The last time we checked in with Slug and Ant was on 2016’s Fishing Blues, the latest chapter in a string of albums showcasing the pair’s evolution from tortured hedonists into settled-down dads making kicked-back rap records. It would have been nice to carry on thinking they were finally at well-earned peace after two decades of extensively documented trials and tribulations. But just because your corner of the globe is peaceful, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world stops turning. It’s a different place than it was two years ago, and the seventh Atmosphere album, Mi Vida Local, reflects the ways in which the world–and Atmosphere’s place in it–have changed. The idyllic domesticity of the past few records has morphed into anxiety over keeping loved ones safe during turbulent times. Instead of bragging about backstage misadventures it’s about grappling with mortality. The easygoing collaboration between Ant and Slug has started to feel more like the life-or-death intimacy of two men trapped together on a lifeboat.
At times it’s a heavy album (“I might be the last generation of grandparents,” goes a key line from “Virgo”), but it’s far from grim. There are jokes being cracked, joints getting smoked, a little trash talking and beefing here and there–after all, it’s still a rap record. And Atmosphere’s never sounded better. As the name implies, Mi Vida Local is intensely focused on the place it was created–the southside of Minneapolis–where Slug and Ant work tirelessly in their “beautiful basements”, refining their sound without interruption. (Although a handful of friends from the Minneapolis hip-hop community showed up to contribute.) A year of one-on-one collaboration resulting in an album that matches complex subject matter with equally deep beats–ones that show a clear lineage back to the psychedelic funk landmarks from an earlier era where America was going through a post-utopian hangover, and prove that there won’t ever be a time where boom-bap beats don’t sound perfectly of the moment.
Mi Vida Local might be the best album Atmosphere’s ever made. It’s definitely the one they needed to make right now, and one listeners need to hear just as urgently. If it’s sometimes an album about how the fight to find happiness never really ends–even after you get the house and the kids and the artistic freedom to make dad-rap records–it’s also about discovering that there’s happiness to be found just in fighting.