I fear for Slug. I really do. As frontman of the Minnesota rap collective known as Atmosphere, his emotionally fraught lyrics and sensitive-boy song topics first inspired people to tag him the “emo rapper.” Atmosphere’s 2001 release, God Loves Ugly, happened to include a song called “Saves The Day,” which prompted Slug (real name: Sean Daley) to joke in the press that he was going to call his next record “Built To Spill.” Instead, Atmosphere was signed to Epitaph and called their new record Seven’s Travels. Atmosphere has become the Next Big Thing. The spotlight prompted the press to begin comparisons to—you guessed it—Eminem, the other, ahem, white meat.
These comparisons are lazy but understandable, for several reasons. Seven’s Travels continues to explore Slug’s obsessions: his problems with women, his self-loathing, his need to prove himself as an emcee, etc. But the comparisons end (or should end) there; where Eminem’s philosophies hit the listener with the delicacy of a jackhammer, Slug’s lyrics and beats accomplish what the best rap albums do: shake ya ass and make ya think.
This is not to imply that the album is flawless. It relies a little too heavily on old tricks at times: the first half of “Suicidegirls” consists of angry (staged?) answering machine messages left by various women over a complicated beat, a gimmick which should have died with God Loves Ugly. At its best, though, it contains sly lyrics like “The Barbie doll’s caught, body parts come off / And I think she’s a he…STOP, look at how it walks / They got the weirdoes, the talent, the beautiful / An arm and a leg for a one-story cubicle” (“Los Angeles”). At its most naked, dirt-under-nails-and-all beauty, look to “Lifter Puller,” which starts with a mournful female hook and explands to tell the story of a doomed, possibly autobiographical, relationship: “Tonight the part of man and woman will be played by boy and girl.”
Slug and company have, unfortunately, a long road ahead of them if they wish to break out of the Shadow of Em. I doubt that pop culture has progressed to the point where it can accept more than one white rapper thriving at a time. This record proves, though, that Atmosphere deserves (and demands) your respect and attention.