You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having
aybe you’re bored with the first-backpacker-with-a-Benz business, but you kind of have to give it to the guy: somewhere between Kon the Louis Vuitton Don and freaking the fuck out of Mike Myers, Kanye West might have singlehandedly hammered the final nail in the coffin of Indie Rap V. 1.0. What with Brits monopolizing the margins and chart hip-hop growing increasingly heterogenic, it had to have seemed inevitable. I’m not even the first writer here at Stylus to observe as much. Dom Passantino opened his review of Blackalicious’s latest as follows:
“An armchair sociology moment: the ‘backpack’ vs ‘jiggy’ wars of the late 90s when the Rawkus kids played it on some Italian-army-circa-1943 ish and deserted their losing cause with remarkable speed.”
Right, tides rise and fall. For another recent example, the Sundance-nurtured Amerindie film movement appeared virtually defunct until some dude named Jonathan Caouette managed to format his memoirs into a form-confounding iMasterpiece. Indie hip-hop in twenty-oh-five is in desperate need of a defibrillator, of a Tarnation of its own, and Atmosphere may actually be its promising contender.
The idea of emo-rap, admittedly, sounds pretty awful on paper, but repeat listens of Atmosphere mainman Slug’s finer efforts (take, say, “Always Coming Back Home to You,” the closer on 2003’s Seven’s Travels) suggest one of the strongest writers in rap of any stripe. Like Caouette and, for that matter, Kanye, Slug is perpetually bothered by what we politely refer to as “personal issues.” For Caouette that means a dysfunctional family, sexual identity, and a drug-induced personality disorder; for Kanye, it’s spiritual conviction and personal responsibility. Chief among Slug’s problems, it seems, is a Marshall Mathers-size inferiority complex. “Atmosphere finally made a good record / Yeah right, that shit almost sounds convincing,” mused the Minneapolis-based MC on Seven’s “Trying to Find a Balance,” at which point you almost want to say, “Cheer up, dude! People like you!”
While Slug looks expectedly glum on the cover of You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having, the self-deprecation level on his latest seems remarkably low. Good for him; not-so-good for us. Maybe he’s getting laid with more regularity. Or perhaps a quick scan of “mostly positive” Metascores was enough to do the trick. Either way, Slug feels palpably less-pissed, a mood-shift that’s consequently left him groping for new ideas.
This could’ve all proven rather fruitful, except that…except that, well, Slug doesn’t seem to know what to do now, and more often than not, simply falls back on half-hearted variations on old standbys (“She still makes time to hate me, but basically / I’m overbooked, no emotion, no vacancy”). The result may be, in a manner of speaking, the most consistent Atmosphere album to date. That is, You Can’t Imagine is consistently okay. There’s nothing here that makes me want to lunge to hit the skip button, but nothing either that necessarily screams “repeat.” This is still, to be sure, an infinitely more pleasurable, and probably durable, listen than, say, that Sage Francis record, but, you know, that’s not particularly high praise, and it’s certainly not going to “save” anything.