Danny Brown’s ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ Is Both Brilliant and Bizzare
After Danny Brown dropped his avant-garde album, Old, in 2013, it was clear Detroit's very own was on a different wave in comparison to his rap counterparts. Three years after its release, his new studio LP, Atrocity Exhibition, is another off the wall offering not for the hip-hop faint of heart.
The rapper has always been known to push the sonic boundaries of rap music to their most contorted limits and this album is ultimately its breaking point. On song after song, he walks the incredibly fine line between sophisticated art rap and basically what can best be described as a loud mess. At times, he comes across as brilliantly unorthodox with flows, genre-crossing beats and meticulously honest lyrics but those unfamiliar with his outré style may be pushed even further away from the album’s peculiarity.
From the jump, a terrifying look into the 35-year old’s self-destructive mind is given, which will pull die-hard fans even closer and scare the casual ones away. “Been in this room for three days/Think I’m hearing voices/Paranoid and think I’m seeing ghost-es, oh shit,” he raps on "Downward Spiral." This isn’t exactly the most inviting way to start an album but it’s the tone Brown sets early on.
Brown's songwriting is as personal as ever here, reflecting on his inner most demons. More lines about “thinking irrationally” and “drowning frustrations” wrap up the rest of the intro track leaving listeners feeling like they’re Brown’s very own shrink. On Old, the rhymer wasn’t afraid to dabble with the crashing, thrashing and mosh pit-evoking beats but this type of dark delivery is more like a sequel to XXX than anything else. If the party rock anthems on Old didn’t exist then Atrocity Exhibition would be the final chapter in the troubled trilogy of Danny Brown’s psyche. Tracks like “Pneumonia” and “White Lines” are where you can really hear his sanity come apart at the seams as he makes “Now we getting blowed/Let go the wheel of what we call self-control/Popped another roll/I’m tore fo' sho” sound concerningly casual on the latter track.
Featured guests are understandably limited on this album simply because there are so few who could really match Brown’s vigor but “Really Doe” is the token posse cut that will put a smile on any rap nerd’s face. Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt along with Brown all spit verses that are part braggadocio bars and part of something featured in a Stephen King novel. Instead of saving his bars for last, Brown rightfully saves Sweatshirt’s stomach-churning verse for last as he raps, “Loungin', ask your girl why her mouth on my nuts/You've been the same motherfucker since 2001.”
What keeps this album interesting is also what makes it hard to listen to. The beats are literally all over the place. Now, more than ever, Brown really has no limits when it comes to backing his songwriting. There are songs that sound like they should be in a horror movie, others that recall an EDM rave, a few that are just a collision of loud synths and there are even some chill out tracks that close out the album. In fact, the album follows an often referenced drug trip that starts wildly psychedelic and finishes calmly zoned out. If listeners are looking to experience an intense 45-minute trippy experience, this could work as an appropriate soundtrack. Nevertheless, sitting through the harsh instrumentation of songs like “Aint It Funny” and “Goldlust” isn’t easy to do -- even if squirmy sounds are your thing.
When the three minutes and 49 seconds of “Hell for It” comes to an end and the 15-track album finally finishes up, it's easy to be left feeling both dazzled and confused. Danny Brown can rap well, there is no doubt about that, but the abrasiveness manner in which he delivers his rhymes is certainly not for everyone. Brown's living in an atrocious world with no limits and this album captures all of his boundless thoughts. Atrocity Exhibition gets props for being not only creative and ominously expressive but moving anyone out of their comfort zone.
See 20 of Your Favorite Rappers Naming Their Favorite Rappers