November 17th, 2016 at House of Blues Boston
By: Amar Fernald
Atmosphere is still at it; the duo has been putting out albums as long as I’ve been alive and over those nineteen years, they’ve masterfully evolved their sound to adapt to the ever changing world of rap, while maintaining the core of their musical identity.
On November 17th, the hip-hop heroes of Minneapolis made a stop at the House of Blues Boston as part of their Freshwater Fly Fishermen Tour for their latest record, “Fishing Blues”. Fellow Rhymesayers rapper deM atlaS wasted no time getting things started, crashing onto the stage behind the melodic beats of MF Doom as people streamed into the gradually filling venue. He displayed an impressive range of musical ability between his lyrically complex, rapid fire raps and his slower, gospel like singing á la Chance the Rapper.
Next up was veteran rapper Brother Ali, also a member of Rhymesayers Entertainment – the hip-hop record label/collective co-founded by the members of Atmosphere. With a steady flow over thumping bass, Ali preached against racial inequality and the current state of the United States government. His influential 2007 release “Uncle Sam Goddamn”, a scathing disparagement of corporate America and its politics, had a newfound relevance in the wake of the election, and fostered a passionate sing along to the chorus “Welcome to the United Snakes / Land of the thief, home of the slave” from the loyal, intoxicated fans.
A long-time community activist, Ali incorporates social justice themes into much of his music. In between songs, he encouraged us to celebrate our humanity through music and ended on a more hopeful note with perhaps his most popular song, “Forest Whitaker” – a 2003 release about being oneself and not letting what others say get to you.
As the final chorus “YOU AIN’T GOTTA LOVE ME!” faded out, the room felt ready to explode in anticipation of the main act. Crouching in the photo pit, I was nearly deafened by the audience’s chanting for their champions to emerge.
In a flash, Ant, the producer/DJ of Atmosphere, and Slug, the rapping half, burst onto stage with their hit “Like a Fire” from Fishing Blues. The crowd roared with approval as Slug effortlessly tore through the other hot tracks off the new album, including “Seismic Waves” and “Pure Evil”. The rest of the night was as much of a sing along as it was a performance. The now 44-year-old star played classics that everyone seemed to know the lyrics to, including “GodLovesUgly”, “Happy Mess”, “God’s Bathroom Floor” and “Yesterday”. Perhaps the craziest part of the set was when the entire crowd had their middle fingers raised in the air, singing along to the 2001 track “Fuck You Lucy”. Immediately after the song ended, Slug started rapping the beginning to “The Woman with the Tattooed Hands” without any music. Everyone joined in, the beat dropped, and we “made party” – as Slug had made it clear that was the goal of the night.
Slug’s lyrics offer stinging social commentary to the careful listener, while his stage presence combined with Ant’s unique beats allowed us to cut loose and enjoy ourselves. The duo seems to have figured out a recipe for good, meaningful music a while ago, and have been working to make it better ever since. Songs that make us think and dance at the same time ought to be appreciated, so if you haven’t checked out Atmosphere, make sure you give them a listen (my personal favorite of theirs is “The Best Day”). They won’t be back in Boston anytime soon, but at the end of his set Brother Ali announced a new album and tour – with a stop in Boston – aimed for early 2017, so be sure to keep your ears open.