I’ve never seen Atmosphere. And while I’ve been bumping Atmosphere for coming up on a decade plus, I have never been lucky enough to even have the opportunity. Luck, being the intersection of opportunity and preparedness, arrived this past week hear in Colorado. There I was, sitting at home, trolling the interwebs for shows I’d like to see, when I presented with an Atmosphere show, in town, with epic openers and every reason to go…including media access. Huzzah. Beyond just the opportunity to go, though, I had the opportunity to photograph the event. See below.
Before we get too deep into what Atmosphere did, as the show headliner, let’s start at the beginning. We arrived to what a staffer called “the welcoming music” of DJ Keezy spinning the one’s and two’s from 6 to 8. That afforded us plenty of time to pick a seat and pick out some beers from one of the numerous confection stands at Red Rocks Amphitheater and Park in Morrison, Colorado. We also met Heather, a Minnesota native who’s been in Colorado for 20 years. Don’t take my word for it, but she was definitely not down with all the youngsters thinking they know Atmosphere; “I’ve been listening to them for 20 years. Some of these kids are barely 20.” Fair point, Heather.
In any case, the first vocalizing opener was deM atlaS. deM is a Rhymesayers Entertainment prodigy who, to quote one savvy YouTuber, is “the Jim Morrison of hip hop”. Opening with a track he released barely 24 hours before the Colorado show, deM atlaS blazed into the crowd with Tomorrow Party and followed it up with an arrangement of numerous songs off his debut EP, DWNR and his upcoming full length debut. I was disappointed that some of his mF deM follow up tracks – over unused MF DOOM beats – weren’t performed, songs like So Wat and Nervosa. deM proved a worthy opener, though, giving a spirited performance, gripping a microphone with an American flag tied to it, dreadlocks bouncing as he sang, rapped, danced, dropped to his knees in splits. Finally, deM beasted without doubt because my friend Idesia, who had never heard of him before, called him her favorite new rapper. Word.
After deM was Grieves, a slim but energy efficient young rapper whose upbeat, if semi hardcore style proved to be popular with the crowd. Grieves just released his new album, Running Wild! over three years after his last album, Winter & The Wolves, came out. Now I’ll be honest: I’m not too familiar with Grieves. But I can tell you that his energy, buoyant rap flow, and live rap group, including a bassist and keyboardist, not to mention Grieves himself stepping to the instrument table for at least one song, proved to be formidable hip hop for my savvy hip hop ears. I definitely had to go home and dig into the stacks to figure out who this kid is and why I should know him. And trust me when I say, you should know him. In a move of awesome, in a move I always love to see, Grieves brought out some friends from back home to help with a cut. This is important to me because it goes back to the Eminem D12 effort and the days of Hip Hop Crews performing together, showing solidarity with the hometown and with helping your friends come up in a world where you’re doing pretty good. That’s the respectable thing to me. If you wanna watch an interesting convo on modern rap versus old school, with some commentary on the crew motif, check this interview with RUN DMC.
Speaking of dudes that came up from old school hip hop crews, Dilated Peoples co-frontman, producer, and overall badass, Evidence was up next. While I love Evidence, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that I felt his performance was lackluster and lowkey lazy, unmotivated as if he was just going through the motions. I’m not sure if that’s because of crowd response or if his head was elsehwere, but he wasn’t fully here. Don’t get me wrong: he performed all of his songs on point and on cue. And hands down, that’s enough to satisfy the hip hop heads, because Evidence knows the craft to a tee and he’s a perfectionist. His execution remained flawless. I’ve known Evidence as a performer for a long time, having witnessed him here just a few months ago in Colorado and as far back as the late 1990s at a UC Riverside Spring Splash, where I was blessed to shake hands with the amazing, energy field, and enigmatic DJ Babu. The most touching moment of the Red Rock performance was Evidence performing a song and dedicating it to his daughter Wendy. Hip-hop is family and asking a crowd to cherish and celebrate family is the most authentic thing hip-hop can be or do. Respect.
Ending the evening, as forewarned, was Atmosphere, made up of that continuously dynamic duo, Slug on the mic and Ant on production, dropping the beats with some backup. Atmosphere also began their set with a brand new cut that was dropped recently, Virgo (released August 23). Atmosphere point out on their Rhymesayers page that, the world is “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.”
For the next hour Atmosphere went through a montage of amazing, well known, and brand new cuts that had the crowd absolutely ecstatic. I’m talking, dancing in unsion, hands in the air, screaming the lyrics, and begging for me. It’s important to point out here, in my humble opinion, that I was at the recent Nas event featuring Brother Ali, Blackstar, Royce Da 5′ 9″, and The Reminders a few weeks ago. I covered it. It was a glorious show but, from what I recall, that event was not sold out. If it was sold out, the venue never filled up. This event was announced as sold out and was definitely filled up. In fact, when Nas did the “show’s over, have a good night” encore move, a quarter of the crowd left. I distinctly recall rushing from row 52 down to 20-something for a better seat as the less-than-dedicated scurried off to beat the traffic. Atmosphere pulled the same encore stunt. No one left. The point I’m making is, and it’s an important one, Atmosphere’s underground hip hop fanbase is beyond dedicated. Rabid. Underground hip hop fans are real will stay through whatever. All respect to Nas. Atmosphere and this epic Rhymesayers slate put on a fantastic show, as incredible as a hip hop in Colorado has been since I’ve been here reviewing it, and we can’t wait for more shows like this.
We hear grandoozy is coming up. Count us in for that because Captain California, King Kendrick is coming, and if anything can top this, it’s gonna be that. Also, there’s a Denver/Boulder local hip hop event at Boulder’s Fox Theater called The Movement: A Boulder & Denver Hip Hop Showcase. To quote Atmosphere: “always support home.”