Danny Brown knows what it means to sit in the center of swirling madness, raw chaos, and unforgiving mayhem. He inhaled the atmosphere that surrounded him and exhaled art in the form of music—music that captured his world at it’s most bizarre and unorthodox. No other rapper carried his untamed aura, his unpredictable lyricism, and the voice that was just as weird as the man. It wasn’t a gimmick, he didn’t come off as some sideshow trick, it was always raw, it was always Danny. During his brief hiatus from music, no one was able to fill the void that was left by his absence. All his fans could do is wait, and now the wait is finally over.
Danny dropping Atrocity Exhibition in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon shows the power of his independence. He doesn’t have to follow any of the rules that major label artists are forced to treat as law. I feel like his decision to release the LP early likely foreshadows the music that awaits listeners―lawless, erratic, and full of surprises. That’s what makes this release so exciting, I don’t think anyone truly knows what to expect, and even the wildest imagination will likely appear humdrum in comparison. The most disappointing decision that Danny could ever make with his music would be to normalize himself. As long as he’s embracing the strange, embodying the gonzo, he will always be more interesting than most.
Following the traditional 1-Listen review rules, I must listen from start to finish without stopping, editing, rewinding, or fast-forwarding. Everything I write will be based on my gut reaction. Hunter S. Thompson once said, “It never got weird enough,” but he never heard or met Danny Brown.
Let's get weird...
1. "Downward Spiral"
Danny’s voice jumps right out at you from the beginning like a monster emerging from the ground. His voice sounds like it’s been overwhelmed by the brute force of the production. This feels like the walls are closing in, and the ceiling is collapsing, seeping into the darkest area of the brain where only the dimmest low glows. Very confessional. Danny can paint a picture like no other. Incredible imagery. This is what a downward spiral sounds like if you jumped out of a plane without wings or a parachute. “I got to figure it out” is the chorus. Sheesh this is dark, grimy, the kind of filthy dirt that makes you want to shower your sins away.
2. "Tell Me What I Don’t Know"
We talk about how weird and unique Danny’s voice is, but I actually like when he uses his normal voice. It has this hardened tone that feels serious, the complete difference to his more animated higher-pitched voice. This has a very Detriot feeling. He's reminiscing through storytelling. There’s a whistle blowing in the background, word to Too Short. I really like this. The drums are gritty. This feels like Hybrid Danny rapping over production made in the very belly of a beast. I can’t tell you what you don’t know, Danny.
3. "Rolling Stone" (ft. Petite Noir)
That BASS! This has a much more rock-esque feeling than the previous songs. Real different, but really dope. I feel like I’m walking through the darkest road where even the wild things would refuse to roam. Petite Noir’s voice is very fitting of this sound. Man, this beat feels like something that would play during X-Files. Very introspective, I can see this being an early favorite. So far Danny is three tracks strong. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard this year from a rap artist. All the songs have been fairly short, two verses, and Danny is doing his best to paint a portrait that you can visualize. A very dark portrait. This will be a nighttime album when you’re deep in thought.
4. "Really Doe" (ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, & Earl Sweatshirt)
Black Milk delivered a beat that emcees got to crush. I love Danny’s flow on this, it’s so unorthodox, but alluring. Kendrick is always an interesting option for the hook. After hearing the song a few times, I’m still on the fence about Ab-Soul’s verse. It’s good, but for some reason I want more. I need him to destroy, pulverize, and completely decimate a song. He has so much potential. Kendrick has so many different flows that I have a hard time picking a favorite. So many bars. This is the posse cut the world deserved. I think Earl truly won with this verse. I need another Sweatshirt album in my life. Hopefully, the world is aware that he’s one of the great young emcees still doing something big.
WOOOOO! I love the way this beat is looped up. Danny is just spitting, while the beat makes you feel like he’s walking through a haunted house blowing smoke with the unfriendly ghost. I really have mixed feeling about the mix because it's really hard to tune into his vocals. But it adds to the overall experience. It’s like Tyler’s Cherry Bomb but way more bearable. This is some raw hip-hop shit. Kind of wish he didn’t throw a hook in there, a breathless flow performance would’ve set this off.
6. "Ain’t It Funny"
The album is sequenced like you’re binge watching a Netflix series on speed. There’s not a single moment that feels like a smooth transition, you are thrown into each song like your big cousin throwing you unexpectedly in the swimming pool. This beat is a monster, a true monster, it sounds like it took bath salts. It will probably eat your face if you saw it on the wrong street corner. This has a rave-esque tempo, but only if said rave was thrown in hell. I feel frightened and yet I want to tap my foot. A lot of these verses really reflect the album title as an exhibition into one man’s wild lifestyle
I like this. The guitar playing during the hook is harsh. This is that raw, white noise hard rock music. I just want to burn guitars and fight a billion people in a mosh pit. Oh yes, this will incite riots during live shows. It’s so weird how Danny doesn’t miss a single beat. His flow hasn’t sounded strained by any of the crazy sounds and bizarre beats. He is one with the chaos.
8. "White Lines"
WOOOOOOOO again. I loving the way he’s kicking the pocket. The songs feel like they’re about to give out. These drums are brutal. This is definitely not going to be for everyone. Danny doesn’t just rap about doing a plethora of drugs, he makes you feel like you’re in the middle of his trips. The fear of dying while high has to be a terrible fear, but he will take you there as if it’s something that happens every other night.
This record (so far) has the most conventional rap sound. Ha, he has ScHoolboy doing the ad-libs. There are so many twists and turns with the production you don’t know what will jump out from around the corner. Yeah, "Pneumonia" is like bridging XXX and Old with a touch of newness. No major label would have ever put this album out, even Mac Miller would’ve been sent back to Pittsburgh. Third verse is insane. I love the bounce. I need to play this one in the whip after dropping a tab of acid. Would’ve loved if Q had a verse on this, but so far with a limited number of guest appearances, Danny has kept things interesting.
10. "Dance In The Water"
Now this is straight rave music. That bassline is growling. This is fun, Danny really went and made a dance song. “Dance in the water and not get wet.” I don’t know if he means this in the literal sense or if this is a metaphor. This is so different than the other dance songs being made in 2016. iLoveMemphis would’ve never made this song. Can’t wait to see how the kids take this one to Vine.
11. "From The Ground" (ft. Kelela)
Definitely a haunted vibe. Regular Danny voice. Again, he has a seriousness in his tone that is like talking to your parent about how Grandma just passed away. Kelela has a beautiful voice. I really love this mood, I need to go back and really digest what he said, but there’s so many moments thus far on this album that are as heavy as the production.
12. "When It Rain"
I believe this was the comeback season. Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like the world is ending? This is the soundtrack to my face melting. Danny Brown has rapped his ass off this entire album. He raps with this aggression like he’s trying to burn a hole in the very center of the beats core. The beat is pounding and pulsing like it’s about to explode. This is a true sonic experience.
Minimal compared to the other songs. “Today” appears to be Danny’s perspective of the world today and it’s not pretty. Yooooo, the Outkast "B.O.B" bars. Has anyone ever compared Danny to Andre? There were moments during the first verse I felt like I was listening to Danny 3000. This beat is hypnotic. If horror movies ever needed rap music to score their scenes I feel that Danny has created the perfect music for them to use. Good song.
14. "Get Hi" (ft. B-Real)
This loop is sounding so strangely alluring. Already loving this one. The wordplay is great. I’m reminded of how Wayne rapped on “I Feel Like Dying.” Very abstract, imaginative. Rappers will make songs about their vices that are sweeter than any song about a woman. Ha, Danny is describing all the unfortunate events that can be fixed with just a bit of weed. “It’s only for a moment but the pain goes away.” Dave Chappelle would approve of this message. I wonder what this sample that is playing in the background? Must find out.
15. "Hell For It"
The last song, but I don’t want the album to end yet. Man, Danny is lying his soul on the beat. The piano keys that are playing are the kind that just encourage introspection. So many problems plaguing his mind. He really has seen some dark days and he doesn’t run from those demons. Really enjoying hearing him open up with such honesty. “People scared of doing business thinking I do crack,” is such a crazy line how his image could affect his opportunities. Yeah, this is crazy. A line about respect lyricism and how radio hits don’t mean nothing. “Fuck being a celebrity.” “I’m going to give them hell for it.” What a chorus.
After just one listen I feel confident writing that Danny Brown returned with the most Danny Brown-esque album possible.
There’s a deep, dark rawness that greets you on each song. A darkness that submerges you—it’s far from delicate—but is very fitting for the subject matter. Atrocity Exhibition is an experience because you are hearing beats that are tailored made for the lyricism. Danny could rap over boom-bap or Metro Boomin trap, but would it have the same impact? Would it crawl across your skin the same way? Atrocity Exhibition removes comfort and amplifies the chaos.
As a rapper, Danny doesn’t seem to have missed a step while being away. He’s the rapper who still cares about the art of lyricism, and even though his sound isn’t traditionally hip-hop, he’s giving us raps that will put him in an elite class.
Atrocity Exhibition is left, way left, but it does deliver excellent rapping. There are no records for radio, no songs that I foresee will chart high on Billboard, not a single bubble gum record in the bunch. It’s hardcore all the way through.
Danny Brown is an extremist, and this is his most extreme project yet.
By Yoh, aka Yoh Burgundy, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Warp Records