Atherton is 29-years old, single, white, and lives in his parent’s basement. In some genres, biographical details like this could be considered irrelevant but Atherton is an emcee from Ottawa, Ontario, and therefore these facts are incredibly important to understand his work.
Perhaps more foretelling is the fact that Atherton so willingly includes these details in his press release—from Rick Ross’s closeted past as a prison guard to Eminem’s final freestyle battle in 8-Mile, we’ve seen how street cred can be a rapper’s best friend and how when constructing a rap persona some of the ‘softer’ details are better left omitted. Due to demographic and geographic circumstance, Atherton is by default an outsider in the hip-hop genre. And to that end, Atherton’s output must be defined by its relationship to mainstream hip-hop.
No Threat succeeds in the areas it creates tension between the genre’s tropes—where Atherton tiptoes the line between playing homage to the hip-hop cannon and all together defying it. No Threat begins with, and is muscled along with, an overture type monologue—the type that has defined such records as the Wu-Tang’s Enter The Wu-Tang, or Kanye West’s The College Dropout. As is to be expected on veteran releases, (No Threat is Atherton’s third LP) the albums’ opening track, “Kid On The Corner” is your classic coming-up story, however in today’s music business, “Juicy”’s and “Me Against the World”s are becoming increasingly hard to relate to and Atherton is conscious of this, redefining success as simply seeing his name on a gig poster.
Although Atherton’s influences list various other music genres, he is a rapper’s rapper—with a staccato flow reminiscent of Brother Ali, and emphatic enunciation à la Blackalicious’ The Gift of Gab. Where Atherton employees his diversity is in the record’s production and instrumentation. The hazed-out mantra “Jacob’s Ladder” is more trip-hop than hip-hop. At its heart, “Miserable December” is sunny folk. When Atherton calls on his homies to contribute to the record, he places himself amongst the company of equally varied indie musicians: Dean of Wildlife in “Kid On The Corner” and “Miserable December”, Whitney of Sound of Lions in “No Threat” and “Good Gone,” and Jordan David of the Love Machine in “Get Happy Or Die.”
As with all lyric-centric music, a song is only as powerful as its subject matter. This is particularly true of rap and hip-hop due to both word density and poetic form. Ironically, the genre is also one of the worst offenders here, with emcees putting less emphasis on what they say then how they saw it. Atherton is wordsmith with restraint—he employs wordplay when essential to drive a point but resists the punch line fetishization that’s become increasingly popular with hashtag rap. He’s a joker, but his jokes serve a purpose, they are employed to make heavy subject matter more palatable (One could go as far as calling him hip-hop’s Kurt Vonnegut.) Atherton’s tracks coalesce around narratives—ones of identity, failure, and those immortal human questions—who are we, where are we going, and why, why, why?
It’s important to understand who Atherton is because, in a genre that inundated with overblown underdog stories or playboy posturing, Atherton’s strength is perspective. His subject matter is honest, pedestrian, and as a result incredibly accessible. Although the album title may suggest that ‘No Threat’ be taken as lightly as sunny beats that prop up Atherton rhymes, the subject matter and creativity can’t be describe as anything other any effective.
No Threat is available on Bandcamp. Check out the video for “No Threat” below.
Top Tracks: “No Threat”; “Jacob’s Ladder”; “Kid on The Corner”;“Paul Simon Songs”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)