Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere is launching a massive tour in support of their just-released ninth studio album, Mi Vida Local, which contains reflections on dealing with middle age and is highlighted by live rock band instrumentation and beats courtesy of an old Roland TR-88 drum machine. Knowing little about them, despite their 30 year history, I checked out the promotional videos for “Virgo” (directed by Jason Goldwatch) and “Jerome” (directed by fellow 40-something rapper Evidence). The former was shot on Super 8mm film and kicks off with a James Taylor-ish acoustic guitar riff that at first seems ill-matched to strident spoken-word lyrics that open with the declaration “I pledge allegiance to myself, food shelter and health.” However, as pastoral rural images waft by, featuring the view from a rolling train ride, the music expands with layers of rhythm and instrumentation, until it matches in sonic intensity the passion and poeticism of the lines and their delivery.
“Jerome” also opens with a travelogue, this time seen from a convertible cruising down the road with the top down, rapper Sean Daley aka Slug driving and DJ-producer Anthony Davis aka Ant playing a handheld videogame. In keeping with the autobiographical and introspective POV the band is known for, it’s like a hidden camera peek into a routine afternoon. No music is heard until a rock guitar riff arrives around the one minute mark, followed by an avalanche of rhymes full of pop culture wisecracks directed at all their fellow “children of the action figures.” It’s powerful and insightful stuff, to be sure, akin to the later-in-life music of graying contemporaries like Jay-Z and Living Legends. The support tour that arrives at Observatory North Park on February 8 includes Dem Atlas and the Lioness, who appear on Mi Vida Local as well.