Atmosphere – Southsiders

Atmosphere – Southsiders

atmosphere Atmosphere – Southsiders
Rhymesayers: 2014

A new Atmosphere album isn’t met with excitement, but rather the enthusiasm of re-acquaintance. It’s a fitting, if not trite reaction to one of the most durable, consistent acts around. The anticipation never quite evolves into fanboy delirium, however, and part of the reason is you pretty much know what you’re getting with most Atmosphere albums. El-P (either solo or as Run The Jewels), Kevin Gates, and Action Bronson are unmistakably hip-hop, but each one portrays an awareness of what’s beyond hip-hop parameters while displaying a magical proficiency in some unknown territory. Atmosphere’s mastery is inclusive to the genre, but perhaps too inclusive — too familiar.

Southsiders finds the duo back with its usual aesthetics: Introspection, galvanization through open honesty and rebellion, and supplementary beats by Ant. After being caught in the midst of paternal adjustment on The Family Sign, this effort has more of an immediate appeal to it with Slug being less contemplative and more determinist. “Arthur’s Song”, another entry in the Slug vs. Whiskey saga, provides the album with that undertone, and it’s particularly earned on this cut. The description of his relationship is sympathetic but refreshing in how it doesn’t rely on woe-is-me details; he’s not anymore disadvantaged than you are (“We face pain with pain/ Everybody’s the same”).

This is a relatable character sketch that should compel the listener, but Southsiders struggles to do this as it trudges along. Writing as a means of catharsis is one of Slug’s noted motifs in the project but the problem is allowing the listener to share in that catharsis. The verses are tightly wound — like the particularly clever ones in “Mrs. Interpret” and “Star Shaped Heart” — but they’re held together by haphazard songcraft. “The World Might Not Live Through the Night” is an attempt at a carpe diem anthem that hits a bump with the flimsy “They say the end is near/And I doubt they were talking ‘bout this can of beer” line, but it’s all taken down a few more notches thanks to the Disney-esque hook. The weak sing-song of “Bitter” suffers from the same problem, too. Slug can’t shoulder the complete blame, however – Ant’s production turns throughout the LP are serviceable, but also predictable and unconvincing of a replay.

The lack of adrenaline and the misuse of it don’t mean Southsiders isn’t without the beautifully articulated moments that helped establish the duo. “Flicker,” an ode to the late Eyedea, is a song that’s bitter, poignant, and self-depreciative. It’s a beautiful portrayal of a master of words being reminded he doesn’t have the ultimate say in life’s mechanisms: “You know me, you know I’m a control freak/Who told you, you could die before me?” It’s a resonating moment in an album that feels to rife with fleeting ones.

So with the pros and cons taken into an account, Southsiders is another testament to Atmosphere’s durability. We could use a bit more than that at some point though.

3 out of 5

You can purchase Southsiders via Amazon.


  1. Brian Josephs
    May 22, 2014 @ 01:31:00

    I’ll still say he is, but I do definitely agree arguing about Action Bronson isn’t worth it in an Atmosphere review comment section.

  2. Monk
    May 22, 2014 @ 00:30:00

    I’m sorry Brian, but Action Bronson is NOT doing more left-field rap music, or rap music that’s exploring more uncharted territory than Atmosphere. That’s just pure silliness, man. I agree with a good bit of your review, but that argument is not worth defending.

  3. Brian Josephs
    May 21, 2014 @ 23:00:00

    With Kevin Gates melodic sensibilities and Action Bronson’s leftist humor, I’d say they are. Throwing in career lengths is a moot point because two of the aforementioned artists haven’t been around for that long. That’s why I’m focused on the recent. And it’s “well-written” if it modifies the word after it. “And” isn’t being modified.

  4. Guest
    May 21, 2014 @ 22:36:00

    I don’t know about well-written (not “well written”): “anymore” “to rife”.

    It is not a great album (maybe a 3.5 IMO), and certainly not a highpoint
    in the group’s career, but this review is simply lazy and inaccurate. After
    ‘Family Sign’ and their split EP release, this marks a return to Slug’s introspective focus,
    not a simple repetition of it.

    And for a group that has transitioned from sample-based production to live instrumentation, as compared to the mentioned rappers, to imply that Atmosphere is unaware of music outside the genre seems ignorant. El-P, maybe, but are Kevin Gates and Action Bronson really doing anything to advance the borders of hip hop in the same way that Slug and Ant did have done over their 15+ year career as Minnesota kingpins and “emo rap” innovators?

  5. Anonymous
    May 21, 2014 @ 10:12:00

    I read this looking for holes in the argument but to be honest…it was well written and hits the nail on the head of how I perceived this album on my own….

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