Danny Brown raises the bar, reaches new artistic high point

An artful display of doleful tales of depression and addiction

aedannybrowncourtesywarprecords

With avant-garde and unconventional beats as a canvas, Brown paints a grim picture of his mental and physical environment.

Courtesy Warp Records

The loose, slinky instrumental of “Atrocity Exhibition’s” opener, “Downward Spiral,” is as disorienting as it is revealing. Danny Brown has a message to share, and with lyrics such as “Everybody say, you got a lot to be proud of / Been high this whole time, don’t realize what I done / Cause when I’m all alone, feel like no one care / Isolate myself and don’t go nowhere” appearing on the first track, it's quite easy to discern the gravity of his situation.”

The anticipation for a follow-up to Brown’s 2013 release, “Old,” was high. As the rapper shifted from a mostly underground setting to a more mainstream club-banger atmosphere, fans were left wondering if Brown had definitively swapped the envelope-pushing, ultra-grimy sound and subject matter of “XXX” for the more spic-and-span feeling of “Old.” However, when it was announced that Brown’s forthcoming release would be named “Atrocity Exhibition,” in reference to the opening track of the album “Closer” by Joy Division, fans knew they were in for something interesting.

Any sentiment of complacency and comfort is left for the birds as Brown blazes through the tracklist with soul-crushing introspection, describing the nuances of an underworld that will forever be foreign to most. With avant-garde and unconventional beats as a canvas, Brown paints a grim picture of his mental and physical environment. 

Brown does a fantastic job of balancing all the insanity by alternating flows and tempos. Tracks like “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” feature an unobtrusive delivery despite ruminating on heavy topics like death, pain and burning out. On another track, “Really Doe,” Brown returns to his signature yelp alongside features from Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt on a raucous beat produced by Black Milk. Brown shows off his musical knowledge on the song “Goldust” by sampling Joy Division’s “Atrocity Exhibition” and referencing the lyrics.

Brown’s “Atrocity Exhibition’s” strong motif is legacy. The production, lyrics and overall song structures are built with a novelty that demands longevity. This attitude is conveyed more explicitly on the album closer, “Hell For It.” On this track, Brown is determined to put every fiber of his existence into his music. Lyrics like, “Respect for lyricism / In this game ain’t none left” and “I just wanna make music / F—k being a celebrity / Cause these songs that I write / Leave behind my legacy” show that Brown is more interested in furthering his artistry than making a radio dollar. 

“Atrocity Exhibition” feels like the only possible continuation of “XXX.” With genre-bending beats, passionate delivery and a blend of technical proficiency and pop sensibility, “Atrocity Exhibition” leaves its mark on the rap world. Regardless of musical taste, fans of artistic expression will appreciate this album.

related stories