Very few rappers get better with age. And very few rap fans allow their rappers to change with age. Put those together, and I’m sure you’re dubious about Slug and Ant’s latest–24 years into their rap career as Atmosphere.

Don’t be.

Name checks are ’90s pop and rap–via tribute verses like “it wasn’t even close to Halloween,” a reference to a “pocket full of horsehoes,” and a lament that starts, “Been around the world and I-I-I.” -Slug acknowledges his age. “I’m too old for my pants to be sagging,” he says, with NO voice changer over beats from Ant that are clear, deliberate, slick and cool.

Atmosphere’s “Word?” album will be released in chunks, and this is the first. And it’s some of the best work they’ve done. As for guest verses, Evidence KILLS on “Crumbs.”

At points he claims to be “basic” and “unoriginal” who “slips into the victim role if it remotely fits,” but I”m hoping this is intentional sarcasm. Slug can’t be that unaware of who he is and what he represents: An older, white male who raps about his older life, loving his family, with a couple of woes, and staying true to the real meaning of hip hop for life. Not fake gangster. Not stuck in some past glory day. Present. Today. Talking about what matters over beats that are inescapably catchy.

It’s extraordinary.

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