For the past year, Sean Daley has been an underground hip-hop road warrior. Following last summer's release of Atmosphere's God Loves Ugly (Rhymesayers), the man known to hip-hop headz as Slug led his crew on a 62-date tour to every jam-packed nook and cranny in North America. He also flew to New York to be courted by a number of major labels and spent the summer infusing the Warped Tour with his lyrical tongue-lashing and self-deprecating rhymes.
Now the group is on another 62-stop jaunt through the United States and Canada in support of its fourth full-length, Seven's Travels (Epitaph). This is the life of underground hip-hoppers expanding their audience while attempting to keep their homegrown Minneapolis label Rhymesayers true to its roots. The exhaustion, frustration and flirtation with both fame and groupies pack the dense rhymes of Atmosphere's Epitaph debut.
The album begins where God left off. In God, Slug is jaded and angry. He overcompensates for frustration over, among other things, his lost love "Lucy." He struggles for explanations and excuses for some notably shifty behavior. And he sums up his outlook with lines like "This world is a vampire, she eats her kids/ Let's hide the bodies under the bridge."
Travels finds the tall, dark and wayward MC onstage and drunk with indulgence, backed by producer Ant's pocketful of beats, including hooky guitar loops and hell-churning rumbles. Slug is on the road, riding his 15 minutes of fame. The entire album is a play peppered with hedonism ("Reflections"), voice mails from the subconscious ("Suicide Girls") and the attempt to locate level ground between what is right and temptations at hand ("National Disgrace").
It's a perfect turn, as well as a return to the introspective contemplation and emotional excess of 2000's Lucy Ford,
a fact that will give some God-panning critics relief.
The only problem with the whole album-as-travel-diary theory is that Seven's was recorded before Slug and crew even packed the van last year, when the labels were only nibbling at the elusive Rhymesayers worm.
Is Seven's Travels just filled with high hopes? Not quite. High hopes generally don't involve this much vomiting. No, the prophetic words of the rhyme-sayer are simply evidence that Atmosphere and its label have their act together and know where they're going. They also know there's a lot of whiskey and regret along that road.
Atmosphere plays with Micranots and Odd Jobs Tuesday, Sept. 16, at the Roseland Theatre, 8 NW 6th Ave., 224-2038. 8 pm. $15. All ages.