PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Atmosphere: When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold

Chris Gaerig

Twin Cities duo lacks the charisma and quality production to excel on their latest, obnoxiously named album.


When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold

Label: Rhymesayers
US Release Date: 2008-04-22
UK Release Date: 2008-04-21

Some folks think that it doesn't take all that much to be a rapper: a decent vocabulary, interesting wordplay, and most importantly, an unflappable amount of charisma -- to say nothing of production and other various factors. As Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell proved with their SNL smash "Lazy Sunday," that you can be an awkward kid with no right stepping near a mic, and still pull off a fairly believable Beastie Boys (et al) impression. Basically, if you've got the stones to truly control the mic -- not as common as you might think -- you're well on your way to making a splash in the hip-hop world.

And it's primarily this reason that Atmosphere, a Minneapolis hip-hop duo and indie-rap mainstay, have never found success outside of their niche group of fans. Comprised of rapper Slug and DJ/producer Ant, the group's prolific catalog is marred by Slug’s sheer lack of charisma and character, relegating many of their countless songs to drab stories of struggles and women troubles. Their latest release When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold -- horrific moniker aside -- suffers from sandy dry flows and unremarkable production.

The trouble starts right off the bat with "Like the Rest of Us." Slug's various non-sequiturs about cocaine binges and the dietary choices of pregnant women are frankly inane: "Got a little cocaine habit / But he says he only does it if somebody else has it / Do that shit, do that shit, baby / She went vegetarian for the baby." The track attempts to show a world of delusion and wretched people á la "Howl" or "Wasteland" but Slug is no Eliot -- and that’s overlooking the embarrassing faux pas of the "baby" / "baby" rhyme.

As When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold continues, so do the subpar rhymes ("Guarantees", "Your Glasshouse", "Can't Break"). But what really stands out on throughout the album are the ear-grating choruses. Aside from the fact that Slug hits notes like Ben Wallace hits free throws, the melodies and sheer stupidity of these hooks is mind-boggling. The most egregious example is on "You" in which Slug actually sings (if you can believe it): "You love the people that love you / You hear the music they move to / You give your all to the fall through / But you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know you." Really, this is the best he can come up with? Slug’s other attempts aren't much better as evidenced by "The Skinny": "Fly trick, light it / Gon' pay all day, but won't never get away from skinny white pimp."

But where Slug fails, you'd assume Ant would be able to assist. Unfortunately, he rarely comes through. A mediocre rapper can produce a decent album if it's layered with incredible production -- the Get Rich or Die Tryin' effect, if you will. For the most part though, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is littered with beats that sound like they were made by an aspiring DJ who just got GarageBand rather than a seasoned producer. However, when Ant comes through, it becomes obvious why these two work so well together. The throbbing synths on "Shoulda Known" compliment Slug's sneering flows while the bouncing piano of "Yesterday" is obviously the best fit for the MC's casual, storytelling lines.

The real problem with When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is that, simply put, Slug doesn't sound like he's interested in the music he's making. His delivery sounds obligatory rather than something that he's truly passionate about. And Ant's production simply can't support the entire album -- let alone the few songs it actually does. It may be the case that Atmosphere has produced so much work that they don't have the quality creative juice for more. Or this album could just be a misfire. Either way, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is almost entirely forgettable -- something that can rather easily be done in the group's storied catalog.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.