Ever since Atmosphere's Ford One and Ford Two EPs were released in 2000, rapper Sean "Slug" Daley has enjoyed a surprisingly large female following in sharp contrast to the droll, poorly dressed twentysomething youth at most indie rap shows. The presence of so many women around him has changed his music, too, much as they caused the commercial rap industry to evolve from a rowdy marketplace for gangsters to brag about shooting enemies and dealing drugs into a cavalcade of thugs aspiring to land sex-charged club songs on MTV's playlist. Yet neither the EPs nor the full-length Lucy Ford that followed a year later were specifically about Lucy Ford, per se, but about the effects a bad relationship can have on a man: loneliness; a wandering, troubled mind; suicide.

Now that Slug's an underground hip-hop mack, however, Atmosphere concentrates almost exclusively on his adventures, or "travels," with women. On last year's God Loves Ugly, he almost seemed contemptuous of them, referring to one on the darkly sensuous "Modern Man's Hustle" as a "sexy little bitch." The new Seven's Travels, a compendium of encounters from his several international concert tours, finds him making peace with the opposite sex; it is more worldly than weary, lacking Lucy Ford's pathos and veiled anger. Maybe he realized, as he says on "Apple," that "just because you're an MC doesn't mean that you get to be an asshole."

As his musical partner and collaborator, Ant weaves together nice little loops for Slug to rap over. But he mostly stays in the shadows, mixing Slug's vocals high enough so the beat usually fades into the background. The duo's chemistry works best on numbers like "Gotta Lotta Walls" and "National Disgrace," full-fledged songs that are more than mere musical platforms for Slug's shaggy-dog punditry. Seven's Travels is their most consistent album, but it lacks a standout track on the scale of "The Abusing of the Rib" or "Nothing But Sunshine," to name two underground classics Slug has penned over the past several years. It simply floats along his trajectory, neither upsetting nor overwhelming his word flow.

Then again Slug is less super rapper than compelling personality. You don't listen to his music, judging each track carefully, as much as you listen to him as he converses with you; and you take it all in, from his amazing, dead-on observations to his callous, rambling tangents. If Seven's Travels is any indicator, he's relatively content and ready for that closeup major publications have been promising him ever since one of the Osbournes appeared on the cover of People magazine with an Atmosphere patch. Whether the world is ready for him or not is anyone's guess.

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Mosi Reeves
Contact: Mosi Reeves