By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)
“You ain’t heard it like this before. They don’t do it like this no more” projects a warped sounding Danny Brown on the insanity fuelled When It Rain and he isn’t wrong by any stretch of the imagination. The Detroit rapper has consistently pushed the boundaries of his genre and, much like other hip hop heavyweights such as Kendrick Lamar, innovated by delivering music that is so unusual yet feels perfectly normal by Brown’s standards. Ever since his sophomore album XXX, no offence to his debut The Hybrid, Brown has managed to amalgamate his own quirky and vibrant vocal delivery along with witty lyricism to be, arguably, the greatest in his respective genre.
Not only that but the effort put into his craft is admirable as even now, several albums down with Atrocity Exhibition as his fourth LP, Brown still chooses to stay in Detroit. In his words, it keeps him humble and with many rappers taking a braggadocios turn most of the time, it seems to allow for those creative juices to flow. With his upbringing being embedded in his music, it shows serious craftsmanship on Brown’s part. Much like Complex’s introspective piece on the man himself puts it, Danny Brown cares more about rap than you do.
Brown’s work has no doubt been moulded by this Detroit upbringing however Atrocity Exhibition’s DNA consists of some major influences, not least being J.G Ballard’s compilation of novels that shares the same name. Ballard’s work is noted not only for its unusual structure but also what stories it includes with such titles being “Plans for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy” and “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan”.When addressing the controversy surrounding his novels, Ballard claimed that “it was an attempt for me to make sense of that tragic event.” With this LP, it seems like Brown too is trying to do the same , creating content to better understand the tragedy that he’s faced and conceptualise it.
From the get go, Atrocity Exhibition drenches its listener in eerie and unsettling vibes with Downward Spiral, something that Brown has referenced before such as on XXX which ties in perfectly into some of the major themes that appear on this LP (Took a while to get here now I depend on these drugs). The track gives us some insight into Brown’s state of mind which reads like a classic comedown definition, detailing his paranoia (Think I’m hearing voices, paranoid and think I’m seeing ghost-es, oh shit) which he no doubt sees as a reason to abuse drugs though all reads off as a list of side effects from said abuse. “Tell both sides; you gonna tell them about getting high, you gotta tell them about the hangover” Brown mentioned in his aforementioned Complex interview and this mantra is the at the very heart of Atrocity Exhibition’s 15 track spanning journey.
Following up we have Tell Me What I Don’t Know which has a rare appearance of Brown calmly delivering his lines as opposed to his usual yelling, something that is quite apt considering that the track touches on sombre stories of his drug dealing past as well as the death of a close friend. Rolling Stone swiftly pops up afterwards with a funky albeit other-worldly guitar groove and shifts the focus of Brown’s pain onto his new found fame, a subject that seems to be done to death though this is more of a showcase for him to prove his unparalleled wit and solid lines (“bought a nightmare, sold a dream, happiness went upstream, blame myself, I had no control, now I’m living with no soul.”) .
As we continue down this ‘downward spiral’, things don’t start to get any less odd. Just from a chronological standpoint, everything seems to be sort of all over the place and with Brown stating that he “did some Tarantino”, we get an answer to this. Not only is the album’s odd placing in the Danny Brown timeline explained but some of the more visceral tracks seem to make more sense. This is especially true with the aforementioned When It Rain which is haunting, daunting nightmare fuel at its finest. With the frantic, almost heartbeat like rhythmic pulsating driving this track, taking a backseat for when Brown dives in with stories of the hardships found in Detroit though always having an ominous presence, the track marks the moment both Brown and the listener have crossed the Rubicon.
It may sound like the entire Atrocity Exhibition is totally bleak and gloomy though this isn’t the case. While Brown may touch on the comedown, when he’s embracing the high it’s an audio experience: Ain’t It Funny epitomises this beautifully, featuring what is the closest thing on this LP to resemble an Old Side B banger where we have this blaring, horn-driven beat running over Brown rapping about his awareness of his abuse yet continuing to ignore it (I’ma wash away my problems with this bottle of Henny, anxiety got the best of me so popping them Xannies). As well as this there’s Pneumonia which packs in a sick beat and flow to boot (I’m so sorry). Really Doe is the magnum opus of anthems on here, though, showcasing the talents of not only Brown but Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar. Even Earl Sweatshirt makes an appearance and hats off to him as he manages to deliver an aggressive sounding verse that ties in perfectly with the vibe of the track.
“We live in an age where people listen to something for two weeks and throw it to the side, it’s so disposable. My records are literal records; you got to listen to them at least five times before you understand what’s going on. The longer you live with it, the more it’s gonna open up for you.” Having listened to Atrocity Exhibition repeatedly, Brown’s words have some serious weight to them. Every inch of this record has been painstakingly crafted in a way to immortalise Brown’s work in the highest quality possible. Although he may bring in some artists along for the ride, Atrocity Exhibition is a one man show where Brown is the eyes and ears for the listener: and with the amount of stuff he’s on, that’s as scary as it is enthralling.