A friend of mine offered me a free ticket to the Atmosphere show last Sunday at First Avenue, a trip down memory lane I thought. What a joke. The Indy Rock band that has usurped the namesake of Minneapolis hip-hop over the last decade is nothing more and nothing less than a cruel joke.
I recall the day fondly, I was home for the holidays scrounging in every record store crate in town for some goodies to bring back to Bozeman, Montana. On my list of must haves were a series of Headshots mix-tapes performed by the members of the Rhymesayers collective. This is back in the day when the Root Cellar record store was an excellent place to find that one missing gem in your collection, when Cheapo's in St. Paul would frequently receive truckloads of records from the now grown up yuppies that had laid stake on the Mac-Groveland neighborhood, when Northern Lights in Downtown Minneapolis had just gone under, and Let It Be was the big dog, before there was a Fifth Element, and before there was a bonafied Minneapolis hip-hop scene. Soul Asylum had hit their pinnacle a few years earlier (good riddance), Prince was in hiding, Dillinger 4 were still playing crusty dive bars, and Minneapolis was in this weird post-grunge, Rave revival, Industrial phase. It was scary and I was glad that I lived in one of the most remote parts of the country. That said, I had heard a couple of the Headshots mix-tapes and immediately fell in love with Ant's production skills, the mic skills of Slug, Spawn, and Beyond (now Musab), and the vibe that was beginning to peak from under the surface in the Tundra.
That cold day in Minneapolis a friend that I was visiting brought me over to Electric Fetus to meet Sean Daley, a skinny pocked face guy a couple of years my Senior. He wasn't working, but a nice guy at the checkout desk said he would call him for me. It turned out that Sean A.K.A. Slug lived right down the street in the Stevens Square apartments, and he was nice enough to let me stop by to check out some of the new music he and his group Atmosphere were making. I knocked on the door and waited patiently. At the time I was the host KGLT's Beatdown radio program in Bozeman, Montana, and I had actually spoken to Slug a couple times prior trying to get him to send me some of the group's vinyl singles that he had just begun pressing (for the Overcast! album). Sean opened the door and invited me upstairs to his apartment. I commented on the number of cats I had seen in Minneapolis that day, and he replied that "Minneapolis is an apartment city, and nobody can have dogs", that made sense until he opened the door to his apartment and the sharp odor of kitty litter hit me in the face like a ton of bricks. I hate cats. Sean was a nice guy and as he searched his apartment for Scribble Jam video that he wanted to show me, I sat on the couch and smoked a cigarette. People came and went from the apartment while I sat there, rappers on the come-up, girlfriends, roommates etc. After about an hour of shooting the shit with El Sluggo he handed me a plastic bag filled with a few singles from the yet to be released Overcast! album, a Headshots mix-tape, and a list of hip-hop groups that he really enjoyed from his last trip to the West Coast. I shook his hand and said I would keep in contact as I walked myself out. This interaction would continue over the next couple of years, everytime I visited the Twin Cities. I held the utmost respect for the guy, and I still think he's in this biz for the right reasons, but something has gone terribly wrong in the last year or so.
Fast Forward to Sunday, May 1st. My friend Gini and I were upstairs at the all-ages Atmosphere show, imbibing and making fun of the teenage groupie hoochie that enveloped the main floor. The place smelled like Axe cologne and sweaty private parts, it was nauseating. After a great set by Grayskul, and an O.K. set by Doomtree's finest, P.O.S., Slug finally took the stage with his new band in tow. Over the next 45 minutes I felt betrayed, angry, and clouded by a subtle disbelief. What in the hell had become of Minnesota Hip-Hop! This wasn't rap music, this was a sad adult contemporary version of an older beta version of Atmosphere. An Emo epic, with wilting sob stories, and panned out "white funk" instrumentals. Where was Mr. Dibbs and his platter of bunker busting bomb beats? Where was the credibility? Where in God's name was the bass? Is this supposed to be dubbed hip-hop music anymore? I mean I'm not one to rely on genre titles, but this sounded more Cities 97 than Tha Break a Dawn.
I went home later that evening and collapsed onto my couch and listed to 3 entire Gang Starr albums from front to back before falling into a disturbed sleep.