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Atmosphere's MC, Slug, was raised on hip-hop, growing up in one of North Minneapolis' tougher neighborhoods. He has a mixed heritage, but in his heart he's true-blue hip-hop. He didn't even hear his first indie rock music until his mid-20s. His raps are peculiar in a genre built on posturing and MC battles for their honest, self-deprecating nature.

The latest full-length from Atmosphere (Slug and producer Ant), You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having, is some of the duo's crispest material to date, with a sonic palette that ranges from the gospel-fueled "Get Fly" to the haunting rumble of "Panic Attack" and a lyrical approach that, whether you know it or not, is cohesive.

"I managed to actually focus on some of that stuff, the good and the bad, and make another thing that I refer to as a concept album, even if nobody else gets it," says Slug by phone between loads of laundry. "The funny thing is I feel like everything I've ever made is a concept album, though you can't really go on the record saying that because then people look for a Yes album."

Slug suggests that the lack of white rappers other than Eminem making the charts (even as the underground grows overcrowded with them) is a product of the way underground rappers marginalize themselves lyrically.

"Ten years ago the people making rap were the same kids everybody else called the masters. You didn't have these people coming from a place where they were able to take seven years to stake out their identity while their parents paid their college tuition," he says. "These white guys aren't rapping about anything the mainstream wants to hear. Em is still rapping from the place of the masses, where all these other rap white guys are all these guys that found themselves. Those guys determine their identity by what they hate, and Em – like the masses – determine their identity out of what they like."

"I'm sorry," Slug says. "I don't mean to get heady in a short piece."

Meanwhile, Atmosphere disembarks for the first time on Slug's own Rhymesayers label instead of Epitaph, who handled the last album.

"I'm still a ho but I'm my own pimp," Slug says of his financial and creative independence from the record business. "You don't feel so dirty and you're more aware why you don't control certain parts `of the business`. Instead of like, 'Oh, it ain't fair,' it's more like, 'Oh, yeah, I won't do that.'"

with P.O.S.,
Saturday, Oct. 22
The Social Pavilion

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