It’s always a strong exercise to reflect back on why I originally became interested in independent hip-hop. Over the years, this fascination with a once slightly obscure art form can trace its roots back to one act. Indie hip-hop pioneers Atmosphere have always been a group who’ve I’ve respected not only for lyricism, but for their ever evolving production. Front-man emcee Slug will always remain as one of my favorite emcees of all-time and is quite possibly the most underrated rapper to touch a microphone.

On May 6th, Atmosphere released their seventh full length album Southsiders. For the most part, this is pretty decent record. The deluxe version has 20 original songs from the Minneapolis band. Compared to past projects, it’s a little more difficult to connect to the story lines on the songs. Often times when Slug raps, you feel as though you are right there with him as he tells the detailed story in sort of a film-narration like manor. This is not the case on Southsiders, as the lyrics and punchlines often become too ambiguous.

The title track is one of the more noteworthy songs because of its energy.  Southsiders as a whole is very hook heavy. This isn’t a necessarily bad thing however, and Slug manages to stay above water when it comes to this. The way songs are crafted together, it almost sounds like listening to a modern-day blues/hip-hop fusion project. There is an interesting balance of darker and vibrant instrumentals. In recent years, Atmosphere has made the transition to live instrumentation not only on tour but on records as well. So fans of bands like The Roots would find Atmosphere as a familiar fit.

One song that stands out is “Flicker”. I love the melodic chorus, but weather it’s a guest appearance or a sample, I don’t know. The song “Mrs. Interpret” takes me back to the classic God Loves Ugly era of Atmosphere. “My Lady Got Two Men”, is one of the few songs where the story puts you in the moment. Other songs that stand out are the bonus tracks “I Don’t Need No Fancy Shit”, “Hell”, and “Idiot”. Also the lead singles “Bitter” and “Kanye West.”

When it’s all said and done, Southsiders is a solid album. But is Slug as beast of a lyricist as he’s been on earlier projects? Simply inaccurate! Southsiders is a significant improvement from 2011’s The Family Sign, Lord knows I did not like that album. The production on the new record is exceptional. Atmosphere albums generally never feature guest appearances, but it would’ve been a very pleasant surprise to see one on here. Over all, I did enjoy Southsiders, but the handful of shortcomings leave me with no choice but to give a modest 3.5/5 flies. Please give Southsiders a listen and comment what you think of it.

Check out the video for “Kanye West.”:

Southsiders is available now!