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Low pressure

Atmosphere stops at Tower Theatre to promote surprise new album Whenever.

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Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere plays  8 p.m. Feb. 1 at Tower Theatre. - CODY OTTE / PROVIDED
  • Cody Otte / provided
  • Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere plays 8 p.m. Feb. 1 at Tower Theatre.

Atmosphere

8 p.m. Feb. 1

Tower Theatre
1425 NW 23rd St.
towertheatreokc.com
405-708-6937
$25-$32.50

When Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere gave its latest album to Rhymesayers Entertainment, the record label didn’t know what to do with it. Atmosphere was still on tour promoting 2018’s Mi Vida Local.

“They asked when I wanted to put it out,” said Atmosphere’s Sean “Slug” Daley. “I said, ‘Just put it out whenever.’ They were like, ‘Well do you have a title?’ I said, ‘Yeah. Whenever.’ They were like, ‘OK, fine, you fucking silly guy.’”

Featuring an ode to an attractive mail carrier (“Postal Lady”), a song structured around Prince song titles (“Dearly Beloved”) and countless fondly tongue-in-cheek references to domesticated dadhood, Whenever was surprise-released to streaming services in December. Atmosphere — rapper Slug and DJ Anthony “Ant” Davis, who have been releasing music together since 1997’s Overcast! — plays 8 p.m. Feb. 1 at Tower Theatre, 425 NW 23rd St.

Oklahoma Gazette: How does Whenever sound to you?

Slug: I’m still unpacking this album. When I make music, the experience for me is about the rhymes, and it’s usually later after I start to perform some of the music in front of people or as I start to have conversations with people about how the music sounds to them or what it says to them that helps me unpack and realize what some of these songs are actually about. ... It’s not about other people’s opinions, but it’s actually about how I feel saying this in front of people, how I feel knowing that somebody has heard me say this on this record. When I start to unpack those feelings of embarrassment or pride or whatever, that’s when I really see what I’m working with.

I went into this thinking I wasn’t making as personal a record as people are used to hearing from Atmosphere. Atmosphere, traditionally, has a history of taking itself too serious. Our songs are often very self-aware. And when I was making this one, I was like, “Oh this is great because these songs are kind of detached in a way.” And, no. Of course not.

OKG: You mentioned you took a different approach this time.

Slug: When we made this record, it was originally commissioned to be a soundtrack for a television series, so I was making each song as a standalone. I wasn’t thinking about tying them together. My vision for it was that at the end of the show when there’s that cliffhanger moment or whatever, the thing that’s going to make you tune in next week, the screen goes black and the credits start to roll, what’s the first thing I want people to hear? That’s how I approached these songs, and then the TV series fell through and the songs were given back to us. So I was sitting there holding onto 10 songs like, “What do I do with this?” because I didn’t think that they were conceptually tied together. … We considered releasing them as just digital single singles, like one a month for a year or something. We couldn’t figure out what we were going to do, but then when I started to kind of dive into it ... I started to find a theme throughout the album, and that theme was reclamation — reclaiming either some shit you hid from yourself or you blocked out, you tucked away, kind of like in therapy when you have to work through stuff that you forgot about, reclamation of yourself, reclamation of your surroundings. I don’t even necessarily mean this on a political level, but you can apply it that way.

The thing that was cool is it took a lot of the pressure off of the process, things that you usually sweat and worry about — album cycle, press, all these things that you do to try to hype up a record, all that shit — we didn’t have to do that this time ... so this has been the most fun I’ve had in a long time when it comes to not just making music but also the process of releasing it.

Whenever by Atmosphere - PROVIDED
  • provided
  • Whenever by Atmosphere

OKG: It sounds almost like you tricked yourself into making an album.

Slug: Yeah, pretty much. ... I exercise my songwriting a lot … and it was healthy for me to remember that sometimes when you exercise, it’s not just to keep yourself in shape, but sometimes it’s actually so you can go out there and fucking perform the high jump in front of people.

When Atmosphere puts out an album, I’ll usually make a good 12 songs for fun before I even start really focusing on making the album. It’s just a way to warm up before the game. Sometimes those songs, once in a while, there will be a couple of them that make it onto the album. … This album is kind of full of those in a weird way. It’s just that I like them all, so once I liked them, I polished them. I polished all the little turds and compiled them.

OKG: Does that change the way that these songs are performed?

Slug: It can be a challenge to figure out. … When I make an album, I get a couple of different friends — separately, independently, one at a time — and I drive around and I make them listen to the album. But it’s not so that they can hear the album. It’s so that I am forced to sit there while another person hears it, and then I get to see how I feel, for real, about this song. Suddenly, I’m like, “Oh wait; I’m a little embarrassed right now. Oh, because it’s not well written, so I’m going to go back, and I’m going to touch it up and write it better.”

Maybe I get in the car with one of my friends who might be a little bit more on the gangster side of life and see how I feel in front of him with these songs or I’ll get in the car with my fucking mom and see how I feel with her in the car. Getting in front of the audience is very informative to me. … If you’re a storyteller, if you’re writing about personal shit, it takes you some time to really learn for yourself what you wrote is really about because it has to develop and grow and have its own life, kind of like your children. You love all your children equally, but let’s keep it real. Eventually you do have a favorite. Eventually, you’re like, “This kid may be a little uglier, but I still fucking love them.”

OKG: Is there anything else you wanted to say?

Slug: Learn how to grow your own vegetables. Get checked out. See what your vitamin D levels are, if you need any iodine. Exercise and take care of yourselves because life ain’t getting no easier for nobody. The more you can work it out on the front end and learn about yourself and your own body and you can prepare yourself and fuel yourself and feed yourself the better.

The Lioness, Nikki Jean and DJ Keezy share the bill. Tickets are $25-$32.50. Call 405-708-6937 or visit towertheatreokc.com.

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