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Midwest Invasion: Atmosphere brings all their friends to Bend 

Midwest hip-hop heavyweights Atmosphere bring all their friends to Bend, Oregon.

Atmosphere, the indie hip-hop super group coming to Midtown on Tuesday, is one of those groups whose fans are just as cool as they are. More of a College Radio Top 10 chart topper than Top 40, Atmosphere is about as introspective as hip-hop can be without getting all emo. That hipster girl who you've seen studying race and pop culture at Thump? She's an Atmosphere fan. So is her professor, probably.

The group, which includes frontman Slug, producer Ant, Erick Anderson on keys and Nate Collis on guitar, has been making waves on the underground rap scene since 1994 and is a major reason you should head to Midtown on Tuesday. Their new album, a double EP titled To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy, will only be for sale digitally on iTunes and Amazon, with CDs sold exclusively during the tour and through Fifth Element (fifthelementonline.com).

Another reason is all the friends Atmosphere is bringing with them. While not as well known, Blueprint, Grieves & Budo and DJ Rare Groove are making names for themselves, especially Blueprint, whose melodic, meditative style is reminiscent of the headliner's. He's also a self-described nerd - he's a former computer systems analyst - and is ready for redemption. We caught up with Blueprint right before he went onstage for the tour's first show, in Madison, Wisconsin.

"I was [in Bend] in 2003," he says. "I was terrible. If anybody remembers that show, [Tuesday] will definitely be a redemption show."

He's got good reason to be confident. His latest album, called Blueprint Who, is an inspired collection of tracks that sample classic The Who tracks. It's catchy, upbeat and unlike anything that's been released lately. Blueprint, however, isn't pushing the album much - he's not even releasing it on iTunes, due to fear of The Who getting up in arms about the unauthorized use of their material.

"I'm just a fan [of The Who]," says Blueprint. "I watched a couple documentaries on them and rediscovered their music. They will probably never hear of me. It's just for the fun of it." Blueprint is releasing the album as two digital versions - a free one and paid version - and a CD version, available for $4.99 through his website, printmatic.net. He's also working on a full-length album called Adventures in Counterculture, slated to be released in November. Instead of labeling the album hip-hop, he says it's "every genre. It's wide open."

Blueprint credits his recent productivity to his decision to give up drinking, which, he says, has fueled his energy and creativity. "My brain was sad from all those years of alcohol," he says. Now he's reading seven books at once and pursuing projects in film. He hopes to make a documentary soon.

"I'm gonna hang out with artists that have something unique going on," he says. "Ones that no one gets to peak into their eyes." On his wish list are Wu Tang's the RZA and Prince.

This kind of creativity is exactly what Rhymesayers, the indie label started by the Atmosphere's Slug and Ant, is all about. The label features artists that have something unique to say - something that the bigger corporate labels might not quite understand. Rhymesayers started recruiting artists from the Twin Cities and has now expanded to include musicians from across the country - including Grieves & Budo from Brooklyn, Seattle's Jake One and Blueprint from Columbus, Ohio.

Atmosphere is currently working on their next official album but for now, they're touring with all their friends from Rhymesayers - whose fans, according to Blueprint, are "the smartest, most considerate, caring people on earth."

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