Atmosphere Rap Incubator

Atmosphere Rap Incubator
Photo: Dan Monick
As Atmosphere recorded their seventh studio album, Fishing Blues, the pair of Minneapolis rappers didn't use a glamorous studio or engage in any typical rock star debauchery. There was, however, plenty of star power to mark the occasion. While Atmosphere MC Slug sat with his laptop on his living room couch, he could listen to and hear fellow Minnesota MC deM atlaS working on his own album in the guest room. Fellow alt-rap hero Brother Ali, meanwhile, was in the basement tinkering with his own LP while Atmosphere producer Ant made his rounds between all three, as the beatsmith for each of their separate projects.
"We were in this rap incubator," Slug explains. And although atlaS is only featured on one new Fishing Blues track, "Next to You," and Ali isn't featured at all, it was still fun for the trio to be working on their separate projects within spitting distance of each other, as it were.
"I'd get Ali to listen to what I was working on, and feel a tinge of embarrassment, then wonder 'Why do I feel weird about that? I should dig into that feeling even more,'" Slug says of the environment that allowed him to be vulnerable and thrive outside his comfort zone.
Slug also had plenty of kinship with the artists that weren't present for the sessions, but sent in their guest verses, including Aesop Rock, I.B.E. and the Grouch. But the album's most show-stopping features come from eccentric fan favourites DOOM and Kool Keith, both of whom appear on "When the Lights Go Out."
The ominous, plodding instrumental that Ant crafted for the song reminded Slug of Atmosphere's early, raw cuts from the '90s. He gave his friend Evidence, of lauded hip-hop outfit Dilated Peoples, a preliminary listen, which prompted Evidence to offhandedly suggest that veteran MC Kool Keith would be an ideal fit. After Keith agreed, Ant said DOOM would be perfect to up the ante of eccentricity.
It was an exhilarating collaboration for Slug. "These are the two dudes I grew up on," he says. "When Daniel Dumile became DOOM, it was the most genius shit that ever happened to rap. And Kool Keith has continued to evolve and live ten lives in this art form. To be friends with them alone is validating, but to get them both on a song together felt like a real coup."
It wasn't just artistic connections that have renewed Atmosphere's enthusiasm, but the personal ones as well — this album marks Ant's return from California to Minneapolis so the duo could work in person, which was not the case for their prior three albums. That kinship is also one of the reasons why the new album is called Fishing Blues. "What we do for a living is similar to fishing," Slug explains. "We do it for sustenance, to provide for our families, but it's also become a recreational sport for us. It's meditative, and centres me and allows me to spend time with friends like Ant."