Album:When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold by Atmosphere
Released: April 22nd, 2008
Atmosphere is an American hip hop duo from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The group consists of rapper Slug (Sean Daley) and DJ/producer Ant (Anthony Davis) and has released eight studio albums since its formation in 1989. Well known within the Twin Cities rap and hip hop scene, Atmosphere is a founding act from the record company Rhymesayers, which is also based in the Twin Cities. The duo came to critical success after the release of their 2008 album, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, which features varying samples and instrumentation as well as strong storytelling within each song.
The Story and the Songs:
Beginning with the slow tinkle of a music box, “Like the Rest of Us” is the chill introduction of the curtain being pulled back to start the performance. This song tells the story of the daily struggle of the middle and lower class. Kicking up the tempo to something more upbeat, “Puppets” is the cynical acknowledgment of gritty reality with a pragmatic resolution to party and enjoy life while you can. “Puppets” grooves with a catchy chorus and kick-snare combination to send your foot tapping. “The Skinny” tells the story of a young woman who is under the control of her pimp; it is an appeal by someone she loves to leave the life and seek something better for herself and metaphorically speaks to the forces in the world that keep us in places we would rather get out of. “Dreamer” describes a young woman’s life from her teen years seeking love into having her children and coming to accept that she needs to do right for herself and her kids; men have let her down in life, but she continues to fight until she thrives for her family. “Shoulda Known” covers drug abuse and heroin addiction with a sleazy beat to bob your head to.
“You” picks up the pace again and follows a young woman trying to balance long hours at work with maintaining a social life. “Painting” slows things down to a melancholy ramble about reflecting on the past and wishing to wipe away your mistakes. “Your Glasshouse” is a sonic hangover that follows the morning after for a perpetual party-goer seeking company through binge drinking. “Yesterday” is a touching tune that describes the love between two people and reminisces about better days that ends with a twist that doesn’t lessen the earlier parts of the song, but instead puts them into a more intimate perspective. “Guarantees” is an exercise in minimalism songwriting that consists of bluesy guitar and Slug’s vocal; again listing the life of a character that is just trying to make it paycheck to paycheck, “Guarantees” brings a regretful cynicism to the fore as a man wonders at what could have been and what is left.
“Me” maintains another melancholy story with acoustic guitar and a woman’s haunting vocals underneath Slug’s verses about a young man trying to find his place in the world and injects the persona of a rapper into the mix. “Wild Wild Horses” describes the fear of commitment in a relationship between young men and women with another grooving chorus and beat. “Can’t Break” references Icarus to describe the wishes of a man to make a name for himself despite his difficulty in relationships and finding motivation. “The Waitress” is another song with a twist at the end, but this time describes a homeless man who appears to bother the waitress of a local diner for attention. The final track bookends the album with more music box chiming that introduces “In Her Music Box.” This talks about a little girl who spends time in the back of her dad’s car listening to hip hop; it refers to the car as the music box and there is wonderful juxtaposition between her Elmo doll and drive through food while her dad smokes weed in the front seat when she naps; the song speaks to the innocence of childhood in an urban world.
When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is like a collection of sonic, short stories; each song has its own distinct subject matter, but ties into those surrounding it by the depth of feeling. There is also a connection of struggle, middle class issues, addiction, and day-in-the-life themes in the songs. Slug’s lyricism is at its finest and the musical variety on the album attest to Ant’s masterful production of songs; they sound more like poetry than many people’s misconceived notion of what rap and hip hop are which elevates the album to another level of art.
Please enjoy some song recommendations, a song from the album, and check out the band’s social media accounts below!
Song recommendations: “Puppets” , “Shoulda Known” , “Painting” , “Guarantees” , “The Waitress”