Originally, a collective of Minnesota rappers and beatmakers known as Headshots made mixtapes of their music that they gave away for free. By 1997, the collective had been reduced to Sean “Slug” Daley, Brent “Siddiq” Sayers, Anthony “Ant” Davis, Derek “Spawn” Turner and Musab “Beyond” Saad who began to focus on the “important shit” necessary to creating a successful music business. Siddiq stopped making beats to focus on managing Rhymesayers Entertainment (RSE) – a company that would eventually become “the Twin Cities' biggest record label”.
Touring anywhere for anyone for any price combined with connecting with fans using an early presence on the Internet allowed Atmosphere, at the time a trio of Slug, Spawn & Ant, to grow a following without radio play, MTV exposure or having their albums in stores. Spawn left the group for personal reasons around the time Atmosphere’s first album Overcast was released.
Over the next five years, Atmosphere collaborated with Dynospectrum and Deep Puddle Dynamics, and released several of their own EPs along with the cassette-only Headshots: Se7en. In 2002, Atmosphere dropped GodLovesUgly and it sold 13,000 copies in its first week, leading to a number of major labels (unsuccessfully) courting the duo. It appeared on the Billboard 200 and its single “Modern Man’s Hustle” remains Atmosphere’s only top 20 on Billboard’s Rap Chart.
Three months before the band released Seven’s Travels, a 16-year old female fan was raped and murdered by a recently paroled janitor who worked at the venue where Atmosphere was performing – an event that would not only inspire a change of cover art for the album, but also a change in Slug who would “transition to try to be a more responsible artist not just to the audience but to myself”. Seven’s Travels became Atmosphere’s first of several consecutive albums to peak in the top half of The Billboard 200.
After re-releasing Headshots: Se7en in early 2005, Atmosphere’s fourth studio album You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having followed later that year. While working on their fifth album over the next few years, the band’s output of surplus material was massive. Four ‘Sad Clown’ EPs and the free album Strictly Leakage preceded 2008’s critically-acclaimed When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold – an album that remains their highest charting, reaching #5. It spawned a minor alternative radio crossover hit with “You”. In the years leading up to Lemons, the band had begun sampling live instruments instead of using music from other artists, and also started performing as a band with members playing instruments live alongside Ant’s DJ'ing and backing tracks.
More EPs followed with 2009’s free Leak At Will and a 2010 ‘double EP’ titled To All My Friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy. Next, The Family Sign, Southsiders and Fishing Blues offered more of the group’s introspective lyrics over further efforts to give hip hop a more mature sound. All three albums (and the preceding double EP) reached the top 40 on Billboard’s Albums Chart. Since 2018, their releases have not achieved the same chart success the duo had experienced earlier.