Atmosphere | The Family Sign

I recognize that I am a bit late on this one, reviewing an album that was released much earlier this year when we are at the tail end of 2011.  Perhaps some context will justify it though.  My brother-in-law is a trusted set of ears that I use as a filter for what music I am willing to invest in, especially in the indie scene.  He was less than impressed by The Family Sign (not that he did not like it, but…), and both being long time Atmosphere fans, I allowed that to paint my understanding of the groups most recent release.  About a month ago or so, I was just exploring music and came across video coverage of Atmosphere’s set at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.  The video coverage of The Last To Say brought me to tears, and brought me to the realization that I need to give this album a good listenin’ to.

When Life Gives You Lemons… is Atmosphere’s previous LP and was the most musically progressive of the group’s albums to date.  But with the release of The Family Sign, Atmosphere took their musicality to the next level.  With the growth of the Atmosphere family from DJ – Ant and emcee – Slug, to the aforementioned plus long time tour mates Nate “the guitar man” Collins (guitar) and Erick Anderson (keys), there has been a distinct shift in Atmosphere’s “sound”.  When Life Gives You Lemons… serves as an excellent bridge from Ant’s previous, sample heavy production (which is beautiful and loved/respected), to the band’s indie rock/hip hop/ soulful vibe on The Family Sign.  The new sound brings out another side of Slug, which is nice.

The title of the album gives the album a family-centric vibe, and fittingly, the album feels like an inside look at the family that  is RhymeSayers.  Haunting guitars and vocals lure the listener in to the album on the first track, My Key.  I can’t say with more than an inkling of certainty, but the track feels very much like slug describing his relationship to his RSE family from his perspective.  A brief verse and some scattered words are all we get from the emcee on this primarily instrumental track.  It certainly pulls us into the new sound.

The Last To Say divulges some family dirt in a very raw and honest way.  Again, I can’t be sure if this track is about one case of domestic abuse, or if Slug is using one fictional case to encapsulate multiple stories of abuse that the family has suffered, but either way, this is a powerful statement to anyone in an abusive relationship, abuser or abused.  Whether intentional or not, this intimate track will allow the listener to feel as thought he/she is a trusted confidant and automatically invests the listener in the family’s story being told.

On The Family Sign, Slug weaves and unravels tangled stories, both autobiographical and from the third person which is really playing to his strengths.  He is known as one of hip hop’s greatest story tellers of all time.  The entire album, story after story, has a very serious tone and never diverges from the sobering road the family has traveled over the last fifteen years or so.  Each track truly embodies a quality unique to itself, while remaining in the same vein as the tracks on either side of it, providing an album that is a joy to listen to and that keeps the listener’s interest piqued along the entire journey.

Now, if you are an underground hip hop “purist” who doesn’t like his/her artists to venture out of the safety of chopped samples, basic bass lines and chopped drum breaks all sequenced on an MPC 2000, then you may not enjoy traveling down memory lane with the Rhymesayers family, but if you are a bit open-minded and can embrace artists tapping into parts of themselves that they are just discovering, then get it, strap on your seat belt and enjoy looking out the foggy windows of an 80’s model American automobile with Slug at the wheel.  I happen to relate more to the former, though a part of me loves the feeling I get when playing Don’t Ever F***ing Question That on repeat, and have enjoyed multiple trips in the back of Atmosphere’s hooptie sedan via The Family Sign.

Peace and Love,



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