I don’t know which is the greater sin: that it has taken me this long to write on this song, or that I’m even about to attempt to put this song into words in the first place. As such, I think you should listen to this song before you read this.
Good, now. This song is Puppets, by Atmosphere, a rap duo from Minnesota. Prolific in their music making since they started in 1989, Ant (Anthony Davis) produces the tracks that Slug (Sean Daley) raps over.
The collab is consistently captivating. Be it in the beautiful, broken-down blues guitar of Guarantees, or in the lines lifting with a grin, realizing, “Ain’t nothing like the sound of the leaves / When the breeze penetrates these south side trees.” Especially early in their career, Atmosphere tends towards the desolate. Instead of rapping about riches, they artfully speak for the down-and-out, through songs sometimes empowering, often depressing, and always full of soul and truth.
Presenting Exhibit A: Puppets, off the album When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold.
Knowing hums open the tale of a man who has been begrudged of fame’s good fortunes. Throughout the song, Slug flip-flops between sympathy and scorn towards the guy. Slug understands his “complaints / About how nowadays things ain’t the same,” and the piano’s clap seems to agree in one-dimensional assent. But as the beat kicks in for the second verse, Slug swaggers along, searing: “I think it’s great how you used to be great.” He calls out the man for throwing away his “Future – so afraid of yours, That you strayed from the course / And you came up short.” By the time the chorus comes along the second time, ringing of pity for snorting lines and last calls to numb the paint of failure, Channy Moon-Casselle (of Gayngs, an indie group also based out of Minnesota) runs away with a layer of riffs simply trickling with sooth, telling of the triumph that soul and self-honesty can have over the rock star life. This emphasis on life and resilience amidst shitty situations is what allows, indeed impels one to listen to Atmosphere over and over, despite and maybe because of the sadness it often conveys.
I’m sure this blurb doesn’t nearly do the beat justice, but maybe it’s an adequate starter pack, or snap shot. Take it for what you will, just know, “It wouldn’t look so bad with the bandage off.”