Hard to say what’s more unusual about Pugslee Atomz — that he’s a talented, intelligent Chicago rapper without a major-label deal, or that he appears to have named himself after that husky-sized weird kid from Addams Family Values. Contrary to what you might take from the influx of quality Chi-Town hip-hops clogging the airwaves these days (Common, Kanye West, Cool Kids), record execs aren’t just handing out recording contracts to everyone who looks like a musician, a la grunge-era Seattle.
Maybe the A&R suits were distracted by visions of a creepy little boy spitting rhymes through swollen cheeks about his haunted mansion and disembodied-hand playmate. That’s unfortunate, because Atomz, a fixture on the Chicago scene since the early ‘90s, is much, much better than that. (But how could he not be?)
His 2007 release, Conversations With a Chamelion, is aptly titled, showcasing his switch-hit flow over gospel choirs (“The Last Time”), porno-funk guitar loops (“Vacation”), and sped-up soul samples (“Dedicated”), and proving he’s capable of producing party anthems (“Movement”), heart-rending social commentary (“Dog Wood Tree”), and softer romantic tracks (“N Side”). State-of-hip-hop critique “Black Boy” complains about the lack of variety in many rappers’ bling-, drug-, and violence-obsessed verses, sardonically exclaiming, “if you ain’t gonna shoot ’em up, ain’t gonna give ’em junk … ain’t gonna get the gold, that don’t sound like lyrics to me.” And Atomz has the skills to back up his trash talk. Highlight “The Outlaw” protests that you won’t hear him (he moonlights as a college-station deejay) unless your radio is tuned to “88-point something,” but this catchy and complex celebration of the Windy City should’ve made Pugs Atomz a household name — outside of Nick at Nite.
10 p.m. Saturday, Sep 6, Limelight, 2718 N. Saint Mary’s St., (210) 223-2830,
— Jeremy Martin