Musicheads Essential Artist: Atmosphere

Atmosphere perform in The Current studio
Atmosphere perform in The Current studio, 2016. (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)
Musicheads Essential Artist: Atmosphere
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April is Minnesota Music Month. To celebrate, each weekday this month we'll be spotlighting a different artist with special coverage on air and online. For Tuesday, April 7, we're shining a light on Atmosphere.

Influential hip-hop duo Atmosphere have worked tirelessly for decades to record, convene fans at massive events, launch a record label, and build a scene for socially conscious rap music.

Atmosphere's roots extend back to the early '90s, when Sean Daley, better known by his stage name Slug, teamed up with Derek Turner, who rapped under the name D-Spawn, to form a group called Urban Atmosphere. They were introduced to the producer Anthony Davis, a.k.a. Ant, and as soon as the three artists started recording together, they realized they were on to something special.

After releasing their debut album, Overcast, on the label that they helped launch, Rhymesayers Entertainment, Spawn left the group. Slug and Ant carried Atmosphere forward with a creative partnership that would endure for decades.

It soon became obvious that the scene fostered by Atmosphere and their peers resonated deeply with both local and national audiences. By the start of the new millennium, Atmosphere were touring internationally and receiving offers from all the major labels. Rather than sign to a bigger label, however, Atmosphere decided to remain independent and funnel their success back into Rhymesayers and their new record store, Fifth Element: a decision that would have a lasting impact on the health of the Minnesota music scene.

Atmosphere were also a key part of Rhymesayers' wildly successful Soundset festival, which drew tens of thousands of fans together each summer between 2008 and 2019. Atmosphere also played a huge role in getting more hip-hop acts booked at First Avenue, a venue they easily filled each time they came home from touring.

Slug and Ant continue to record and tour prolifically, and have released over a dozen albums since their formation. As the Twin Cities hip-hop scene continues to evolve and grow, Atmosphere have also become mentors and elder statesmen for the next generation of rappers, producers, and DJs they've inspired.

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