Atmosphere’s MC, Slug has made a career, literally, out of exploiting and exercising his own personal demons as well as of those around him. He has an uncanny knack for telling a deeply personal story—sometimes his, sometimes someone else’s—all while moving the crowd. In short, he’s the heart-on-his-sleeve guy who rocks the party. Though, as Slug gets older, there’s a little less of the fun stuff.
The Family Sign, the newest album by the Minneapolis, MN hip-hop powerhouse is being billed as Slug’s most intimate and personal release thus far—“metaphorically touching on themes of fatherhood, loss, love, disappointment and jubilation and tailoring them to the instrumental frame work provided by Ant.” While the lyrical content, although primarily depressing, is exactly as described above, The Family Sign, sonically speaking, is Atmosphere’s most disappointing release to date. Atmosphere has been experimenting with traditional instrumentation for several years now. However, it’s become quite clear with the release of The Family Sign that it isn’t just flirtation anymore, but rather a definite change in their overall sound. Call me a traditionalist, but I believe Atmosphere—and rap music in general—is best served in its simplest form; a DJ and an MC. On The Family Sign the addition of guitar and keys play a prominent place in song structure, which unfortunately does little other than drive up the annoyance level. There is some boom-bap reminiscent of beat-maker Ant’s work on albums previous to 2009’s When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold, but in those rare occurrences, it’s drawn to the depths of monotony by the accompanying drone of uninspired guitar and piano, provided by Nate Collis and Erick Anderson, respectively.
Lyrically, The Family Sign is a cornucopia of metaphors. For instance, on “Became” when he raps, “I was so worried that you became the game/I forgot to worry about what you became” you can imagine he is referencing his former protégé, Michael “Eyedea” Larsen (Eyedea & Abilities, Face Candy, Carbon Carousel), who passed away, tragically, last year. Actually, there are multiple songs on The Family Sign that will have you asking yourself, “Is that about Eyedea?” As usual, Slug has you trying to piece together clues to solve the great big mystery that is Sean Daley.
While the primary feel of the album is fairly dark, Slug’s keen sense of humor still peeks through the clouds from time to time. On “Bad Bad Daddy”, a hilarious ode to drunken fatherhood, he raps, “Sitting at the bar just minding my biz/I came down with all nine of my kids/And they’ve all got an attitude/Mad ‘cause I said we can’t go to the zoo/It’s not a lie but daddy’s too high/If I drive I would probably catch a DUI…Now I’ma get bombed and you better not tell your mom.” And in perhaps a gag of purposed irony, this comes immediately following “She’s Enough,” a track where he professes contentment with husbandry.
The overall tone of The Family Sign is melancholic and depressive. This, I believe, is why everyone called Atmosphere emo rap to begin with. And while I have always loved Atmosphere and simultaneously hated that term, I must admit, there is no denying the emo rap label applies this time around. This album is better suited for Sunday night back-to-work-tomorrow somberness than a the-roof-is-on-fire Saturday night party.
5.9 / 10
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