Emotion has long been an integral component of rap music, but it often takes on familiar and endlessly recycled forms ranging from the tear-soaked tribute to dead homies to the nostalgic coming-of-age song. Few rappers have pushed the genre's emotional boundaries with as much fearless conviction as Slug, the iconoclastic MC behind Minnesota's Atmosphere. His hyper-literate lyrics delve headfirst into the messy emotional terrain where love and hate merge and become indistinguishable. An emotional tightrope walker of sorts, Slug explores his weaknesses and anxieties with sharp wit and lacerating self-deprecation that never devolves into cheap laughs or mere shtick. Rather than transforming his feelings of rage into outlandish fantasies of power and violence, Slug stares down his demons with such intimacy and candor that his discs sometimes sound as much like therapy as music. Atmosphere developed a cult following through riveting live shows and a series of critically acclaimed, independently released EPs, some of which were combined to form 2000's outstanding The Lucy Ford LP. God Loves Ugly picks up where that collection left off, with Slug spinning emotionally charged tales of love and anger among the young, gifted, and profoundly fucked up, as producer Ant lays down minimalist piano-tinged tracks that never overshadow Slug's emotion-soaked delivery. The rapper has thankfully shed much of the pretension that troubled The Lucy Ford LP, choosing instead a more straightforward, visceral approach epitomized by telltale song titles like "Fuck You Lucy." Though a darker, more cynical album than its predecessor, God Loves Ugly features Slug's sunniest and most tender work to date in "Modern Man's Hustle," a single that evokes the poignant humanism of The Coup without becoming derivative. In a hip-hop landscape littered with studio gangsters, pimps on wax, and thugs in need of hugs, Slug proves yet again on God Loves Ugly that the bravest move a rapper can make is simply to be himself.