One of the more implausible rap stars of the past five years, Atmosphere's MC Slug has gained a devout following in both the indie rap and punk rock undergrounds. He and producer Ant remain, arguably, the fathers of emo-rap, lifted up as full-blown scene gods by legions of bespectacled, backpack-wearing social misfits. Earlier this year, the final piece dropped when Atmosphere signed with über-indie Epitaph, affording them the punk street cred to match their matchless hip-hop credentials (Slug owns hot-shit label Rhymesayers and was an original Anticon affiliate).
Seven's Travels is neither a major step forward nor a gigantic step back; it seems destined to further solidify the group's place within the cozy confines of the counterculture. Ant's loping, piano-heavy production is a step up from the strictly linear beats that underscored God Loves Ugly, but compared side-by-side with the work of contemporaries RJD2 or Omega One (Aesop Rock), they appear slightly lackluster. Similarly, Slug's rhymes have become more pedestrian in nature; it's as if his infatuation with Lucy has faded, and to fill the gaps he's unloaded diary pages worth of sexual hoop dreams that, while less ingratiating that his usual lyrical matter, are by turns droll, mystified and sterile. What's more, Seven's Travels indulges, albeit only mildly, in mainstream rap's corporate-sponsored nihilism -- the thuggish overtones of "Los Angeles" are one diamond-cut chain away from Direct Effect, and in the vituperative "Trying to Find a Balance", Slug disassociates himself from the emo-rap scene ("Stop tryin' to write rhymes and go back to playing volleyball").
Though it's not the emotionally draining follow-up many were expecting, Seven's Travels succeeds. Its saving grace is the fact that Slug and Ant remain ignorant of, or choose to completely ignore, the hip-hop conventions that have handcuffed similar artists for almost a decade.