I have mentioned previously when talking about groups like Death Grips and The 1975 earlier this year, I am fascinated by music that conveys self-destruction in a way that emotionally connects me to the artist. With a title like Atrocity Exhibition you can imagine it makes sense that Danny Brown would be doing something similar, showing us a portrait of himself that shows him in a totally masochistic way.
The opening track “Downward Spiral” does a great job of setting the tone for the album with Brown vividly describing his crumbling life full of pathetic sexual encounters, drug and alcohol abuse and just general health issues. The following track sees Brown delivering a more groomed, control flow, explaining his past with crime and poverty that resulted in the death of one of his friends. “Rolling Stone” ends this first series of tracks well, focusing on Brown’s lack of direction in life, just living from day to day.
While not totally fitting in with the record’s themes, it is hard to deny that the posse cut “Really Doe” is not one of the best things on here. Black Milk’s production is stellar and makes the track stand out, without feeling out of place, and the guest contributions are excellent. It goes without saying at this point that Kendrick Lamar is great and his verse really was solid, as was his hook. The same goes for Ab-Soul, who also brings his all to his short segment of the song. It was Earl Sweatshirt who surprised me the most, going in harder than he has in a while, matching the energy of the other three rappers well.
The next four songs all come and go so quickly it is hard to separate them all at first. They each have their own levels of wonky production that works with Brown’s wild and manic delivery. Like many of the tracks on here, they come in short bursts, not exceeding three minutes, detailing Brown’s coke-fueled thoughts that move so fast it can be hard to focus on what he’s saying. While this might sound like an issues, Brown sells this delivery and it puts you into his mindset well. Also the production on “Ain’t It Funny” is some of the craziest stuff I have heard all year it is absolutely spectacular.
“Pneumonia” is another song that can standalone, separate from the album, and works as a fun single. While on the surface it is not much more than typical braggadocio, Brown’s excellent writing and flow propel this track as another standout on the tracklist.
The energy carries over to “Dance in the Water” which goes off the walls, as Brown proclaims what seems to be his outlook on life. That is the idea of dancing in the water without getting wet, or living on the edge without falling over. The track is just nonstop, giving Brown seemingly no time to breathe, showing just how talented he truly is.
Danny Brown looks back on his past on the short but poignant “From the Ground,” which has a title that explains it all. Brown looks at his past and how he has been able to build his career up from the ground. Kelela, who I had never heard of before this, did an excellent job on the hook here. It works well as a nice breather before we get on with the final stretch of this tireless record.
Things pick up fast with “When It Rain,” which goes back to the themes of “Tell Me What I Don’t Know,” where Brown raps about the violence and crime that takes place in his hometown of Detroit. Brown brings some real emotional performance here, getting loud about his frustrations and angers with the bloodshed.
The album does start to slow down by the time we get to “Get Hi,” where the production slows down as Brown raps about his way of coping with his issues by smoking weed and getting high. Even with some lyrics that are a stretch, he somehow manages to rhyme “court” with “Jordans,” Brown proves his worth and contributions of Cypress Hill’s B-Real are also quite memorable.
The final track “Hell For It” is a bit of a continuation of “From the Ground” where Brown reflects on his career and the success he has found in rap. The production is calm and Brown makes his case for why he makes music which comes across more sincere than it would for most artists and ends this album off with some hope that Brown will not fall into despair like his lyrics might imply.
While the content might get a little repetitive, it is hard to deny that this album is a ride, speeding from front to back with only a few short breaks for air. Danny Brown continues to prove how much of a unique voice he is in modern hip-hop and I really hope his success will grow in the future because he is too good to stay under the radar. Atrocity Exhibition is easily one of the best hip-hop releases of 2016 and should be listened to by rap fans immediately.
Best Tracks: Tell Me What I Don’t Know, Rolling Stone, Really Doe, Ain’t It Funny, Pneumonia, Dance in the Water, From the Ground, When It Rain, Hell For It
Worst Track: Golddust