When Joshua Turner was a kid growing up in a dysfunctional home in Minneapolis there were two things that he’d turn to for comfort when his parents fought: the Fugees records he’d listen to on a loop to drown out their conflict and the atlas he’d pore over to pretend he was anywhere else. Today Turner’s all grown up, but his sources of childhood refuge continue to play an integral role in his life. In his spare time he draws maps for fun, and, under the name deM atlaS, he’s composing his emotionally complex hip-hop records aimed at listeners out in the world who are in need of some sonic solace of their own.
His new album Bad Actress is only the latest in a string of releases–including the 9-song EP DWNR that, according to Pitchfork, “splits the difference on ‘depressed’ and ‘party mode.’” In some ways the new work feels like a debut, not just because it’s his first proper LP, but because it represents the culmination of a twisting creative path that Turner’s patiently been following since his teens. He was a poet, a painter, and the frontman for a rock band before he found his space in Minneapolis’s prolific rap scene. Once there, a philosophy of saying yes to any opportunity that passed his way quickly led him from playing shows for nugs of weed to a showcase in front of Rhymesayers CEO Siddiq, and a single recording session with Atmosphere beatmaker Ant that kept going until they’d made almost an entire album together.
The title Bad Actress comes from Turner’s inability to hide his true feelings, and he’s packed the album with unguarded emotions centered around a lifetime of unhealthy relationships, struggles with mental illness, and an indomitable drive to overcome them. Musically it draws from every stage of Turner’s young career, from the high school rock singer to the scruffy DIY-er who self-recorded his Charle Brwn EP while figuring out the basics of Garageband to the confident, versatile vocalist he is today, equally at home crooning and screaming as he is rapping over beats by heavy hitters like Ant and MF DOOM.
From the grime-caked beats to the confessional lyrics to the supercharged guitars laced throughout, Bad Actress is an album that’s deeply rooted in Minneapolis’s singular hip-hop scene, where boom-bap never went out of style and raw honesty still beats flashy materialism. Turner’s soulful singing voice, and his ability to navigate from the acidic Sly Stone funk of “Gratitude” to the acoustic balladry of “Music Man” to the purple-tinged minimalist gospel of “Runnin Back” make it clear that he’s one of the young talents who’s going to author the next chapter in the city’s storied musical history. After all, an atlas isn’t only a collection of maps, but a man who’s strong enough to carry the weight of the whole world on his shoulders.