During a Twitter dispute with A$AP Mob, Danny Brown infamously stated “You worry about what’s in your bank account. I worry about my Metacritic score”. To this end, Brown is a rapper that is forever pushing his music forward. Despite the dick jokes and copious drug references Brown considers rapping to be an art form on par with any other type of music and this ethos once again feeds into his latest album ‘Atrocity Exhibition’.
Danny Brown and London producer Paul White draw from a wide variety of influences on the album including Joy Division and The Talking Heads – in fact so many samples were used that it took $70,000 to clear them. The result is a set of challenging and diverse beats; gone are the EDM and grime inspired tracks of ‘XXX’ and ‘Old’, with Danny instead opting for sounds at the cutting edge of hip hop.
As ever it is Danny Brown’s off kilter flow and distinctive whiny rapping style that ties these experimental beats together. From the dark psychedelia of ‘Downward Spiral’, to the glitchy breakbeat of ‘When it Rain’ and the smooth vocals of ‘Get Hi’ Danny demonstrates his unique ability to rap over any track.
Many of the lyrical themes of Brown’s two previous albums persist on ‘Atrocity Exhibition’. Brown continues on the self destructive path of drug overdoses previously charted in ‘XXX’ and ‘Old’ however the album is noticeably devoid of the party hits such as ‘Smokin and Drinkin’ and ‘Dip’ making ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ the crippling comedown to ‘Old’s wild nights.
Brown’s connection to drugs is more complicated than most rappers. His drug fuelled antics helped to bring him to fame and now people expect to see Brown living up to his prescription persona – in Brown’s view he has become the atrocity exhibition. It seems it is merely through luck that he manages to carry on without consequence, or in his own words, “Dance in the water and not get wet”. Unlike many of his contemporaries Brown doesn’t glamorise his drug use, instead referencing bloody noses, heart palpitations, grinding teeth, cold sweats and ED. It is a visceral honesty that is rare to find in the lyrics of other rappers.
No matter how far Brown delves down the rabbit hole his thoughts never stray far from his past. ‘Tell Me What I Don’t Know’ documents his early days of drug dealing “We was so ambitious, all we really wanted was new Jordans and some b*****” before revealing the darker side of the lifestyle as his friends get murdered and police kick in his front door. It is these references to the Detroit underground that remind the listener of how far Brown has come, from selling dope on street corners to touring the world, and keep him grounded in the face of his rise to fame.
Despite the more serious tone ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ is not without the one liners about licking clit and smoking blunts that have become staples of Danny Brown’s albums. Danny even manages to bring together some of the greatest lyricists of the current generation together on ‘Really Doe’ with Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt and Ab Soul all featuring. These moments lends some light relief to what is, at times, a claustrophobic, dark and introspective album that lays Brown’s many demons bare.
‘Atrocity Exhibition’ acts as another fascinating glimpse into the twisted psyche of one of the most enigmatic and outlandish characters in rap and in doing so Danny Brown has put out one of the best albums of the year.