Album Review: Atmosphere, ‘Fishing Blues’

Written By Angelo Gingerelli

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Since emerging from Minneapolis and hitting the national scene in 1997 Atmosphere has maintained an incredible level of consistency both in their own music and through their Rhymesayers record label. MC Slug and Producer Ant have maintained their place in Hip-Hop by cultivating an extremely dedicated fan base and then supplying that fan base with a steady stream of LP’s, EP’s and collaborations that are more concerned with maintaining their uniqueness than keeping up with whatever is trendy in mainstream Hip-Hop. This streak of originality and quality continues on Fishing Blues.

There are only a handful of MC’s that keep it more real than Atmosphere’s Slug, who complies with almost none of the typical rapper clichés. He parties, but throws up and wakes up hungover (“Ringo”), he owns a house, but worries about foreclosure (“Everything”) and he gets attention from women, but forgoes the typical groupie tales for stories about relationships gone bad (“The Sh*t That We’ve Been Through”). This vulnerability has made Slug a favorite on college radio and clearly pioneered “Emo Rap” a full decade before rappers like Macklemore, Drake and Kid Cudi became pop stars following a similar formula. Slug’s appeal as a lyricist is explained perfectly on the chorus of “Everything” where he raps “I don’t pretend to be cool, don’t pretend to be young / I don’t pretend to be smart, don’t pretend to be dumb / I don’t pretend to be hard, don’t pretend to be first / And most of all I don’t pretend to be concerned / I don’t pretend to be rich, don’t pretend to be broke / I don’t pretend to be asleep, don’t pretend to be woke / I don’t pretend to be deep, don’t pretend to be clean / I’m everything and everything that’s in between.”

Ant’s production fits Slug’s “everyman” personae perfectly and the beats sound new and refreshing without ever sounding too experimental or underground to appeal to casual fans. At this point it’s obvious to anybody that’s been paying attention that Slug/Ant belong on the list of most consistent MC/Producer tag-teams of all time and Fishing Blues probably moves them up a few spots on the list.

The one place where the record falls somewhat short are the guest appearances. None of the guest verses are outright disappointing, but frequent collaborators like Murs and label mates like Brother Ali are nowhere to be found. Also, fellow Rhymesayer Aesop Rock, fresh off his spectacular The Impossible Kid (you can check out our review here) only contributes a chorus to “Chasing New York” and while seeing MF Doom and Kool Keith listed together on “When The Lights Go Out” got a lot of underground heads excited, Kool Keith only delivers a few adlibs on the song’s outro instead of a full verse. These squandered guest appearances are the only part of the album that feels like a missed opportunity.

Nearly two decades after their debut album, Atmosphere continues to make music geared towards their core fans and while Fishing Blues doesn’t have a lot to offer fans of commercial or radio-friendly Hip-Hop, Ant & Slug’s legion of devoted followers have yet another project to include in their argument of why they are one of the most underrated duos of all time. And if you have any question about the group’s decision to take the road less travelled to a career in music, Slug sums it up nicely by rapping “In my past / I’d wished for something different from what’s in my grasp / Now I’ve grown / I wouldn’t trade my world with anybody that I’ve known”

Best Songs: “Ringo,” “Everything,” “Anybody That I’ve Known”

Perfect For: A quiet night at home or a long road trip

Rating: 8 out of 10

Also Worth Checking Out…

Phonte & Eric Roberson: Tigallerro – The two multi-talented artists collaborate on a short, but powerful project that leans heavily towards R&B and belongs filed squarely in the “Grown-A**-Man” genre that should stoke anticipation for Phonte’s solo rap album due this fall.

Michaelangeflow: Soundcloud – This New Jersey native is currently living in Portland and taking “Nerdcore” Hip-Hop to new levels by skillfully rhyming about Pokémon, toy collecting, Batman and his frustrations about not being able to travel to space. With the current popularity of Geek Culture, it’s only a matter of time before nerdcore hits the mainstream and Michaelangeflow is a perfect introduction to the genre for the uninitiated.

Angelo Gingerelli has been contributing to The Pop Break since 2015 and writing about pop culture since 2009. A Jersey shore native, Gingerelli is a writer, stand-up comic, hip-hop head, sneaker enthusiast, comic book fan, husband, father and supporter of the local arts scene. He likes debating the best rappers of all time, hates discussing why things were better in the “Good Ol’ Days” and loves beating The Pop Break staff at fantasy football. You can catch up with Angelo on Twitter/IG at @Mr5thRound, at his website www.FifthRoundMovement.com or interviewing rising stars in NJ’s Hip-Hop scene on “The A&R Podcast” (iTunes/SoundCloud).