Pugs Atomz: Bama Pi
Tokyo Dawn Records

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-born Pugs Atomz brings seasoned MC skills and a socially conscious sensibility to this generously packed collection of tracks, all of them featuring numerous guest vocalists and producers. Fourteen years on from his debut album Thanks for not Rhyming (Galapagos 4 Records) and four years since The Decade (BBE Records), this fashion designer, painter, and hip-hop artist draws for inspiration from the Potawatomi Native American tribe for the seventeen-track Bama Pi (translates as “later on”). Among the producers Atomz calls on for the recording's rich beat palette are Blackspade, Moodymann, DJ Simbad, and DJ Vadim, the latter of whom Atomz collaborates with (along with Sabira Jade) in The Electric.

Stylistically the cuts range widely, from the bleepy synth-funk of “R.U.A.G.” to the soulful “Check Me Out.” In keeping with its haunted subject matter, “Rocks and Blows” backs Atomz's rhymes with a woozy flow desperate for its fix, and the album includes two collabs with DJ Vadim, the first a slo-mo hip-hop jam (“Big”) and the second a low-riding, B-Boy-inflected exercise in lurching synth swizzle (“Get It”). “Once Again” (with Simeon Viltz and Mulatto Patriot) provides a horn-charged, funk-fusion backing as a base, while Atomz's romantic side comes to the fore in smooth jams like “Girl” (featuring Mulatto Patriot, Jazz Bailey, and Lyric L) where strings and electric pianos add to the music's warmth, and “Boy Meets Girl,” in which Shayna Love's vocal runs call to mind Nelly Furtado. There's room for an occasional moment of levity, too, such as when the DJ stops and then restarts the music during “Hard Party” (featuring Cerebral Vortex and Moodymann).

Though serious topics are addressed (the drug trade in “Rocks and Blows,” for example), an irrepressible and high-spirited vibe infuses the album, and Atomz prevents Bama Pi from growing tiresome by keeping the tracks tight, concise, and on-point. His confident, dextrous flow is on full display throughout (“Fire Burnin” a good representative example), and the productions are dense, detail-packed affairs of varying moods and character. Truth be told, the album's key selling points are three-fold: Atomz's rhymes, obviously, but also the strong vocal and production contributions of his guests.

February 2014