Rapper Slug of Atmosphere, sharing an emo-rap moment.
While the rest of San Diego will either be traversing through Comic-Con fantasy land or fantasizing about traversing through Comic-Con fantasy land this weekend, everyone smart enough to hit up the venue formerly known as Coors Amphitheatre (i.e. Sleep Train Amphitheatre) will be keeping it real. Real blue collar.
This Saturday, the Minnesota duo Atmosphere will be taking the stage as part of the Kickin' Up Dust Tour. I realize Ocean Beach's Slightly Stoopid is also on the bill, but but I'm a stoopidly ignorant hip-hop head, so I'm gonna use this space to gush about Atmosphere instead.
In a better world, Atmosphere would be at least as big as current rap sensation Macklemore. That's because Atmosphere is kind of a father to Macklemore's style. Musically, both acts take a blue-collar approach to hip-hop, but where Macklemore typically focuses on how different aspects of culture are destroying society, Slug -- the rapper of Atmosphere -- takes a more personal angle, rapping about how different relationships are destroying him.
At one time, Atmosphere's music was labeled as emo-rap, and that's a pretty accurate description of them in their prime. If you need a quick preview of what to expect, I recommend F--- You Lucy," "The Woman With the Tattooed Hands," "Guns and Cigarettes" and, a personal favorite of mine, "Little Man," in which he addresses letters to his son, his dad and himself.
Atmosphere and Macklemore also share much in common in terms of their career paths. Macklemore is deservedly lauded for achieving such success while remaining independent. Atmosphere didn't exactly write the blueprint for independent success (shouts to Too Short). But if I were an independent artist, I'd be taking notes.
Atmosphere started one of the most successful indie-rap labels ever, Rhymesayers Entertainment, harboring a host of respected underground artists such as Aesop Rock and Brother Ali. Hell, the Rhymesayers business model seems to be to have Atmosphere rake in money from shows to fund projects that, while dope, probably aren't making a ton of cash back. That's how Evidence of Dilated Peoples was able to put out a record in 2011. That's how Abstract Rude was able to put out a record in 2009. If you don't remember either of these artists, that's the point: No one's really checking for them anymore and Rhymesayers still puts out their music seemingly on general principle and/or charity. And did I mention they still press vinyl? That's godlike. If there was ever any act you should support on general principle and/or charity, it would be Atmosphere.
Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog sdRAPS.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.