Ever sit back and look at your record collection of a favorite artist and consider which albums are the best? So do we! Rank & File is our way of telling you which albums are great and which ones are garbage (at least in our opinion). There are really no correct answers here, it’s all just a matter of taste, but inevitably, there will be parts of the list that you will completely disagree with, so make sure to let us know how you would rank the albums. Of course, when compiling a ranking system such as this, there have to be some guidelines in place. For Rank & File, they are:
- No E.P.’s (with rare exception)
- No Singles
- No live albums
- No remix albums
- If an artists discography is huge (i.e. Rolling Stones, Prince) only the top 5 will make the cut.
Hailing from Minneapolis Minnesota, hip-hop duo Atmosphere is like no other group out there. Comprised of MC Slug, whose stark and commanding flow sets a new standard for personal storytelling and the producer Ant, whose music and beats know no comparison, Atmosphere has commanded a sizable fan base in spite of maintaining an underground spirit. This week, Atmosphere is releasing their 8th full-length, titled Southsiders on their own label Rhymesayers. In celebration of what is likely to be an amazing record, we took a look through Atmosphere’s back catalog. To be honest, this may be one of the most difficult R&F to ever complete, everything this group has ever done has been solid. So check it out. If you’re new to Atmosphere (unlikely) listen to some of our favorites and heed our advice. Your ears and music library will thank you.
5. You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005):
Atmosphere’s fourth full length is the sound of a group struggling to deal with success. Now I wouldn’t exactly say that this album was a compromise on the groups part or anything, but there are parts of the record that sound like rehashes of what they had accomplished on previous works. Really, that’s not too surprising. These guys were reaching all new levels of notoriety at this point, so it makes sense that Fun sounds a bit overreaching at times. That being said, some of the strongest songs of their career are scattered throughout. “Watch Out” is a great commentary about the state of underground hip-hop while the haunting “That Night” features some of the most harrowing content of Slug’s career. But before you dive into all of the heavy shit, album opener “The Arrival” is guaranteed to make you nod your head to the beat while your speakers are slowly destroyed.
4. When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (2008):
When this album first came out, I didn’t really care for it much at all. One of the things that I always enjoyed about Atmosphere was Slug’s lyrics about his life and experiences. On Lemons, the lyrical content took a detour from the autobiographical fare that I was accustomed to and focused more on character development and storytelling (aside from a few cuts, especially “Yesterday” which features a twist that will floor you at the end). It took me a while to get used to the new direction, but before long, I pulled my head out of my own ass and realized that this record is solid. Really solid. Not only was Slug developing as an MC, but Ant took the music to a new level, from the stripper sexy slink of “Shoulda Known” and the coked-out synth swells of “Your Glass House” to the unpredictable minimalism of “Guarantees” making Lemons one of the most surprising yet satisfying releases from the duo.
3. Seven’s Travels (2003):
I imagine this album would probably rank as the top Atmosphere record on a lot of people’s lists and rightfully so. So why not here? Well, two reasons. First off, it was the follow-up to the number 1 album on our list and as you probably know, follow-up albums are never as good as your favorite. Also, this album was really goddamn long. 19 songs is a lot to digest from any artist, no matter how much you like ’em. Those things aside, Seven’s Travels offered up some amazing songs. Hell, the first five songs on the album are damn near flawless, but there are gems throughout, like the dating manifesto “Shoes” and the tour journal scribe of “National Disgrace.” As great as all of those songs are though, the real highlight of the album is “Cats Van Bags” which features Brother Ali trading verses with Slug over a distortion heavy beat that annihilates everything in its path.
2. Lucy Ford (2001):
Alright, so technically I’m cheating by including Lucy Ford. Originally, this album was released as two separate EP’s, but by the time I got my hands on it, it was compiled into this tidy little package. Often times, when bands compile different works for an album, the final product is pretty disjointed and lacks continuity, but not Lucy Ford. This album is quality from beginning to end, leaving very little to be desired. What makes Lucy Ford such a good listen is how easy it is to relate to. There is no showboating MC bullshit or lyrics concerning the struggles with fame or money. Instead what Lucy Ford offers is an album for the average joe. It’s truly the everyman manifesto, covering topics like relationships (“Don’t Ever Fucking Question That”), insecurity (“Aspiring Sociopath”) and coming to terms with your past (“Nothing But Sunshine”). Whether or not you can personally relate to the songs on Lucy Ford doesn’t really matter, because if it’s not relevant to your life, it likely is for someone you know. Seriously, this album could’ve been written by any guy in their twenties or thirties. It’s that universal (and good).
1. God Loves Ugly (2002):
To put God Loves Ugly in the number 1 spot may seem like a no-brainer, but even ranking at the top doesn’t do this album justice. This record goes down as one of my favorite albums of all-time. We’re talking some top 25 of all-time shit. God Loves Ugly is just..that..good. This album was my introduction to Atmosphere and I was instantly drawn in. Up to that point (and frankly, ever since) I had never heard such a powerful cohesion between MC and producer. The music by Ant throughout God Loves Ugly is the perfect complement to Slug’s raps, each one working off one another, never straying too far from one side to the other. It’s a precarious balance that very few musicians (of any genre) ever really succeed at, but on God Loves Ugly, Atmosphere not only destroyed the competition, but set the bar to almost unreachable heights. If there is one thing that you take away from this entire list, it should be to get this record. Like now…Seriously, stop reading this shit and get down to your local record store and buy this album. I guarantee you will not regret it.
Just missed the cut: Overcast! (1997), Headshots: SE7EN (2005), Strictly Leakage (2007), Leak at Will (2009), To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy (2010), The Family Sign (2011)
What do you think? How would you rank Atmosphere’s albums? Let us know in the comment section below and make sure to follow Gutter Bubbles on Facebook and Twitter!