Atmosphere – Overcast!

4 out of 5

Label: Rhymesayers

Produced by: Ant

Ah, simpler times, when Atmosphere could drop an album almost completely filled with battle tracks, and Ant’s beats had a raw crispness to them.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I have tons of respect for the Atmosphere crew, but they’ve never delivered the albums I’ve returned to the most out of the Rhymesayers’ output.  Slug’s off-the-cuff flow is delightful, but as he’s settled into his flow over the years, it makes the occasional sloppiness of his rhymes stick out, and bundled with his limited narrational focuses of girls and weed, I’ve often preferred his stylings as a guest than as the lead.  Ant’s endless takes on classic, soulful beats are reliably toe-tapping, but he’s grown similarly skilled with his production to carve off a lot of depth and surprise.  These dudes are, by no means, coasting, they just became professionals really dang quick, and because they hit their groove pretty often over their expansive albums (generally 60+ minutes) and catalogue (10 albums and growing!), if that particular groove doesn’t excite you – guilty – then it creates a gap where you recognize the skills and talent but don’t really seek it out.

But dial it back to 1997, when the RSE crew was just getting started and everything was very much focused around Minneapolis.  Girls and partying still abounded, but so did battles with friends, and just having a good time, and Overcast! captures all of that extremely well.  There’s room for some messaging – notably on the eternally cutting Scapegoat – but even when Slug and one-time MC Spawn mix in some interesting imagery or stories, as on the chorus of Cuando Limpia el Humo, or WND, they still have to get back to talking about their rhymin’ skills.  And while I might knock some albums for sticking to this too much – and it is what keeps this from really hitting a top rank – because there’s so much energy in the presentation, it helps to keep you enthused and engaged.  Ant adds a lot of minor flourishes to his hooks that sink in after a few spins; Spawn may not have the same creativity or smoothness of Slug, but he’s an excellent counterpart to his partner MC, raising in intensity at the end of his deliveries where Slug tends to trail off, juxtaposing one another.  But yeah, you can tell that Slug is a standout here: even when he’s just spinning words around to make a rhyme, he’s got this sense of rhythm and slightly slacker delivery that makes every one of his words land.

Atmosphere’s stories would get sharper; their beats would get richer.  But the youthfulness of Overcast!, backed up by already clear skills, makes it forever refreshing, and really amplifies how cool it would’ve been to have seen the RSE scene gearing up way back when.