w/Micronots, Oddjobs, Dee Jay Bird, Brother Ali, and Vitamin D Mon Sept 15, Showbox, 8 pm, $15 adv/$18 DOS (all ages).

Hardcore fans of Minneapolis punks Lifter Puller get "LFTR PLLR" tattooed across their knuckles, but after Rob Osbourne (Ozzy's adopted kid) appeared on the cover of People magazine wearing an Atmosphere sticker, the newest Minnesotans to get immortalized in ink could be "SLUG & ANT"--the rapper and producer who make up the Sabbath-son-approved hiphop duo.

Part of Atmosphere's popularity stems from the fact that they have come to symbolize the tangible locale where multiple strains of indie culture collide. Hiphop and punk coexist peacefully in their music (their new album, Seven's Travels, is distributed by Bad Religion home Epitaph, and is co-licensed with Rhymesayers), as does skateboarding (the group had a near-headlining spot on the Warped Tour) and Suicide Girls (they title a song after them on Travels). Overall, Atmosphere have created their version of a living, breathing, beat-based for the hiphop generation.

As part of their nod to blatant introspection, Atmosphere's last two releases detailed the dysfunction of a doomed relationship via Slug's raw, exhibitionist lyrics and Ant's woozy production. Slug gave flesh to the sometimes-cardboard sentiments of weepy pop-punk acts, rendering his cynicism in gritty 3-D format and numbing it down with an affinity for liquor. People called it "emo-hop" and Slug publicly blanched at the term (and was reluctant to even utter the word "emotional" in interviews), but it was an awkward tag with the right meaning: Atmosphere were heading the pack of newly emotional (sometimes self-deprecating) underground rappers.

On Travels, though, the lyrical depression/anger has evolved, as Slug "tries to find a balance" and Ant makes, well, the happiest beats of his career. Slug agrees he's had a positive shift in focus, explaining, "I think I sound happier, too; I didn't even realize it, because I was very unhappy when I made it. This summer changed my life; everything got really topsy-turvy, and I finally found happiness for the first time in about 10 years. In order to find it, I had to go through a whole bunch of tragedy; I plan to try and stay this way for a while, and use it to my fullest advantage."

Slug has come to believe his lyrics end up as self-fulfilling prophecy. "My [life] is being defined by the things I'm saying on the record," he continues, "almost like what I'm saying [with Atmosphere] comes true for me in some weird, ambiguous way. It sounds cliché, but now I feel like it's the music making the man. I'm not trying to claim any psychic ability, but I'm more confused now about my art than I've ever been in my life."

That just might mean that the rapper is coming into his own--or coming home. On Travels, the girl-intensive sentiment of Lucy Ford: The Atmosphere EP's and God Loves Ugly has been translated to a love of cities; even the "she" of Slug's earlier lyrics has become a "place," as Slug refers to Minneapolis in the feminine. The women he does rap about tend toward a vague collective of tour hotties, nonspecific except that they each represent the excitement of a city--or, inversely, the transience of Atmosphere's seemingly constant touring schedule.

Still, Slug's "always coming back home to you," and if anything, this is a record about Atmosphere's hometown. Beyond the proud statement, "Damn, I'm from Minnesota, land of the cold air," Slug constantly references Minneapolis' punk pride and joy, Lifter Puller, namedrops First Avenue Records, and becomes possibly the first rapper ever to shout out Duluth. On a couple songs, his delivery even mimics that of Lifter Puller vocalist Craig Finn, all gruff-rapped and conversational.

"Ultimately, that's who you make your records for when you're a rapper: your city," Slug explains. "Nowadays the scene here is so incredible that I have to champion it as much as I can without being too corny.

"I did manage to pull off one really corny song on that record, the bonus hidden track," he continues. "It completely champions the Midwest and my city, and it's super corny, but the way I did it, I think it's a good corny, like a Billy Joel corny."

But really, with his increasing popularity and continued refinement as a lyricist, Slug has license to drop the cheese bomb of love whenever he pleases--not that you should expect that to happen too often. "How can I whine?" he asks. "I have an incredible fucking life."