Atmosphere at the Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, May 10, 2011

On Tuesday night the Vogue was completely sold-out for the first Canadian stop of Rhymesayers’ The Family Tour.

Featuring DJ Abilities, Grieves and Budo, Blueprint and Atmosphere, this was essentially a showcase night for the Minneapolis label. Even though this meant more artists and shorter sets, Atmosphere drew their usual massive and rowdy audience. The crowd was young, the bass was loud and the Jack Daniels lemonade was flowing (truly my favorite part of Vogue shows).

Atmosphere consists of emcee Slug (Sean Daley) and DJ/Producer Ant (Anthony Davis). Now in their third decade of writing and producing hip-hop together, it seems Atmosphere have finally crossed over into the mainstream and established themselves as one of the most successful independent hip-hop artists in the music industry today. Their last album, 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons sold over 200,000 copies – a feat for any album, much less one without major label backing. Now in 2011, Atmosphere have produced The Family Sign, their most evocative and personal album to date.

It’s fitting that the Mill City has produced an artist with the kind of everyman, working class charm that Atmosphere emcee Slug seems to possess in spades. Despite his unfortunate moniker, he’s the kind of lovable underdog you can’t help but admire; the kind of guy you’d want for a friend or a dad, and the kind of guy who would help you change a flat tire if you were stuck on the side of the road. Slug is a likeable guy in person and on stage – a genuinely positive performer who seems to stretch for interpersonal connection.

Even when spewing vitriol out of frustration at life and its trials, he’s always relatable and never hostile or alienating to his audience. Maybe that’s because Slug’s lyrics seem tailor-made for our blunted post-adolescent worldview and those hungry for an anti-hero who is undeniably and unfailingly human. With so many fickle hip-hop artists out there, fans crave acts that are consistent, and Atmosphere is, if anything, consistent in what he delivers – both in quality and theme. One thing that struck me at the Vogue show was his effort to make a real connection with the audience as well as his eagerness to share the older hits as well as his new ones. He went way back to 1997 with “Scapegoat” and also brought out crowd favorites like “Guns and Cigarettes”, “Sunshine”, and “Puppets”.

Grieves and Budo were a hit with the crowd, and succeeded in getting everyone super hyped for the acts that followed. Grieves, now considered a Rhymesayers veteran, really knows how to work a stage. He used the entire space, playing right to the crowd and making eye contact with folks a few rows back. His charm and energy, not to mention his slick skills on the mic, left us wanting more. His partner producer/DJ Budo traded off on a drum machine, keyboard and electric guitar – providing funky riffs and synth lines to match Grives’ infectious hooks and melodies.

Blueprint provoked a deeper, more complex and rhythmically interesting set than the other performers Tuesday night. While definitely not indulging in straight-ahead bangers like Grieves or sympathetic anthems for the misunderstood like Atmosphere, there’s something catchy about Blueprint. His mood was heavier, the groove was deeper, it took a little effort to get into, but the reward for trying was great. And I’m pretty sure every ’80s child in the house secretly smiled when he busted out that key-tar.


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