MC Slug's self-deprecating women troubles are as much pose as autobiography, which if missed can be as damaging to your appreciation of his rhymes as taking Morrissey's dour woe at face value. Like Moz or Slim Shady, Slug's users and victims are characters in pocket passion plays that almost revel in our capacity for self-delusion, insecurity and denial. Perhaps a little stung by the disparaging categorization of emo-rap (the cover features Slug sporting a cheek-in-palm grimace and a mohawk), Slug returns to his roots on his latest album.
You Can't Imagine loosely traces Slug's life and love of hip-hop from "The Arrival" through the astounding album-closing "Little Man," in which Slug reflects on the complex relationships between his absent father (echoes of Marshall Mathers), himself and his son (especially given his own lengthy tour-related absences) from a variety of perspectives. Along the way, DJ Ant delivers his best production job to date, reaching back to late-'80s hip-hop for limber, sample-rich, R&B-fueled old-school beats that drape this rap jester in raiment's worthy of a king. The album's highlighted by "That Night," which powerfully showcases Slug's talent, alluding to his loss of innocence as he recounts the story of an Albuquerque girl raped and killed by a venue's janitor (a convicted sex offender) after one of his shows.
Atmosphere plays the Loft Thurs., Oct. 20, 7 p.m., with P.O.S. and Blueprint. $17. 404-885-1365. www.theloftatl.com.