Seven's Travels (Epitaph/Rhymesayers)

Most hip-hoppers have a pathological need to present themselves as invulnerably hard and supremely masterful. Atmosphere MC Slug (Sean Daley) would rather turn his drunken encounters with women, uncool Minneapolis upbringing, and awry tour adventures into witty, poignant verses.

This approach has snagged Atmosphere a chunk of the emo demographic (note the group's move from Fat Beats to Epitaph). The follow-up to 2002's God Loves Ugly, Seven's Travels contains dozens of quotable lines from Slug's underdog persona that coalesce into engrossing short stories, bleeding cleverness and barely suppressed rage. Beatmaker Ant and DJ Mr. Dibbs have spiffed up their production, too; Seven's Travels divides most of its 19 tracks between a heavy-lidded, boudoir-soul aura and a spare, tough funk attack à la Public Enemy, giving Slug's compelling words a resilient trampoline on which to bounce.