Minneapolis’s premier hip-hop duo contemplates the future on Whenever
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
When asked by his record label when his group — Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere — would be releasing a new album, rapper/vocalist Slug (Sean Daley) allegedly replied, “I don’t know, whenever.”
Thus, Atmosphere’s eighth studio album, Whenever, surprised-dropped on their own independent underground hip-hop record label Rhymesayers on Dec. 13, 2019 without any sort of standard promotion.
Slug and his other half — acclaimed DJ/producer Ant (Anthony Davis) — have created 12 poignant tracks with a 43-minute runtime that breathes happy melodies and old school beats, while the optimistic lyrics compliment the mood, making it easy to soak it all in.
The laid-back tone of the record is apparent right from the get-go with opener “Bde Maka Ska.” Decorated with Slug’s introspective lyrics and Ant’s twinkling, high-pitched piano accents and emotive, twangy-sampled guitar melodies — which sound as if they could’ve been lifted straight off an early Pink Floyd album — is an excellent start to the album.
One of the most infectious tracks on the album is third track “Postal Lady,” consisting of a slinky rhythm with an infectious R&B-ish chorus. It’s a playful ode to life with a shout out to the “postal lady” delivering a package to his house.
From the heavy basslines and Luther Vandross-esque melodies of “Love Each Other” to the pulsating “Romance” to the heartfelt “The Hands of Time,” Slug’s relationship-laden emotions seem to be worn on his sleeve. Guest vocalists are prominently featured on a few tracks including Musab & Muja Messiah on “Dearly Beloved,” Gifted Gab, Murs and Haphduzn on the title track and Nikki Jean on “Lovely,” giving each track a distinctive and dynamic flavor.
Introspective album closer “The Ceiling,” consisting of lyrics about battling time and the uncertainty of the future, is the perfect ending to the album. Even Whenever’s cover art manages to capture an inescapable feeling of not knowing if the plane is landing, getting ready to take off, or something or some form or another looking down from above. Atmosphere purposely leaves it to the interpretation of their audience to what it means to them.
Ultimately, a new Atmosphere album is always a cause for celebration… something good always comes from it. And Whenever is no exception.