By Jonathan Juliano
I’ve seen promos at the end of MTV dating shows for Atmosphere and his new album When Life Gives you Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold. This seems appropriate because the criticism against rapper Slug has always been that he talks about relationships, and girls, and that he is too much of an "Emo rapper." I feel bad for anybody that makes this their first album by them because when Slug was in his prime, he was amazing. The beats from producer Ant might not have been as complex, and Slug’s rhymes were always about the same girl, but there was something you could respect because of it. Bits and pieces of songs helped you construct his personality and how bad this girl was for him and how much he loved and hated her. It was obvious that he was only a rapper because it put money in his pocket where as seeing a psychologist would burn his pockets clean off.
When Life Gives you Lemons shows a new Slug that makes me think maybe making music helped him because the album shows growth and a maturity. On the MTV promos Slug has long greasy hair hanging out of his wool hat, and sports a creepy mustache. The look matches his blue collar album. Every song is a story about people struggling in life. Slug has always had one or two songs per album that were stories (his best being “Woman with the tattooed hands”), but every song on this album is a tale about people struggling in life, which really fits the album’s title. His new songwriting strategy makes sense because he’s too old to rhyme like in the past. The problem though, is that the songs sometimes blend together and sound redundant. On some songs it works brilliantly and on others it makes me welcome global warming for Atmosphere.
Ant is one of the highlights of the album. He gets exponentially better with every album he produces. The big experiment was using a live band but Ant has adapted and it is to the point now where a past his prime Slug may just be holding the beat maker back.
The song “Puppets” has hand claps and a deep and heavy piano. I never thought I would like a song with hand claps (excluding that Hey Mickey you’re so fine song) but it works amazingly. The story over this beat is about a guy Slug knows (he’s really talking about himself) who wants to live a rock star life but isn’t really there yet. “Who needs fame and fortune when you get the same love that the fame is snortin…” The chorus reveals the thirty-something rapper’s frustrations of never really making it and settling.
The two most compelling songs on the album are “Me,” and “Waitress.” After listening to at least six Atmosphere albums since high school, “Me” might be one of my favorite songs. He is so honest and the beat has a repeating guitar and an eerie female voice to match the grittiness of the rhymes. He tells his whole story from the divorce of his parents to divorcing his wife, and how his parents affected his views on relationships.
“And Mom and Dad were never getting back together/ So he was on some Baby we gonna make it last forever.” The story progresses to how he dated a girl for five years and had a son with her but they broke up. After all the drama, after naming an album Lucy Ford, after the song “Fuck you Lucy,” and all the hatred he put into every album, on this album he says, “Now he’s got a best friend instead of a wife/But he feels like he stole the best years of her life." I could really talk endlessly about this song but listen for yourself and I will move on to “Waitress.”
“Waitress” starts with a sad piano and Slug raps in first person as a bum who goes to a diner every day and sees this one waitress who hates him. The bum knows the waitress is sad “By the way I can see it in your eyes, you’re tired of life/Not a stranger to the fight…” She threatens to call the cops on him, and she yells at him but when he isn’t there she worries about him and wonders where he is. The song ends with Slug saying, “I had the chance to make a difference but I didn’t/in the café bathroom getting free tap water/ thinking damn I should have been a better father to my daughter.”
When Life Gives you Lemons, is just what the album is, people surviving, Slug surviving through his misery, fighting his monsters, and just trying to live one day at a time, trying to paint his life gold. The album is not is not a lemon, but it is not his goldest, it’s somewhere in between, but give credit to the group for evolving into something new entirely.