Sweet post-holiday stocking stuffer or iPod space waster? That should be the only relevant question when discussing a free 13-song "album" from the established rap statesmen of Atmosphere. (It's available on their label's website at www.rhymesayers.com/atmosphere.) Even if it sucks, it's costing you only the time it takes to skip through each track in frustration. But look deeper: Does the latest offering reveal anything about our beloved duo and its future growth?
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Peaking around the time of You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having, the combination of Slug's easy-target tirades and idiosyncratic slice-of-life verbiage with Ant's feel-good soul breaks once felt revelatory; now it's just stale. The formula: beats based on layers of soulful and/or jazzy horns and vocals, dub-influenced fat bass lines, and boom-bappy but uninspired drums, with flourishes of classic breakbeats lurking around every corner to give the appearance of dynamism. Mixed into this is hipster mockery and an Everyman's wit with criticisms of, ironically, their core listeners (who happen to be the easiest targets: suburban poseurs, living-with-Mom playboys, wannabe MCs, and skank groupies). The illusion of complexity crumbles under Ant's dusty soul loops and Slug's harshly enunciated ABAB rhyme structures. The most glaring example is the posse-cut "Crewed Up," where Ant's laid-back groove allows the seven local guesters — even relative unknowns like St. Paul Slim and YZ — to steal the show from Slug. Although these tracks contain, at the very least, an infectious swagger and the same wry humor we've all come to love (like requesting a gym where Slug can "smoke up in there" while working out), the tired messages of songs like "That's Not Beef, That's Pork" reveal what is quickly becoming reality: The once-bright style Atmosphere became famous for is so established and well-tread that it has become the status quo against which the group once rebelled so infectiously.