all photos by author.
As I walked down the sidewalk in front of the 9:30 Club towards the box office on Thursday afternoon, I thought I spotted a familiar face lingering amongst the crowd of fans lined up outside.
Yep, it was the Minnesota rapper and leader of Atmosphere decked out in a Ben’s Chili Bowl t-shirt casually talking to fans. I picked up my ticket and headed to the back of the line and patiently waited as Slug granted every autograph request and photo op with his fans.
As the line got shorter, one of the two guys standing in front of me fumbled for something for Slug to sign.
“Uhh…can you sign my pack of Kool’s?”
“Aw, come on…gross, Kool’s?,” Slug replied with a smile as he scribbled his name down on the carton.
I’ve occasionally listened to Atmosphere over the years and knew of the rabid fan base that Slug had gained since dropping their initial album “Overcast!” in 1997. I was also aware of the kind and humble nature of Slug and I was happy to see that all the good things that I’ve read about him appeared to be true. I’ve been to my fair share of concerts and I’ve never seen anyone stand outside and talk to fans the way he did. No VIP special meet and greets here, every fan got a little face time with Slug.
Atmosphere is currently headlining the Rhymesayers Entertainment “Family Tour” which also features labelmates Blueprint, Grieves with Budo, Sab the Artist and DJ Abilities. Doors were slated to open at 5PM for an early show at the 9:30 Club on Thursday evening.
Upon entering 9:30, the crowd was greeted by the thunderous bass and scratching techniques of DJ Abilities. Mixing everything from “Paul Revere” by the Beastie Boys to “Bombs Over Baghdad” by Outkast, DJ Abilities warmed up the crowd for the first act of the evening, Sab the Artist who brought an old school flavor of hip-hop to the stage. Sounding like something you’d hear at a mid 80′s RUN DMC show, Sab also incorporates a jazz and electronic influences into his music for an eclectic blend. With songs titled “Looking at girls,” and “Just have fun,” his topics are mostly innocent and accessible to people of all ages.
Next up on the bill was Grieves and Budo, a two man show from Seattle. Grieves took the stage with his hat pulled down low over his eyes and with his small frame and slender build he looked like a kid that just stepped off a skateboard more than a rapper. Budo stayed behind the turntable scratching records, controlling the beats, playing guitar and trumpet as well. Throughout their set, Grieves worked the stage like a madman, pacing frantically back and forth and pretty soon I forgot about the appearance and was enjoying the music. The highlight of Grieves and Budo’s set was “Lightspeed,” a melodic song with introspective rhymes about growing up too fast.
DJ Abilities took the stage again to keep the crowd warm mixing Metallica, Method Man and Redman and Dead Prez. The Ohio based rapper and producer Blueprint came on, accompanied by a guitarist. Blueprint was probably the most pleasant surprise of the evening as he displayed lyrical dexterity in addition to…a keytar! Not knowing what to expect when I saw Blueprint pick the keytar up, he unleashed an blazing electric guitar sound from it to close out one of his songs. It was one of the highlights of the evening as there was a wide range of talents on display that were backing up all the rappers on the bill. Blueprint just released his album “Adventures in Counter-Culture,” which I picked up and have been able to listen through a few times. If you like your hip hop with jazz and electronic influences with socially conscious lyrics, you should check it out.
Atmosphere took the stage to close the show and I have to say it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in quite awhile. Still wearing the Ben’s Chili Bowl shirt he was sporting outside while greeting fans a few hours before, Slug threw down for over an hour and brought the house down. If you’ve been to enough concerts you can tell when artists are mailing it in and when they’re giving it their best and truly connecting with fans. And with a lyrical uppercut to your jaw, Slug connects.
There was no shortage of hands up in the air throughout the set as Slug ripped through favorites such as “Bird Sings Why The Caged I Know,” and “Guns and Cigarettes” but the highlight was the performance of “Last to Say” off the most recent album “The Family Sign”. A song that deals with the heavy topic of domestic violence, Slug guided the crowd through a soft call and response of the songs chorus to close the song out.
And that was part of the magic of the night. Slug can weave effortlessly through clever punchline lyrics one minute and paint a vivid picture of abuse and heartbreak the next. DJ Ant was great but for me one of the best parts of the show was the guitar work of Nate Collis. Collis was able to bring a various textures to the songs, helping Slug convey the feelings behind his lyrics. However he never stole the spotlight, save for a solo with middle-eastern influences that left a haunting and harrowing feeling in 9:30.
After not knowing what to expect, it was truly a great night. If you ever have an opportunity to see Atmosphere and you’re a hip hop fan, don’t miss it!