In 1993, for the time, I heard bass thump from a 10-inch subwoofer in the trunk of Casey Ugland’s 1988 Chevy Beretta. He was playing an NWA cassette tape, and it was like the music was alive, kicking and punching at his backseat like someone was tied up in the trunk. Strange, but that was the moment I fell in love with hip-hop. Casey was my best friend Travis’ older brother, and we would have him buy parental advisory albums which we’d hide from our parents. Hip-hop was my first (and only) rebellion.
Yesterday, Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere released a double EP, To All My Friends/Blood Makes the Blade Holy. I first heard Atmosphere in 2002, but never really “got it” until 2005. I’ve purchased — not downloaded, purchased — everything they’ve released the past five years. Their music’s even better now as I recognize street names and landmarks often mentioned in their songs. Furthermore, it’s thinking man’s hip-hop, often steeped in political and social commentary. Every Atmosphere album release day takes me back to that garage in 1993 and back to hiding tapes between my mattresses.
Atmosphere is the most successful act on Rhymesayers Entertainment, the Minneapolis-based independent hip-hop label. You can find all of the label’s music and merch at Fifth Element in Uptown, where it’s not uncommon to catch an artist roaming around the store or someone who’s been mentioned in a song running the register.
I picked up my copy from Fifth Element and forgot how good it feels to flop a CD on the corner and hand over $10. I damn near left a tip just for the experience. The double EP clocks in at 12 songs and just over 40 minutes. The content’s noticeably shorter on profanity and big on political commentary. It seems the Recession has inspired MC Slug, like on the “To All My Friends”:
I was the ugly kid that didn’t listen
Little big man, full of ambition
Based on imagination just like you
Daydreaming, thinking about the things I might do
I used to paint, draw, illustrate
Mom would facilitate, and it would feel okay
Seems like yesterday still plays a part
When I grow up, I wanted a job making art
Picture that, how many years old
Young enough to mix up love with career goals
But I was just this tall when they told me
That the world was mine, but the papers weren’t signed
There’s no deed, so proceed to go see
Up the whole piece like it owes me groceries
Don’t breathe until you formally know me
Won’t leave, better call authorities
It’s all love we’re cool
But you don’t tell an astronaut what to do
On “Americareful,” Atmosphere puts a broken health care system in the crosshairs with unfortunate stories about a Tommy and Katie. (Pardon the quality. This video will likely get taken down at some point today for copyright reasons):
On Friday at 10 a.m. CDT, tickets go on sale for back-to-back Atmosphere shows at the legendary First Avenue on Nov. 27-28. The tickets will sell out in minutes, because short of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings, few local celebrities get more love from the locals.
(You can download their new track “Freefallin'” by going here.)