There are funny ironies in the hiphop world. Since hiphop evolves and flourishes in inner cities, it always seemed more reasonable that an MC would be rapping about thrift and earnestness rather than lighting blunts with Benjamins and knockin' fools out with four-finger platinum rings. But much of hiphop thrives on the prospect of rewards at the end of the journey, rather than the realism of the present.

There are some MCs out there, however, who aren't scared to let you know that they might not have it all--that maybe they're not ballin', rollin' deep, or even runnin' game. Slug is the MC for the Minneapolis hiphop group Atmosphere, as well as a member of the Rhymesayers crew (which includes Eyedea, Beyond, and Spawn), and his entire persona seems to be built around low self-esteem, insecurity, and the struggle for stability.

Atmosphere's new album, God Loves Ugly (Fat Beat/Rhymesayers), is the group's latest effort to give Slug a vehicle to explore his shortcomings and the theme of ugliness. If Slug is the voice of passion, then Ant, Atmosphere's beatmaker, is the voice of reason, and the unspoken hero of this record. Ant's spare, no-frills beats and minimalist tracks are consistent with the themes of "God Loves Ugly," and work best with Slug's flow on the hyper-syncopated and swinging tracks of "The Bass and the Movement" and "Flesh."

Slug's vocal treatment is parallel with the beat production--raw and dry, which is good if you prefer your hiphop not to be overly glossy with overusage of double-tracked vocals and samples. The first single and the most realized track, "Modern Man's Hustle," with a mid-tempo R&B bump, is reminiscent of Tupac's "I Get Around," with Slug emoting to "Lucy" (much like Eminem's "Kim"), a reoccurring female in his lyrics, about why he's gotta hustle and how it has affected their relationship.

It is the Spartan elements of this record that give God Loves Ugly its character, but they are also what ultimately limit it. Eighteen tracks of Slug rapping about his inadequacies, relationship woes, and antihero vulnerability, mixed with the standard male testosterone-flexing, can get melodramatic and one-sided. When I called Slug, I asked him about his modest approach to hiphop. His comment was, "I'm just stupid, ya know."

Atmosphere is currently on tour, so regardless of Slug's issues, this will be a chance to see some of the Midwest's finest underground hiphop talent being represented. Mr. Dibbs of 1200 Hobos will be on the decks, and also accompanying is Murs of Living Legends. I'm hoping that this tour will blow Slug and Atmosphere up, so he can sooth his inner turmoil with, say, a diamond-encrusted Rolex--or maybe just some therapy and Xanax. NICOLAE WHITE

Atmosphere w/Murs and DeeJayBird, Fri Sept 20 at I-Spy, 1921 Fifth Ave, 374-9482. Two shows: all-ages at 6 pm, $15; 21+ at 10 pm, $12.