I was introduced to this album while the west coast gangsta rap still had a stranglehold on the popular image of hip hop. The Beasties really opened me up to the more conscious New York rap stylings, and the guest appearance of Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest introduced me to that group as well. Ill Communication opened the door for me to see that Hip Hop wasn't just Snoop, Cube and Dre rapping about killing cops and banging hos.
This album is a collection of two EPs and several singles previously released only on vinyl. Somehow, this hodgepodge has become underground hip-hop's greatest release to date. Deviating from mainstream rap's insistence on false posturing and tough-guy images, rapper Slug wears his heart on his sleeve. However, I'll kick anybody's ass that calls Atmosphere "emo rap."
This album, released in 1981, has been with me my whole life (minus the one year I was alive before it was released), and different songs have been important to me at different times. Lyrically and musically, the whole album is simply beautiful.
While most hip hop artists are a rapper with studio-produced beats, The Roots are true musicians. A band that makes their own music that has a rapper instead of a lead singer. This approach was another reason I went from a self-righteous rock fan that automatically dismissed all rap to the hip hop junkie I am today. FYI - Atmosphere also tours with a live band.