Slug has been rapping about family since 1999, when he sampled himself goofing around in a Muppet voice with his young son on Headshots: Se7en. When the broad subject of hip-hop made a token appearance nine years later on When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, it was playing in a drug dealer's car, heard through the ears of his baby daughter in the back seat. The distance between love and neglect can be no distance at all, as Slug made plain in a series of doomed-romantic-obsession songs with producing partner Ant. But what happens after you give up on fatalism?
In his life, Slug got married, had a second child (who became the hand model for this album's cover), and mourned the death of his friend Eyedea. In his music, he continues to do what he does best: The Family Sign is another batch of candid, satiric looks at himself, at fantasy versions of himself, and at characters who seem to be leaving, becoming, or otherwise contending with loved ones. The camping partner he loses amid wolf tracks in "Became" isn't a female dog in the usual rap sense, but someone hungry for something that isn't him. The swaggering "Bad Bad Daddy," who uses terms a fourth-grader might appreciate ("I'm nasty," he brags), is Slug's nightmare Crazy Heart self.
The music finds Ant collaborating more closely with guitarist Nate Collis and keyboardist Erick Anderson, whose elegance occasionally edges things into power-ballad territory. But sonically, it's still Ant's weird baby, and he hews close to his version of the blues, hermetic snap intact. It's not rap as most kids like it, but with songs this good about birth ("Something So") and abuse ("The Last to Say"), it might be one to grow on.