Tonight (2/18) we have a stack session with a St. Louis hip-hop duo you should know by now– AtM (pronounced "atom"), whose mixtape "A Night Like This" dropped last August, are one of the more well-known local hip-hop acts in this city, and if you don't know them yet, then now is the time. Tune in at 10pm tonight for something very special.
You can get the mixtape here: http://atmmme.bandcamp.com
Their soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/a-t-m-3
2/21: w/ G-Eazy at Old Rock House
3/2: at The Demo
In the meantime, here's something that resembles an album review.
If I had a time machine, I can think of about a thousand things I might try to do with it, but one of them would involve going back to the starstruck conversation I never thought I'd be having in March of 2012, with a well-known rapper, who asked me what I knew about the St. Louis hip-hop scene; to which I reluctantly told him if there was indeed someone or something spectacular coming out of St. Louis these days, I hadn't heard it yet.
As it turns out, there was (and still is) something spectacular here, and if I hadn't been living under a rock at the time, I would have said to keep an eye out for A Night Like This, AtM's first mixtape, which dropped last August. I would have said what I shouted last October at the Gramophone, drowned out by the noise of a crowd, when I first saw AtM live: "These kids can actually rap."
Amir and Malcolm have a natural and comfortable vocal pairing; they bounce off each other with ease. Sometimes their music plays a fluid game of compare-and-contrast: frenzied/calm, smooth/jagged. A Night Like This starts off with the kind of track that punches you in the face– "Year 1," backed by a beat of epic proportions, a sweeping Michael Franco production that throws you headlong into the tape, and as Amir rips through the first verse, it's obvious that AtM is not playing around. They're lucky enough to have several instances of Michael Franco's production on here; sometimes the only word truly capable of describing Franco's standalone beats is "gorgeous." (Michael Franco, another St. Louis musician, is one half of Franco-Hill, and if you catch an AtM live show you could easily be blessed by their musical backing. The other half, Jeff Hill –also AtM's music director– is unbearably talented on the drums; you'll hear him referred to as "The Best Drummer in St. Louis." The music they make as Franco-Hill is incredible and their chemistry is unmatched, but that's another review altogether.)
It's no surprise that when AtM breaks out "That Woman" at a live show, the crowd can't help but sing along with the hook of what is probably their most well-known track– it's a rich soulful song with a complex set of verses, and the beat is downright irresistible. Probably the most interesting thing about A Night Like This is that it retains a unifying sound while the actual experience of listening can be all over the map– "Hero Troubles" is relentlessly emotional; "Odd Motivation" is dark, soulful, oddly rhythmic; "You Take Up 95% of My Brain" is far more lighthearted– like "Time Machine," it's catchy as all hell and solidifies these MCs in my mind as two twenty-year old men who deserve serious credit for the music they make, and deserving of the affections of various unnamed women they're rapping about. Amir and Malcolm's flows can blend seamlessly with all different types of beats, but they also work well with a range of topics and emotions; listening to this mixtape will make you want to know them, and by the end of it, you'll feel like you do, to some degree.
This is hip-hop that takes itself seriously, as hip-hop should. The music feels genuine, heartfelt. These boys are young, but I don't bring that up for the usual reasons– they don't try to cover subject matter that's beyond their scope. Their content is age-appropriate, but handled with a surprisingly tongue-in-cheek sense of humor– the everyday struggles of young men are illuminated by a remarkable maturity, and it's obvious they have room to grow, both for themselves and their music. In this case, that's a good thing.
It's the plague of young MCs (think Joey Badass) that no matter how talented they are, they've either got nothing to say or lack emotional maturity, and eventually end up spitting what sounds like the same old verse, packed with nifty little jokes and similes. With AtM, this is not my concern– like all young men, they have emotional depth and complexity; unlike all young men, they're good at talking about it without sounding corny. Their talent isn't wasted on clever throwaway rhymes and regurgitated attitudes and attributes drawn from raps of old; they use their considerable abilities to create something new. Listening to A Night Like This, you are made to understand that creating music is a thoroughly personal process, not merely producing something for others to consume–whether you're scribbling or spitting or just sitting with the music and spending time with it, it is a process that involves growth and furthering your understanding. You can tell that their next project could very well sound completely different from A Night Like This but still sound like AtM, and that by then, they will have matured somewhat, without falling off.
St. Louis has been hungry for this, for kids who can actually rap. And they have been here for twenty years, calmly waiting to blow up.
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