February 17, 2004

Teen girls scream for Atmosphere
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

The crowd at Atmosphere's concert at the Roxy on Feb. 10 could be divided into two groups: hip-hop fans and Atmosphere fans. The hip-hop fans rapped along with classic Mobb Deep songs before the show and were impressed by the freestyle encore, while the Atmosphere fans sang along with Slug and were impressed by his sensitive lyrics and boyish good looks.

Atmosphere (composed of emcee Slug, DJ Mr. Dibbs, and producer Ant) has been the most recent underground darling to bubble up to the mainstream. After years of consistently releasing quality albums, promoting new talent and relentlessly touring, Atmosphere's Minneapolis indie label, Rhymesayers, could no longer manage to distribute its records to match increasing demand. Atmosphere didn't sell out; its popularity simply outgrew the infrastructure of the underground.

Instead of jumping ship by himself when major labels began courting him, Slug declared that his Rhymesayers crew came as a package. To get Atmosphere, labels needed to agree to distribute all of the artists on Slug's label as well.

Surprisingly, Slug found a willing accomplice in punk label Epitaph. Rappers often go back and promote their crew after they make it big, but Atmosphere jeopardized his own stardom by refusing to abandon them in the first place.

Opening for Atmosphere were label mates Eyedea and Abilities. Eyedea is a talented lyricist paired with the absolutely astonishing DJ Abilities. Abilities was the surprise highlight of the concert, outshining all of the emcees. He created entirely new beats for the rappers while onstage that would compete with some of the best underground production that's labored over in a studio for hours.

Eyedea unfortunately seemed to suffer from a little brother complex. Eyedea's style of slightly maniacal emo-rap seemed all too familiar. He's trying to do what big brother Atmosphere does so well, but it isn't his particular strength. Though his emotion seemed feigned and exaggerated, his lyrical abilities shone through the content, demonstrating his strength as a rapper despite his undeveloped song-writing potential.

When Slug came onstage, the girls went wild. He gave a passionate performance, accompanied by fellow emcee Blueprint. He opened his set with "Trying to Find a Balance," his current single that earned him his first-ever video on MTV2. Atmosphere enjoys a large body of work from which to choose and played songs from a wide variety of his albums, including Lucy Ford, God Loves Ugly, and his newest, Seven's Travels.

Halfway through the show, Mr. Dibbs surprised everyone and dropped a Rage Against the Machine song on the turntables. A circle immediately opened in the audience, but it wasn't a cypher with local b-boys, but a raucus mosh pit, which again demonstrated that Atmosphere's fans are not the typical hip-hop crowd.

Racial diversity at underground hip-hop shows is no longer a novelty. White kids at a Boston rap concert are certainly nothing to write home about, but white girls, on the other hand, are a rather rare occurrence. The hip-hop market tends to be male dominated, but Atmosphere's success can largely be attributed to his popularity with white college girls.

Don't misinterpret this as an indication that Slug is some sort of pretty boy pop sensation. Slug is definitely not very pretty. Nevertheless, his emotionally-charged lyrics about his tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend have attracted female fans who are otherwise uninterested in rap.

Slug seemed to recognize this and encouraged his fans to expand their musical tastes to other underground artists, such as Jean Grae and Cannibal Ox, which should end the ridiculous misconception that there is any sort of underground beef between Rhymesayers and Def Jux.

Slug ended the show by calling Eyedea out for an impressive freestyle session to remind everyone that Slug is still a great rapper under all that emotional baggage. After everyone else left, Slug told the crowd, "I'm not here to make money. I'm here because this is what I love. When I go home, I don't know what else to do.

"I suck at X-box, so I go on tour and rap for you people," he said.

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