Evidence affirmed the hip-hop hierarchy of the evening during the first song he performed at VooDoo on Saturday by noting that “I’m Rhymesayers' number three under Slug and Ali.” Slug is half of the headlining act Atmosphere. Brother Ali is his supremely talented stablemate at Rhymesayers, the Minneapolis record label that has issued more than a dozen classic hip-hop albums since its formation in 1995.
Evidence, a member of the California hip-hop group Dilated Peoples that’s best known for the 2004 song “This Way”, was riveting in a 45-minute opening set. He has enough bars to supply an expansion of the penitentiary in Leavenworth. An unrecorded list of tips for less polished performers that included drinking room temperature water, not allowing your crew to join you on stage and the proper way to stage dive (a feat he perfectly executed) provided one of the evening’s most memorable moments. Most of the audience of about 1,000- a crowd that Slug characterized as “a bunch of dirty, stinky, white people”- didn’t know what to make of Evidence and only responded enthusiastically to his weed references.
Slug, Ant and Plain Ole Bill performed songs about suicide, self-loathing, domestic violence and hangovers for 90 minutes. Slug was his usual outrageous self. He claimed that “the only thing I like to do more than masturbate is bust rhymes and freestyle” and suggested that there “ain’t nothin’ like a broken bottle to the face to put put a (batterer of women) on the right path.” I felt “sick and contradictive” as I joined communal rap-alongs to “GodLovesUgly,” “Guarantees” and “Trying To Find a Balance,” harrowing songs that redefined the scope and meaning of Midwestern hip-hop.
Atmosphere’s sound hasn’t changed much since the release of its 1997 debut album Overcast. Once cutting-edge, Ant’s soul-soaked production and Slug’s confessional lyrics are now part of hip-hop’s rearguard. XXXTentacion, the rapper who is expected to have the top album in the country this week, is 25 years younger than Slug. The controversial upstart rejects everything about hip-hop that Atmosphere fans hold dear.
The sudden realization that the once-subversive Atmosphere and Evidence had somehow become old-school traditionalists devastated me. I'd inadvertently paid $35 to attend an oldies concert. When Slug asked “who’s your favorite rapper” during a duet with Evidence on “Powder Cocaine” in the encore, I was too rattled to respond.
(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)