Review Summary: The word "Introspective" is thrown around a lot these days...
1997 was a tragic year for hip-hop. The loss of legend Biggie Smalls, only seven months after fellow legend Tupac Shakur in 1996, sent shockwaves throughout the nation, bringing the East Coast-West Coast rivalry to a head. But, as all this occurred, a three-man group made up of lyricists Sean "Slug" Daley and Derek "Spawn" Turner, along with producer Anthony "Ant" Davis formed in the frigid twin cities of Minnesota. They called themselves "Atmosphere"
The result of this formation would be one of the most important EP's in the underground hip-hop scene. It really helped spark Rhymesayers Entertainment, which would grow to be one of the biggest underground hip-hop labels of all time. Also, it helped launch Atmosphere to new heights. While Spawn would eventually leave the group, the duo of Slug and Ant became a pillar in the underground, and remain so today.
The background behind this EP is certainly strong, but what exactly is on this thing, from a musical standpoint?
The ghastly, bone-chilling instrumentals put together by Ant on songs such as "Scapegoat", "The Outernet", and "Primer" are as murky, ominous, and cold as Minnesota itself. Alternatively, the beats on "Sound Is Vibration" and "God's Bathroom Floor" are blissful as harps and horns make an almost divine appearance, all while retaining the predominantly murky texture.
The beats are so murky, in fact, some of them sound like they were recorded through a 90's cell phone. But, that adds to the "atmosphere", so to say. (Lord, I'm horrible). It makes the experience more human, more personal, which is the perfect combination for the lyrics on this EP.
Lyrically, it is rare you'll find someone as self-aware and self-examining as Slug. The word "Introspective" is thrown around a lot these days, but when used to describe Slug, there may not be a better word. He breaks down everything around him, simultaneously breaking down his own thoughts in the process. Take the classic cut "Scapegoat", in which Slug lists every single one of his issues in his life, blaming those issues on his current situation.
"It stretches for as far as the eye can see,
It's reality, f**k it, it's anything but me"
When he drops this line, it becomes apparent that he's speaking of the blame game, which is blaming everything/everyone but yourself for your own problems. Two other great examples of Slug's lyricism come from the crown jewel of the album: "God's Bathroom Floor".
"From a head full of pressure rest the senses that I clutch,
Made a date with divinity, but she wouldn't let me f**k"
"Tell Jacob Miles to keep it wild style, I'll smile,
And check the floor, God's got nice tile"
From the first line, it seems that Slug has had a near death experience, and the imagery of a bathroom floor alludes to an overdose. The second line pleas his son, Jacob, to keep it real. Since he almost died, he almost reached heaven, but not quite. Instead, for a short time, he was left on God's bathroom floor, which obviously has nice tile.
Slug certainly is an impressive lyricist, but he's not the only one to be found on this EP. Spawn, Slug's high school pal, makes an impressive duo with Slug on the song "Multiples", and holds his own with a nice verse in "Sound Is Vibration". He was featured more prominently on the LP "Overcast!", but still finds his time to shine on this EP.
All of this makes this EP one of the most important in the underground hip-hop scene, but also an important EP in general hip-hop history. In hindsight, after the tumultuous time of hip-hop in 1997, hip-hop had to re-discover it's identity, and this EP certainly helped. As the sample at the end of "Brief Description" says:
"I am now going to subject myself to a rigorous test in order to find out what I really am. I must find out what I am before I die."