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Atmosphere, ‘Seven’s Travels’ (Epitaph/Rhymesayers)

The usual pop story is that you can’t go home again, but in hip-hop you’re suspect if you leave. That’s never been a problem for Minneapolis rapper Slug. He may tour 200 days a year, but he’s remained outspokenly loyal to his hometown since 1997’sOvercast!, taking as much pride in his boho-Midwesternness as Outkast do in being ATLiens. Despite its title, Seven’s Travels, the fourth album by Atmosphere (Slug and DJ/producer Ant), could have been commissioned by the Twin Cities tourist bureau. Everything from Uptown drinkery Liquor Lyle’s to late, great Minneapolis rockers Lifter Puller receives a shout-out; on the bonus track, “Shh,” Slug even celebrates his hometown’s clean tap water and abundant parking.

Now that Slug has seen the world–and spent last year’s tough-talking God Loves Ugly worrying about his place in it–he’s decided he’s happier staying put, which just makes him seem more worldly. Seven’s Travels is Atmosphere’s least frantic, most playful album; even overtly emo moments like “Bird Sings Why the Caged I Know” are tempered by Ant’s soul-kissed beats, which balance B-boy bluntness with billowing ornamentation. And while female trouble has traditionally been Slug’s sorest subject–the point where his knee-jerk smart-assedness turns authentically, disturbingly mean–he’s progressing.

The drunken bad-date slur of “Shoes” (“Those are your shoes, these are my shoes, we’ve got issues”) butters its angst with sly wit: “Here we are sitting on your living room floor / Listening to records from your collection / Boredom, in between a coma and an erection.” And on “Reflections,” a nightclub pickup glimmers with the possibility of a more substantial connection: “All of your regrets you’re carrying and burying / Don’t mean a damn thing if you don’t have someone to share them with.” After all, if you’re gonna go home again, why go (it) alone?