As Close to a Review as You’ll Get…

Throw Up a Fist!

As I mentioned the other day, Atmosphere dropped their newest studio album, The Family Sign, today. They also premiered the video for their new single “She’s Enough”.

The past couple of Atmosphere albums have been extremely personal, so personal that the homies named their last EP, To All My Friends….This album doesn’t stray from that accord at all, as I’d say 12 of the 14 tracks are obviously written for a very close, personal audience of loved ones. It’s like accidentally stumbling upon Slug’s personal, audio diary, as melodious blues chords are strung throughout the background.

I won’t lie, I love the album. But, as I said, I won’t lie, this is not their best. Ultimately, this album equates to an emo-esque trip down Atmosphere lane. I think that Slug and Ant could fart on wax for 14 tracks and I’d be like, ‘YOOOO this is dope!’ But I’m acknowledging that. I’m an Atmosphere FAN! Fanatic, if you may. But if I was charged with the mission of turning the average Joe into an Atmosphere fan, and all I could do was let them listen to one album, this would certainly NOT be that album. Nor would it be the 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th. I’d probably choose to play a Felt album (off-shoot group comprised of Atmosphere’s Slug and the Cali rapper Murs) to that said average Joe, before I chose to play this album.

It’s slow, it’s melodic, it’s more akin to a spoken-word hip-hop genre than it is to general hip-hop. It’s also amazingly short. I purchased the ITunes version of the album and with it came two bonus tracks which bring the total play time of the album up to an entire HOUR! Without the bonus tracks, we’re sitting at 52 minutes, which is embarrassing and paltry in comparison to Big K.R.I.T.’s Return of 4Eva, which clocks in at a whopping 80 minutes WITHOUT two bonus tracks.

As an Atmosphere fan, this album concerns me. Not because of the style (it’s been making a steady transformation since 2008’s When God Gives You Lemons…), not because of the lack of any guest appearances (they rarely go with a “featuring” on any track, unless it’s a posse cut like “Crewed Up” which features the entire Twin City), and certainly not because of Ant’s apparently waining role on the beats. This album concerns me because it’s been nearly three years since their last full LP was released (April 22, 2008), and still they barely put together 50 minutes of material, and within that 50 minutes are adequate portions of musical interludes and solos, lacking lyrics. Slug’s one of my top 5 lyricists of all-time (yes, ALL TIME!), yet seeing the lyrics for these songs makes me wonder just how much he has left. I wonder if he’s rapped himself out of content. The lyrical construction doesn’t read like the typical rap song-fill up the entire page- instead it’s more…lesser. Visually, these songs look like poems. They’re minimalistic, choppy, and segmented. But yes, much like good poetry each word is purposeful. Every word is so meticulous that adding more words could potentially lessen the overall product. So I’m torn.

Maybe, this album will eventually be looked at as the group’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa of the bunch, an artistic firestorm of beauty. But this album will certainly not win them new fans. On one hand, I’m an Atmosphere fan that simply revels in the art they create. A fan who still puts God Loves Ugly on the turntable and enters an entirely new world, nearly 10 years after it debuted. A fan wholeheartedly dedicated to the underground movement that Atmosphere and Rhymesayers entertainment represent. A fan who would firebomb the capital the day one of their albums hits the Billboard top 10. A fan who couldn’t care less about new fans.

Lucy Ford: The Original Emo-Rap Album

On the other hand, I’m an Atmosphere fan that wants nothing more than to see them succeed. A fan that wishes every person in the world could listen to Lucy Ford, from front-to-back and then again. A fan that despises the popularity of Souljah Boy and Wacka Flaka Chewbacca, because their hip-hop couldn’t hold a flame to any Atmosphere track. A fan that simply wants talent to outweigh marketability, for once.

So when I say this isn’t their best album, I mean it like I would say that Scent of a Woman isn’t Pacino’s best acting role. Even though he won an Oscar, even though it’s widely regarded as his best artistic work, I’d still say his roles in Any Given Sunday and Dog Day Afternoon were much more impressive to me. So this may ultimately be Atmosphere’s Oscar winner (with a lack of overwhelming explicit material, I could see a Grammy nomination coming), but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting…more?

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