The Minneapolis-based rap group Atmosphere has now existed, unbelievably enough, for a quarter century, dating back to its original formation in 1989, a tenure that has seen the release of six full studio albums amid numerous other recordings.
February 13 in Mankato marked the opening night of Atmosphere’s annual “Welcome to Minnesota” tour. This year, the multi-act production tour brought them from Mankato to Duluth, then Rochester, Fargo, and back home to First Avenue in Minneapolis, their final show on the tour.
Atmosphere surveyed a number of crowd-pleasers including “God Loves Ugly”, “Puppets”, and “Trying to Find a Balance”, perhaps their most well known track. They also performed their 2003 local anthem, “Say Shh”, the band’s homage to the Midwest. On this night, Sean Daley (better known as Slug) replaced his “If I had to move anywhere, I’d move to Chicago” line with “I’d move to Mankato.” The crowd exploded (myself included), a common occurrence for Daley on this locally based tour.
Atmosphere’s influence on Minnesota music is also reflected back on the group, informing many of their artistic choices. I have yet to see them perform outside my home state, but have a hard time visualizing a New York, California, or Missouri crowd becoming quite as excited over “Say Shh”, or other Twin Cities-related tracks (Summer Song, BlameGame).
I brought the idea up with Daley in a conversation we had the following morning.
“I don’t want to say we’re giving back, because that just sounds corny, and it’s still a 20-dollar ticket charge,” Daley said when asked about the close link between his band and fans in the Upper Midwest. “Now that it’s become an annual tradition, we look forward to it.”
At Mankato’s Verizon Center, Atmosphere was joined by longtime Rhymesayers family member Toki Wright, along with label newbie Dem Atlas. Their major musical differences (Dem Atlas with an alternative rock/rap style and Toki Wright’s classic style of hip hop) set the stage perfectly for the headlining act, which has gone through nearly as many lineup changes as they have albums.
For their 2011 “The Family Sign” album & tour, for example, Atmosphere were joined by Nate Collins on guitar and Erick Anderson on keys. This time out, Daley is joined by longtime Atmosphere collaborator and DJ Anthony Davis (Ant), along with a second DJ, Plain Ole Bill.
“We go through phases, and the band was a growth and a phase,” adds Daley. “But now, we’re kind of back to trying to put it to a four-turntables-and-a-microphone kind of thing.”
In 2003, I was a 12-year-old fan of the Rhymesayers movement, rapping along to songs that a 10-year-old kid from the suburbs had no business singing along with.
When told this, Daley simply responds, “Oh, that makes me feel old.”
The Welcome to MN Tour is done now, but with reports of a new album with a May release date surfacing, odds are we’ll be seeing more of Slug, Ant, and company in the near future. In any case, there is no doubt of Atmosphere’s impact on hip-hop music, or the Minnesota music scene. Staying true to his roots and his music continues to drive Daley 25 years into his career.
“Someday they’re going to fire me,” he adds. “I’m going to lose this job. When I do, I want it to be because I did it my way. I don’t want it to be because I tried something that management wanted me to try, or that the audience wanted me to do that I failed at. I’d rather it be because I failed at being me.”