While When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold brings Ant and Slug closer to full-blown mainstream success, it's an album that's not really about either of them. Rather, it's about those that possibly buy their albums, those that struggle to make it through the day, no real future in sight given their conditions. While Ant brings to thought dive bars and jazz clubs with smoldering cigarettes filling up the room with synthesizer-based beats, Slug delivers soulful stories of the down and out and young and old trying to make it with little hopes of success. Regardless, the album is about making a positive out of the negative, and while the story-telling is tragic, Ant still paints that shit gold, bringing full circle an album of cracked sidewalks and blooming roses.
Opening up with a music box, "Like the Rest of Us" is more centered around Erick Anderson's ballroom piano than Ant's minimal beats, Slug's soulful singing seeping with carbon monoxide and holding back the intensity and energy that is expected. "Puppets" follows, Ant still producing beats filled with soul and rhythm, and Slug picking up the pace and producing a voice that echoes his experience and intelligence. Coupled with the guest vocals of Channy Casselle, "Puppets" is the more-appropriate album opener, more lively and a better indicator of what When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is all about.
The most attractive thing about When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is Slug's storytelling, something that he can stray away, but is also a master of when he creates a protagonist that the audience can care for and relate to. Prostitutes and pimps aside, the real characters and the one's that Slug gives faces to, the ones that could easily be your family, neighbors, or yourself. While "The Skinny," has difficulty doing this and seems more like an ode to unfortunate street life of hip-hops past without putting emotion into the theme, "The Dreamers," gives the listener something to think and care about. A more positive take on Tupac's "Brenda's Got a Baby," Ant's synthesizers and Slug's uplifting vocals give the mother and her children life and a way to succeed.
While the chorus and beats for "You" can come off as campy and over-the-top, the song is easily the most energetic and uplifting song on When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold. While there is no happy ending or complete resolution, the song still feels like a triumphant middle finger for anyone that has worked in the service industry, ate shit and made little along the way. "Your Glasshouse," is the most claustrophobic and personal song on the album, an alcoholic's hangover and recollection of last night's events in a stranger's house the subject of Slug's story. While the young woman tries to figure out what happened to her and where she is now suffering, Slug's final words bring it full circle: "Maybe you don't recognize it but this is your home / This is where your life lives."
Slug and Ant's final moment comes with their last song, starting and closing as the first on the album did with a child's music box. Telling the story of a young girl in the care of a negligent father, the girl does whatever she can to earn his respect and attention, but finally succumbs to her own dreams and drifts away to the sounds of her music box. Perhaps the most touching song the album, it brings Slug and Ant full circle.
While the duo can sometimes get distracted with expectations and stray away from their strong points, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is an intelligent and welcomed departure from previous efforts. While Slug provided most of the product and Ant the paintbrush, the two prove once again what a valuable combination they are, and cement themselves at the top of independent hip-hop.