Three years since he found fame and success with “Old”, hip hop oddball Danny Brown has returned with his most honest work to date. Atrocity Exhibition, named after both a Joy Division song and J.G. Ballard novel, was released on September 27 on the legendary electronic label Warp Records.
Returning to Detroit’s signature ghetto-tech sound with hints of rock, house, and J-Dilla style hip hop beats, Brown implements his characteristic wordplay to invent his own style of rap, a feat that’s becoming rarer and rarer by the day within the genre.
With features from Petite Noir, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt, Kelela, and B-Real, as well as a $70,000 sample budget, it’s evident that Brown is making the best use of all the new resources being offered to him by fame. Production on this album is provided by Brown’s usual collaborator Paul White, as well as Petite Noir, Black Milk, DJ Playa Haze, Evian Christ, and the Alchemist.
Off the bat, a bleak image of the tortured artist is presented, “I’m sweating like I’m in a rave, been in this room for three days. Think I’m hearing voices, paranoid and think I’m seeing ghost-es.” Brown goes on, confessing his struggles with drug abuse, sexual dissatisfaction, and mental illness over top of psychedelic opening track, “Downward Spiral.” He realizes this lifestyle isn’t sustainable and states he’s “gotta figure it out” or else he’ll find himself on a metaphorical death row.
On “Really Doe”, Kendrick Lamar hijacks the track to address everyone who says he “ain’t boomin”, and assure the world that he won’t stop rapping until “the rain stops”. Brown, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt compliment Kendrick’s hook with braggadocio-filled verses that contain the best wordplay on the album. Choice lines include Earl’s “I’m at your house like, why you got your couch on my Chucks?” and Ab-Soul’s alliterated “Givenchy bikers with the rev rips
Balmain badmon, Bathing Ape on my d*ck”, both of which brag about the confidence the rappers have in their fashion sense.
On “Ain’t it Funny”, a fast paced dance track, brags about his drug use, then juxtaposes this with a hook stating “that jokes on you but Satan the one laughing.” “Gold Dust” continues the central theme of Brown’s struggle with addiction, speaking on its possible origin within his bloodline: “Been cursed all alone, whole family addicts floating through my bloodstream”.
Combined with the sample of Joy Division’s “Atrocity Exhibition”, it’s obvious Brown intended for this track to serve as the center of the album, both literally and figuratively.
Further into the album, Brown ventures away from the drug abuse theme, with more light hearted party songs, including the Evian Christ produced “Pneumonia” or “Dance in the Water”, the latter of which contains instructions on how to twerk. “When it Rain” samples Delia Derbyshire’s 90’s rave track “Pot Au Feu” to create lo-fi house banger with the catchy hook of “When it rain, when it pour, get your *ss on the floor.” This serves the fans of Danny Brown who have come to expect festival bangers like Old’s “Smokin’ & Drinkin’” and “Dip” while still maintaining this album’s grittier aesthetic.
Danny Brown has created a rap album that places art over pop-accessibility, admirable in the year where Desiigner’s borderline lyricless banger “Panda” could hit number one on the Billboard Charts.
You can find Atrocity Exhibition on all streaming platforms and see Danny Brown live in Charlotte at the Underground on October 28, or in Carrboro at Cat’s Cradle on October 29.