criticize this review and point out that I talked little about the record and a lot not about the record. I will concede that, and the reason is, my criticisms for each song are almost all the same. I'm actually a fan of the production on most tracks, with the exception of the ear damaging, annoying noise showcase that is "Cats Van Bags". The beats, instrumentation, and samples on tracks like "Reflections", "Apple", or "Always Coming Back Home to You" don't offer a wide variety of sounds or any innovations, but they are certainly well done, and are the only thing that makes this record a pleasant listen. The problem with the entire record is simply that Slug is not a captivating personality. Occasionally he drops a "bomb rhyme", but the vast majority of his lyrics are poorly delivered attempts at stretching out the glory of his once notable style, but dumbing it down as much as he can.
Listening to this record is like watching Slug in one of those cash booths that send the money in some kind of miniature, harmless tornado of US currency. Not to say he has "sold out" or is simply in it for the cash, but listening to his pitiful attemps at being clever, being intellectual, and being "honest" remind me of someone desparately grabbing for every last crisp dollar bill they can get their hands on. This record feels like Slug has lost whatever small spark he had, and that's a sad thing. His presence is the reason why Slugless tracks like "Suicidegirls" make for the most easy listen throughout. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking that because this record isn't being pushed by Cash Money, that it is all that much better or any less contrived than the latest Big Tymerz 'joint'.