On Atmosphere’s new album Southsiders, Ant’s beats and production couple with Slug’s classic lyrical style to achieve an overall well-made album.

The group has always stood out in its tendency to write from a specific place and time. Southsiders is devoted to the the group’s South Minneapolis roots and hits the nail on the head. The title song specifically demonstrates the group’s sense of hometown loyalty: “Minneapolis, got love for the advocates / Y’all the baddest bitch, so passionate.”

Throughout the album, Slug’s references to Minneapolis are as clear and poignant as ever. With the added bonus of audio from the Hiawatha Line — a Minneapolis light rail train — the album captures the everyday reality of South Minneapolis.

“Flicker” stands out as Atmosphere at its best, as Slug reflects on the death of  Eyedea, a fellow Minneapolis and Rhymesayers Entertainment: “Now I’m tryna write a song for a dead songwriter / That wrote they own songs about life and death
…But I’m starting to think if you were here right now / You’d ridicule these lyrics, you’d hate this chorus / You’d probably tell me that the concept is too straight forward.”

“Bitter” is also one of the group’s best. The song finds Atmosphere returning to its roots with easy flow, Slug’s introspective lyrics and Ant’s impressive production. Slug reverts to his own criticism of love: “You’re so bitter, your cold is a river in the winter / This one is to recognize you, your jealousy needs an anthem too.”

However, the album also reverts to hopefulness intermittently, providing refreshing contrast between moods. On “Kanye West,” the hook “Put your hands in the air like you really do care” seems like a nod to past upbeat messages in “Sunshine” and “Puppets,” as well as to Slug’s own identity as a different kind of rapper than the Kanyes of the world.

The album noticeably slows down with songs “Mrs. Interpret,” “Star Shaped Heart” and “Fortunate,” which seem to lack the same punch and poignancy as the rest of the album. They can’t seem to keep up with the album’s high points, including “Bitter,” “Flicker,” “Kanye West” and “Camera Thief.”

Overall, however, Southsiders features a strong array of tracks and acts as a continuation of Atmosphere’s reign over independent hip-hop.

4 out of 5 stars