Danny Brown has always been a rapper on the fringe; he is regarded by his peers as somewhat of a legend, but never quite succeeded in breaking the surface of pop culture. He achieved critical acclaim with XXX, which opened up access to the high-quality production needed for the party anthems in Old. But Atrocity Exhibition doesn’t sound like an attempt to draw in new fans. He seems to be honing in on his own style, almost as if he is still discovering himself.
Atrocity Exhibition’s departures from Danny’s earlier work become apparent as early as its first song, “Downward Spiral.” In contrast with his formerly braggadocios depiction of drug use and sexploits, he paints a rather terrifying picture: “Think I’m hearing voices/Paranoid and think I’m seeing ghosts, oh shit/…Your worst nightmare for me is a normal dream.” He still doesn’t hesitate to chronicle his shenanigans, but he suddenly seems more self-aware. His deliberate association with post-punk implies a tone of self-mockery; throughout the album he indulges in such and inconspicuously drops bars with terrifying perspicacity. “Feeling like I’m not alive/But I know I’m not dead/Living lies but can’t hide/deep inside, the truth dies” – he is drowning in his torment, with only desperate calls for help.
The immediate standout from this album is “Really Doe,” a five-minute track featuring Kendrick, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt. It follows the traditional pattern of verse-hook-verse-hook (and quite a dazzling hook). Each feature manages to match Danny’s intensity: Kendrick with characteristic finesse and Earl with breath-taking bluntness. “Get Hi” sounds like a Snoop Dogg collab that was dipped in acid. “Pneumonia,” however, is probably the epitome of all that is Danny Brown. He absolutely kills over a mystically hype beat with “flow sick, call it pneumonia.” His verses are as self-indulgent as ever, and probably the closest thing in this album to his old self.
It had been 3 years since the release of Danny Brown’s last album Old, and in that time no one has succeeded in filling the niche he left behind. The nasal artist from Detroit, with copious references to substance abuse and oral sex, struck a chord with people across the musical spectrum with his breakthrough album, XXX. He stands alone (not on top, but alone nonetheless) in his rap technique, his production abilities, and his experimentalism. Modern hip-hop trends borrow influences from classic R&B and Gospel, and it may be for this very reason that the “Adderall Admiral” has honed his unique style now more than ever. He boasts influences not from D’angelo or Thundercat, but rather from Joy Division, the post-punk dynamo from whose song “Atrocity Exhibition” the album gets its name, and System of a Down, one of the paramount figures in the art-metal scene. This, paired with his uncanny album-weaving abilities, yields the most exorbitantly unconventional, genre defying, and artistically sound album yet from the visionary.
Photo from passionweiss.com