Where to start…
If there’s any album which perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being in a manic, drugged out state of being, through both the extreme highs and desolate lows, exemplified in production, lyricism and overall frenetic energy, it’s 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition from Detroit native Danny Brown. After taking a 3 year break from his generally well received 2013 LP, Old, that featured Danny delving into new experimentation with EDM influenced beats, Atrocity Exhibition marks his latest effort in the hip hop genre. After keeping a relatively low profile, with a string of great guest verses on projects such as Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s Pinata and The Avalanche’s Wildflower, he achieved the impossible: A perfectly timed album release that was neither overhyped nor too rushed or delayed from his last release. Stemming from Brown’s well known track record of originality and uniqueness that he offers to a genre otherwise full of stereotypes and formulaic releases, it was only natural that he would once again dive into new territory for this latest release. His eventual signing to the label Warp Records more-or-less confirmed this, with their own renown for experimental releases.
Personally, Atrocity Exhibition has easily proved to be his most original, strange and yet outstanding project to date, reaching new highs (literally) for Danny, even surpassing the excellent XXX. Throughout the 15 tracks on the album, Brown shines in his ability to deliver astounding lyricism and clever rhymes over some of the most eclectic and weird instrumentals featured in modern rap music.
The standout lead single, When It Rain pays homage to the Detroit electronic dance scene, whilst featuring some brilliant social commentary about crime in ‘The D,’ making use of the extended metaphor, “When it rains, it pours,” to demonstrate the spiralling-out-of-control violence taking place in his beloved city. Yet interestingly, Brown neither condones nor disapproves of this lifestyle, instead opting to portray it in a relatively nonchalant tone, present throughout most of the album, thus allowing the listener to distinguish opinions for themselves and develop their own perspective on the thematic content. Another standout pre-release track to the album is the great posse cut, Really Doe, featuring rap heavyweights, Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar in a positive ode to their come-up over an infectious beat from frequent collaborator Black Milk. Each delivers many quotable lines such as, “I’m at your house like, ‘Why you got your couch on my Chucks’?” and “Rapping with that special flow // Only way you’re next to blow if you be strapped with C4,” that creates a humorous atmosphere trademark to Brown’s releases. The album is filled with a similar diverse array of song topics and structures, reflecting a whole range of human emotions yet still retaining strong consistency.
Another interesting feature that is present throughout the album is Danny’s exceptional use of vocal range as an instrument to voice and portray the ideas created within his lyrics. If you are familiar with Brown, I’m sure you are aware of his highly debated and infamous use of nasal, high pitched almost baby-like rapping, and whether or not you’re a fan, his use of these vocals to aid in narrative is unparalleled. What’s most interesting about his vocal range is his choices of when to utilise the different vocals within his music. On the record, for his dangerously tripped out, frenetic songs that represent the party atmosphere such as, Ain’t it funny & Lost, he uses these higher vocals to represent this state of being, highlighting the overall energy and craziness that occurs from his trips. In comparison, for several of the more gritty, emotional songs that represent the metaphoric and literal low points that take place as a direct consequence of the reckless behaviour during these ‘highs,’ illustrated in songs such as, Tell Me What I Don’t Know & From The Ground, Danny chooses to use a lower vocal range. This clever artistic choice suits to demonstrate the more serious ramifications that develop from living a self-damaging lifestyle such as his, revealing that despite being known for his uncontrollable drug abuse, he understands the consequences behind his actions and in no way acts to be a role model for others, reflecting his consistent maturation and personal growth over the record.
Overall, Atrocity Exhibition, is a brutally intense album in both it’s musical and narrative content that provides for essential listening for any fan of Danny Brown, music from Detroit or hip-hop music in general. The insane, out-of-this-world production (that I honestly have never heard anything like in hip hop today), stands as a testament to Brown’s equally insane ability to spit and create music over any kind of musical backing. When the unorthodox music is combined with the thoroughly interesting stories and wonderful lyricism of Brown, it makes for a fantastic collection of songs and one hell of an album.
My personal favourite record of 2016.