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Review

Angst-ridden ‘God Loves Ugly’ transforms harsh realities into poetry

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February 26, 2009

Earlier this year, Twin Cities natives, Atmosphere recently re-released their out of print 2002 album “God Loves Ugly,” which served as the duo’s springboard from neighborhood heroes to nationally recognized artisans. If you missed it the first time around, then it is recommended that you become acquainted with Slug (Sean Daley) and Ant (Anthony Davis) at their creative zenith.

The fact that the best hip-hop record in recent memory is actually a re-release of an acclaimed seven-year-old album says a lot about the current state of the genre. In fact, can you even name a rap album released in the past six months? I didn’t think so.

Yes, I know that the demise of hip-hop has been cliché for some time now (Nas even dedicated an entire album to rail against the death of his profession). But with Kanye wailing indecipherable mush into an Auto-Tune device and someone who goes by the name of “Ron Browz” currently occupying a top spot on the charts, can we safely assume that we as an audience have become desensitized to the absence of meaningful vocal content?

No matter whether the answer is yes or no, fans will always be able to find solace in the rawness and familiarity of homegrown independent artists. Slug, the introspective, lyrical half of the duo, displays an ever-present humility as well as worldly knowledge: “I’ll play a show in Australia and Europe, and there will be people who came to the show that don’t even know who the fuck I am,” he said in 2006. “What I’m saying is that I don’t think the kids in Australia take [hip-hop] for granted yet.”

“God Loves Ugly” is essentially a collection of broken, urban love chronicles and personal reflections. It begins in traditional Atmosphere fashion—with a stiff, steady beat. The first sounds to greet the ears of listeners are the chants of “you’re so ugly, you’re so ugly” by an assembly of young girls. The opening track, “Onemosphere” contains one of the most indelible lyrical gems of their entire discography: “My life is as trite as your favorite rap record / And I’m possessed with that insight that enables me to laugh better.” Think about that one for a while.

Listeners also get a snapshot of Slug’s past flings in “Modern Man’s Hustle,” in which he remembers “The first time I met the Devil was at a Motel 6 / She left Hell to spend a weekend on Earth just for kicks.” The creative focal point of the record is the track “Godlovesugly,” which provides a frame of reference for several of the songs to follow. This track finds the MC struggling to come to terms with personal angst: “Appears more clear in its simplest form / Nobody sees tears when you’re standin’ in the storm / Abandonin’ the norm, and handlin’ the harvest / Measuring the worth by the depth of the hardship.”

This release is painted head to toe with a thick layer of self-doubt and depression, and saturated with joyless gloom. Amidst the backdrop of Ant’s desolate beats, Slug throws down his emo monologues with such incredible cadence, he is able to rhyme about the harshest of life’s realities and make them sound as beautiful as a Shakespearian sonnet.

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.