Atmosphere – God Loves Ugly

4 out of 5

Label: Rhymesayers

Produced by: Ant

It starts out rough, to a pretty disappointing degree: Onemosphere is an acceptable intro track, an aggressive tone-setter, but when we move into shallow (and juvenile) party track The Bass and The Movement, it feels like Atmosphere – MC Slug and DJ Ant – have pretty much but us through this already on Overcast! and the Lucy Ford EPs. Give Me brings some nuance, and has the blending of soul and Americana that Ant does so well, but still doesn’t bring much maturity to the group’s persona; F*@K You Lucy – maybe needless to say – is like hearing a rant from every half-drunk just-broke-up ex-boyfriend you’d wish would, like, grow up.

The first Atmosphere track I heard was Overcast’s Scapegoat. Obvious stuff, but still clever in its presentation of its subject matter, and indicative of Slug’s skills. Definitely caught my ear. I didn’t get around to picking up an album until much later, though, because I was “interrupted” by working at a music store at which we sold boatloads of God Loves Ugly, and had it praised rather continuously to me as some brilliant underground hip-hop jive. Oh, hey, it’s the Scapegoat group, and I’d get the chance to hear the album, and couldn’t much get past the opening tracks outlined above. Slug and Ant lean more on a battle persona at points during the album, this section included, and that can all be fine and good but I’m not sure I’d praise it as being necessarily inventive. I was put off of Atmosphere for a long while as a result.

…But I do wish I’d given the rest of the album a chance, because it very much turns around after that, definitely maintaining some of the intended rawness and crassness, but also looking forward to the very strong Seven’s Travels, and capturing a specific point in the group’s trajectory in which relative success had been achieved, and now there was a question of what to do with it. We get some typically offhand but entertaining narratives – a la Hair – and some other surface-level stuff like Vampires that’s then elevated by how slickly Slug delivers his lines, all of this mapped to Ant finding some really grooving beats that are playful or soulful, and enhanced just so. Maybe most importantly, God Loves Ugly is pretty concise: tracks get in, lay down their rhymes and vibes, and get out; later Atmosphere efforts would allow for indulgences that create some pretty slow sections on their albums, but once past the forced bravado of the openers, the disc flies – all head-bobbing beats, and a lot of inward-gazing tracks. (Though fear not, there’s still a good handful of dick and ejaculate references, because we’re not fully grown up yet.)