Atlas at last

Local rapper Dem Atlas carves a niche in the middle of every dichotomy.

Rapper Joshua Turner aka Dem Atlas in his basement performance space Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Minneapolis. The Twin Cities native released his first EP, Charlie Brown, earlier this month and will be performing at the Triple Rock on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013.

Emily Dunker

Rapper Joshua Turner aka Dem Atlas in his basement performance space Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Minneapolis. The Twin Cities native released his first EP, Charlie Brown, earlier this month and will be performing at the Triple Rock on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013.

Patrick Maloney

What: Xavier Marquis, Munqs and Dem Atlas

When: 8 p.m., Saturday

Where: Triple Rock Social Club, 629 Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis

Cost: $8 in advance, $10 at the door

Age: 18+

Local rapper Dem Atlas manages to look both cool and uneasy as he scans the near-empty coffee shop. When he sits down, his fingers drum on the table, but his words come out mellow and deliberate.

“Growing up, I was really popular,” Atlas said, “but I was also kind of laughed at.”

It only follows that Atlas feels a kinship with Charlie Brown, who is both the protagonist and outcast of his comic strip. That’s why Atlas named his recently released EP after the Peanuts character.

Atlas, known off-stage as Joshua Turner, lived in Minneapolis for seven years before moving to the suburbs to attend the predominantly white Eagan Senior High School.

“I was the only black person,” Atlas said. “Kids called me Oreo.”

Atlas found outlets on his high school speech team and as the frontman for a rock band called The Argonauts. Both allowed him to perform in front of an audience, but while speech offered a rigid set of rules, rock had a distinct freedom to it. In his music, Atlas represents both camps, combining sharp flows with laid-back melodies and the occasional James Brown-esque squawk on top of drum-driven percussion and piano loops.

As influential as these co-curriculars were for Atlas, they didn’t make up for his distaste for school.

“I’m sick of sitting in fluorescent classrooms with lights beaming down on me,” Atlas said. “I like dimness.”

That’s where the former half of Atlas’s stage name, Dem, comes from. The latter is a reference to the Greek god Atlas.

“Dim Atlas is a contrast between man and god,” he said. “We’re dim, we’re unenlightened.”

Although Atlas only moved out of his mother’s house recently, he’s been playing shows nonstop for the last few months and is now working on projects with other local artists, including one with Bomba de Luz’s Lydia Hoglund. Although Atlas and Bomba de Luz might have different styles, Atlas has already proven his ability to find a middle ground between binary opposites.

“I think of it like a collage,” Atlas said. “Music should be a mix of all sorts of ideas and abstract paintings.”