Atmosphere’s Crucifying Redemption: "Mi Vida Local"

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by Lis Steinberg

The epitome of the dad-rap genre, Atmosphere, released their new album, Mi Vida Local, on October 4, 2018, debuting their changed perspective of life regarding professional success and fatherhood. At times criticized for their “corniness,” rapper Slug (Sean Daley) and DJ/producer Ant (Anthony Davis) challenge that label as they explore heavier topics compared to their lighter and most notorious album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (2008).

The lyrics on Mi Vida Local album are by far their most complex as they stretch over a variety of topics. On “Virgo,” Slug disparages politicians with the line, “You ain’t a real lion if you love the circus,” hinting at the corruption in the United States government. They invite their listener to question life in the same song: “I get it we’re specks of dust.” This subtle use of language is Atmosphere’s most plausible tactic on this album which is shocking due to their typical verbose lyrics. Frequently rapping about the overuse of drugs and alcohol, a tired narrative, it is refreshing to see that Slug and Ant have extended themselves into more pressing issues that the United States now faces.

Although there are a lot of intense ideas explored, the whole album isn’t so forbidding. A more optimistic perspective shift reflected in the album is fatherhood and family. Slug dedicates an entire track, “Mijo,” to his son, telling him in the chorus that, “When I breathe my last breath, I’m going to exhale and remember your birth, it’s never too late to get some heaven on earth.” It is extremely evident that Slug is rapping from a humble place, as he acknowledges feelings he didn’t believe in before. We hear him return to this sentimental place a second time in “Trim,” a homage to his wife, “Feeling like I miss you, but I'm living with you. Help me take the garbage out so I can try to kiss you.”

The production on a majority of the tracks is heavy to match the lyrical weight of the album. Ant reminds us that boom-bap style beats still hold a powerful ability to hypnotize you into a meditative state. This state invites its listener to focus directly on the words, similar to being in a pitch-black room with the lyrics in front of you, each beat focusing light on the words being rapped one by one at that moment. We see this illustrated perfectly in the first track, “Jerome;” an energetically charged song with anger underlying the fleeting nature of time and society’s inability to recognize its briefness. Atmosphere teams up with some like-minded artists on “Drown,” such as Cashinova, The Lioness & deM atlaS, giving the album a quick transition into something more melodic. The song takes a similar form compared to the previous tracks, yet these additional artists introduce a refreshing contrast to Slug’s rigid rhyme structure.

It’s interesting to see Atmosphere display this kind of aggressive musicality, and it’s a side that compliments the dynamic duo nicely. On this journey of their 20-year long career, Atmosphere has struggled to find a home in the backpack-rap scene. Their discography begins with Overcast! (1997). The album seemed to have an intention of stepping into the rap game by attacking its audience with lyrical boasts, however, Slug gets lazy throughout the last couple of songs. For example, in “Caved In”, the rhyme structures are not impressive, “Thank you for being there for me, and all the time you spent with me.” It’s lyrics like this that question Atmosphere’s authenticity.  Their most significant EP, Sad Clown Bad Summer 9 (2007), was a valid moment for Slug and specifically the song “Sunshine,” which remains as their most well-known track due to the relatable subject matter of fighting alcoholism and addiction in a catchy, inspirational way.

After a few more Sad Clown EPs, Atmosphere gave birth to When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, whichwas the album that Slug and Ant evolved as they developed their storytelling technique and perfected their clean production. Songs like “Yesterday” and “Like The Rest Of Us” brought Slug and Ant to a respectable place in the rap game, even as people labeled them as “dad-rap,” a genre shelf that Atmosphere has stayed on for the majority of their albums. However, Fishing Blues, their most criticized album to date,showed that Atmosphere was attempting to mirror what the hip-hop world had become by 2016, when the album was released, instead of paving their own path. Mi Vida Local is a true redemption as Atmosphere go back to their roots while adapting their stories for an older audience and is quite possibly one of their best albums yet.

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