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"Minneapolis is known for many things — pretty lakes, the Mall of America, lutefisk. But 17 years ago, hip-hop act Atmosphere transformed the city into something else entirely: a nexus from which underground rap spiraled-out to the masses. And thanks to the duo's indefatigable touring habits, Top 20-charting albums, and their galvanizing artist-owned label Rhymesayers (MF Doom, Aesop Rock), they're still pushing the boundaries of what indie rap can mean.
It's with that overachieving-underdog spirit that MC Sean "Slug" Daley and producer Anthony "Ant" Davis have named Atmosphere's eighth studio album Southsiders (out May 6, 2014), a shout-out to their native neighborhood. Because, says Slug, "We have spent the majority of our career — God, we can call it a career! — repping the south side of Minneapolis pretty hard."
While Southsiders is a celebration of the group's fortitude, it is also a deeply introspective, and sometimes conflicted, work. "It's a natural progression from the last record, The Family Sign, which was about growing my family," says Slug, now a father to three, who finds himself contemplating mortality. "I'm starting to think, 'What is post–family man? What am I supposed to rap about now?' I'm sticking to my roots, rapping about what I'm doing, what I think about. This record is — much like the other ones — a very detailed look at my life."
The album captures everything from a blazing, anthemic takedown in "Southsiders," to the ebb-and-flow of loss in the sauntering "Arthur's Song," to emotional abandon in the rousing "Kanye West." The latter — and its mantra, "put your hands in the air like you really do care" — is a high-five to the rapper whose emotional reactions are often misperceived as not caring. Say Slug, "I wanted to write a song about loving something so much that you submit to the moment."
All told, Southsiders took about ten months to complete. During that time, "I spent a lot of time agonizing over every detail, every word," Slug says. He and Ant started out writing together in a Minneapolis basement. But these days, they trade tracks back and forth over email, with Ant triggering the creative flow by offering skeletons of songs.
Where Slug is the stalwart perfectionist, Ant persists as his healthy foil, finding beauty in sonic flaws. Says Slug: "He gives me the room to be as anal as I can be, even though he's usually like, 'Okay man, it's okay. Let it go.' He is the voice of reason I listen to." Ant's behind-the-board acumen is also key to Atmosphere's unique sound: the live instrumentations provide vibrant tonal contrast to Slug's often-weighty subject matter. Such as in album's first single, "Bitter": A condemnation of self-entitlement, it's set, intriguingly, against sly synth percolations.
Much of Slug's songwriting agony stems from his need to translate things he relates to into universal messages — which is why even after all these years, Atmosphere remains relevant in the rap game. "Do I want to leave a legacy of, 'Oh, that guy was really dope. He figured out how to rhyme astral projections with gastral infections'? Or do I want to be a positive energy source for the movement in general?" Slug says. "There is purpose behind what I do than just talking about me." And how does that impact his rhymes now? "Well," he points out, "I have to keep things realistic: making sure the gross stuff represented itself as gross, and that the beautiful stuff stays beautiful."
J Boog is a man of many influences. The singer of Samoan descent was born in Long Beach and raised in Compton, California. Growing up in the rough streets of Compton, the strong sense of tradition and culture that J Boog absorbed from his family was instrumental in his path to stay off the streets and begin a successful music career.
At the age of four, after hearing his older sister playing the piano, he developed an interest and started watching her and learning about music. Soon, J was singing along to the notes & melodies he heard his sister play. A while later, she brought home a Bob Marley song book. Even at this young age, J knew Bob's name and his music. Upon hearing his sister begin to play, something clicked inside J. He hasn't been the same since.
The first time J Boog performed in front of an audience, he was nine years old. It was a large family reunion at a church and there were about 200 people present. J's mother and sister insisted for him to sing Whitney Houston's "One Moment In Time" and J obliged them. Though he was nervous, it went quite well.
J Boog's music career became serious in 2005, when a couple of brothers from his neighborhood brought him to one of J's favorite artists, George "Fiji" Veikoso". The two began working together immediately and J ended up moving to Hawaii in 2006 to continue developing his craft. After releasing his debut album "Hear Me Roar" in 2007, he joined the musical family Wash House Music Inc, a record label based in Hawaii and San Francisco.
A year later, in 2008, J Boog met Gramps Morgan of Morgan Heritage and there was an instant chemistry. Gramps was keen on working with J, and set out to make a way. Shortly after, Gramps, J Boog and other Wash House family members were in Jamaica recording in such prestigious places as Bob Marley's "Tuff Gong" Studio, Don Corleone's "Hit Maker", Bobby Digital's "Digital B", Shaggy's "Big Yard", Sugar Minott's "Youth Man Promotion" and more.
The results are apparent when listening to Boog's new music. It is authentic Island Music and genuine Jamaican reggae at the same time. Truly a new and exciting combination. There is a natural theme to Boog's writing: love. It recurs throughout his work and never once seems contrived. When you listen, you will feel he truly knows matters of the heart.
These days Boog is either in a studio, on a stage or catching a flight. Radio interviews have become a daily thing and it's a little overwhelming for the young artist, though he has been smart enough to keep his humility. He has a great sense of humor and an even better sense of reality. He can be overheard saying how blessed he is on a daily basis. It's easy to see why J Boog has been winning over fans when you meet him. He has the right spirit and attitude to carry him to the next level.
His new album, "Backyard Boogie" is slated for release September 27th 2011 and features Tarrus Riley, Jacob Hemphill (of SOJA), Peetah Morgan (of Morgan Heritage), Fiji and others.
Leading up to the release of his official new album, J Boog released the "J Boog EP" on June 14th 2011 via Wash House Hawaii/EMPIRE Distribution. The EP featured five brand new songs, along with three previously released songs, including his smash hits "Let's Do It Again" and "So Far Gone"