The rapper-producer duo of Slug (Sean Daley) and Ant (Anthony Davis) have two decades of camaraderie under their belts as Atmosphere. During these decades they’ve fit tighter and tighter together as a pair. Their sheer quantity of work makes the Minnesota hip-hop exist so naturally; Ant’s beats fit perfectly underneath Slug’s style, and vice versa. At this point, neither is reaching out of his comfort zone to adhere to the other.
On Fishing Blues, we get exactly what we’re used to with Atmosphere: The slow, methodical, direct storytelling of Slug with the subdued and tame production of Ant. Slug has never been one to blow you away with absurdly complex rhyme schemes and unorthodox flows, and Ant has never strayed too far from the boom bap style that makes him a producer who comes from the ’90s hip-hop tradition. They both know their limits and their strengths as artists. At times, it works on Fishing Blues. Slug is at his best when he’s relating to an audience, in effect: “Yeah this feeling sucks, I’ve been there too.” But sometimes the stories he’s spinning lack nuance, too vague to evoke emotion. “The Shit That We’ve Been Through” lacks that nuance, and features a boringly generic hook of “Girl, I miss you.”
I think a part of Slug’s seemingly shiftless writing on this album stems from the comfort he’s built up working with Ant. They don’t seem to push each other to new heights anymore. It is, after all, a 25-year partnership. Slug’s A-game on Fishing Blues come when he’s rhyming next to other artists and we get features from fellow Rhymesayers artists deM atlaS, Aesop Rock and MF DOOM. These features bring out the best from Slug and create some of the most dynamic tracks on the album. “When The Lights Go Out” is a great example of Slug stepping it up, and he sounds strangely natural next to DOOM, whose complex, esoteric rhymes couldn’t be further from the straight-laced, face-value stories we receive through the rest of the record.
But I can’t fault Slug here, he’s a fantastic emcee in his own right; he’s just at a point in his life where he has to worry about less. The track “Everything” acts as Slug addressing us, his audience. He rattles off a list of everything he doesn’t pretend to be: cool, young, hard or concerned. This isn’t about us as much, this art is cathartic to Slug and if we like it, cool, and there’s still a lot to like.»