“When I start up the motor, it still turns over– but nowadays, a little bit slower.” That line from “Virgo,” on Atmosphere’s 11th studio album, Mi Vida Local, is a good way to describe an album that’s unlike most of the hip-hop you’ll hear this year.

Every track on the album, starting with opener and first single “Jerome,” is produced on top of influences of blues, funk and folk-rock. But even that doesn’t really do justice to what’s happening. On “Virgo,” for example, there’s a constant progression of acoustic strings and finger-picking. Even that is not uncommon in hip-hop, but it’s usually chopped, clipped and looped tightly enough to constitute a riff. These tracks feel more like freeform jams. The strings don’t stop and loop but progress and wander. The album has more in common with producer Party Supplies and what he does on Action Bronson’s Blue Chips series or Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ 100% Colombian. While there is no mistaking it for a rock album and the raps remain on beat, this is Sunday morning making bacon music — easy listening and deeply groovy, its loops not easily discernible because the listener is so busy unpacking rapper Slug’s heartfelt lyricism.

Mi Vida Local features none of the common hip-hop tropes. The Minneapolis duo of Slug (Sean Daley) and producer Ant (Anthony Davis) make no references to drugs or gang violence and don’t throw shade on other rappers. This is an album where you find honesty, vulnerability and a song about how it feels to reach maturity in the modern world. The raciest song on the album is not a track about the conquest of as many women as possible but rather the conquest of time, trying to steal away long enough for some child-free moment with your partner to “gimmie some trim”. “I wanna make sex noises with you…I wanna chase you, catch you and bite your lips/ but I’m afraid to — don’t wanna traumatize the kids”.

By itself, Slug’s cadence and style of flow is unremarkable. There are certainly styles of hip-hop voices which are instantly recognizable and make you chuckle at the delivery of highly impactful punchlines and mic drop moments. But his is not one of those. Slug is reliable, relatable, clear and easy. The combination of Slug’s original approach to writing and Ant’s fantastic production makes the lack of stylistic innovation almost irrelevant. Not every hip-hop record needs to use the same old mechanics or raise the bar on odd vocal antics. Slug even sings many of the hooks himself, and some of the album’s strongest moments come when he drops a little bit of melody. Due to the strength of the keys and psychedelic instrumentation, any melody seems to slide right into the pocket taking the songs from mere hip-hop to something more.

The few guest appearances on Mi Vida Local include The Dynospectrum, Cashinova, The Lioness and Dem Atlas. Their verses are fairly limited, serving more as a change from Atmosphere’s fairly consistent approach. These contributions are less about showing cred or industry connections and more about inviting in artists who have something to offer.

Rhymesayers is an unusual label, and its roster in recent years has become a favorite often overlooked because of that. The label has focused on such artists as Prof, who dabble in everything from country crooning to hard rock-rap party anthems; the legendary MF DOOM, credited with some of the most innovative and groundbreaking hip-hop in recent years; and rising star Grieves, whose single “What it Do” would fit well on Mi Vida Local. If you’ve been overlooking them at all, the release of this record is a signal that it’s time to pay attention. Atmosphere’s latest brings a note of positivity and hope in a turbulent time. This is a record for people who truly appreciate great rhymes, and top notch production. Put this on during that long night drive. Put this on while making dinner. Put this on at the summertime BBQ. Put this on anywhere, and undoubtedly someone will ask you who this is so they can put it on too. It’ll spread that way because that’s what great records do–and this is one of the year’s best.

One Comment

  1. Jack Dee

    October 31, 2018 at 9:57 am

    Wait, did you just say his flow was unremarkable and his voice/style not instantly recognizable? Man, if that is the case these days, it’s a new thing, and I assure you, would only be the result of so many biting his style.


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