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Situated just southeast of downtown, Emo’s is a decently sized venue. It’s large enough to pack in the peeps but still alludes to a clubby vibe, making and keeping shows enjoyable. The stage lighting gave way to a montage of faces; from teenagers to couple in their 40’s, this diverse crowd was geared and ready to groove on some delicious vibes.
Oh, and most delicious they were. When Brother Ali took the stage, my ears feasted on unique, politically-charged rhymes and groovy beats. After being on the scene for just over fifteen years, Brother Ali holds six critically-acclaimed albums under his belt. His activist approach to rap confronts listeners with real-life situations and problems. I mean, the man even got heat from the Department of Homeland Security for his controversial music videos (super dope, right?!). Between songs, he would engage the crowd in current political issues, not to lecture, but to make us aware of the state of the world and how it directly affects us all. Brother Ali is no ordinary rapper: not because of skin pigmentation, but because of his optimistic, intelligent, and enlightening approach to such dark topics. It’s heavy lines meets heavy beats!
Indulge me for a moment. Let’s fade to scene: lights dim, voices raise, people start flailing arms and pumping fists. What was once a collection of individuals turns into a homogeneous ebb and flow of movement and chanting. The sound from the crowd is booming; you can feel it resonating in your chest. And then, a roar as Slug appears! He instantly reaches deep into his talented satchel of song, spilling an eclectic array of verse from slow-spoken to intelligibly fast rhetoric, all the while matching a perfect low-key beat so eloquently spun by Ant.
Truly breaking the Midwest hip-hop scene’s barriers with God Loves Ugly (2002), Atmosphere has received world-wide accolade since their formation almost twenty years ago. That being said, Slug hasn’t missed a beat and still puts on one hell of a live show. His style hides a kind of anger and his lyrics are battle-centric, focusing on topics in which us common folk can relate. His approach on topics of love, contentment, commitment, and his own children would give anyone goosebumps. You can hear how Slug has matured from Midwest hellion to loving dad and family man in Atmosphere’s album releases, and yet he still kicks some serious ass live. He’s meant for a stage and an onlooking crowd; at one point, he had the whole venue belting his rhymes while he stood back and listened to them chant. If anyone looked over at me at that moment, they would have seen a giant, googly, goofy grin smeared across my face. Atmosphere has that affect on you; Slug dishes rhymes, but with a swagger that makes you move with the good times and momentarily forget about the bad ones.
The lights never went dark for an encore, it’s just something Slug doesn’t do. And then the ultimate tag team: he had Brother Ali join him on the stage and they ended the night with one hell of a bang. The two improvised and threw killer lines unique to Austin and Austin culture. The crowd was definitely pleased with the set and poured out of the venue with smiles on their faces, talking about the “dopest show” they had ever seen.
If you’re not familiar with either of these artists, and want a double dose of that Midwest hip-hop power, these lyrical poets will move you with their words and rhymes. They have the experience, they have the talent, and they have, and will never lose, the passion. A must see live if given the opportunity.