Review: Atmosphere @ Koko, London
I’ve always found something therapeutic about the music of Atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the raw soul-bearing honesty and vulnerability MC Slug presents in his lyrics or maybe it’s the comfort of knowing that even big time rappers have screwed up their personal lives, but either way, seeing them live made it clear that they touch the hearts and minds of their diverse fan base in a profound way. The anticipation leading up to the gig was palpable. Dim lights shrouded a casual entrance from legendary turntbalist and producer DJ Ant who dropped a sinister instrumental. There followed a shadowy figure walking on stage who commanded “Wait!”, prompting a pause in the music followed by the emotional piano intro to January on Lake Street. Under red stage lighting, Slug began belting out his emotive lyrics before the much anticipated beat drop and the first of many calls from Slug for “London to put their mother f*cking hands in the air!”
The love in the room was almost tangible and the crowd of men and women hung off Slug’s every word with a devotion which could be likened to that of loyal churchgoers longingly looking up their pastor at a Sunday morning service, a comparison Slug himself drew halfway through the gig where he took a moment to thank the crowd for obliging him in his repeated requests for hand waving and aptly noted that this is as close to church as most of us will ever get. After the first track, Slug announced the presence of an at first unnoticed second DJ, mixing alongside Ant – none other than Minnesota’s DJ Plan Ole Bill. Following this dramatic opening Slug traversed effortlessly through the Atmosphere back catalogue from hits such as ‘God Loves Ugly’, ‘Kanye West’ and ‘Reflections’ to a powerful acapella intro into the poetic ‘Woman with the Tattooed Hands’, with the suave looking DJ Ant merrily rhyming along to the anthems and every now and then stepping away from the decks to drop some rather swish dance moves.
It was apparent that Atmosphere enjoyed being there as much as the crowd did. What I find remarkable about Atmosphere is the emotional journey they take you on. Midway through the banter and lightheartedness of the gig, Slug led into the track ‘That Night’, which includes a gut-wrenching tribute to Marissa Mathy-Zvaifler, a 16-year-old girl who was raped and murdered at one of Atmosphere’s shows in Albuquerque. Slug speaks directly to the girl’s killer with the lyric “if you ever find God you better pray to her and ask that we never cross paths”. It is a lyric that’s always stuck with me, not only because of the sentiment but because of his reference to God as a woman. The positive feminisation of anything in hip hop is a rarity.
Ever the showman, Slug ended the gig with an epic freestyle bout, having everyone in a fit of laughter after saying “I normally ask people to give me a few topics but every time I do mother f*ckers are like vaginaaa, weed! Oh yeah like I’ve never rhymed about weed”. They closed the show with an amazing performance of ‘Trying to Find a Balance’, before signing off with the apt Bill and Ted quote “Be excellent to each other”. We will, Reverend Slug. We will.