Detroit rapper Danny Brown exploded onto the scene in 2011 when he released his breakout album “XXX.” Brown had already garnered a certain amount of underground notoriety with his mixtape “The Hybrid,” in which he introduced the world to his signature high-pitched voice and off-kilter delivery. Two years later, he released “Old,” which, despite doing quite well both critically and commercially, detoured from the personal side of Danny that served to draw many listeners toward the artist in 2011. Instead, Brown seemed to want to cater more so to the college-party crowd with such tracks as “Dip” and “Smokin and Drinkin.” Admittedly, the album as a whole was solid in its own right, but Danny lost a lot of the potential he displayed in “XXX.”
Fast forward to 2016, and Danny Brown has dropped his arguably most ambitious project to date. The first track, “Downward Spiral,” immediately sets the tone of the project, one in which Brown weaves a disturbing narrative of the artist at his lowest point in life. Brown’s lyrics are raw and visceral, painting a world filled with dope fiends, drug addiction and mental illness. These themes have always been present to in Brown’s music, but here they feel more genuine than ever before.
Brown, having already established himself as an artist willing and capable of rapping over a wide range of beats, amps up that tradition here by choosing some of the most fascinatingly bizarre instrumentation and samples he’s ever worked with. Take for example the next track on the album, “Tell Me What I Don’t Know.” A minute goes by before we hear any hint of percussion. For this track, Brown does away with his signature off the wall, high-pitched squawk in exchange for a more subdued murmur as he recounts the days of his childhood, when he was living in poverty day to day in Detroit: “One lane going wrong way “˜til I crash / Teacher find my sack, going nowhere fast “¦ Tell me what I don’t know / Last night homie got killed at the liquor store.”
The track, “Rolling Stone” continues the theme of a “downward spiral” set up by the beginning of the album. On this song Brown opens up further about living with depression, paranoia and a whole slew of addictions. The track’s hook, performed by South African singer Petite Noir, references Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Even though Danny now has the means not only to survive and put food on his table, but live an incredibly lavish lifestyle as a rapper, he feels disconnected and totally alone, “like a rolling stone.”
The next track “Really Doe” serves as a breather of sorts. The song features Kendrick Lamar, Ab Soul and Earl Sweatshirt, all of whom hit it out of the park by bringing their own sound yet managing to play off one another’s energy seamlessly. One of Earl’s stand out lines being “Well it’s the left-handed shooter, Kyle Lowry the pump “¦ I’m at your house like, “Why you got your couch on my Chucks?”
After “Really Doe,” we’re back to business as usual with the next three tracks, “Lost,” “Ain’t it Funny” and “Golddust.” With each subsequent track, Danny descends further into his drug addiction. Danny’s lyrics are anything but euphemistic, and his strengths lie in not holding anything back. His delivery matches the content of his lyrics. Danny has an incredible knack for altering the pitch and cadence of his voice, while somehow managing to stay on beat. The final chunk of the album takes a positive turn, as Brown starts to claw himself out of the rut he’s put himself in. The final track, “Hell for it” shows that Danny isn’t going down without a fight. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Brown defiantly faces his problems and expresses hope for the future.
“Atrocity Exhibition” is best enjoyed if understood as a cohesive project. It is a clear artistic expression by Danny, and feels incredibly honest. Not to appear pretentious, but some of the best tracks on the album, in my opinion, are so avant-garde and, quite frankly, “out there” that many people may be turned off. But for this I commend Danny Brown and am excited for what is yet to come from the promising Detroit rapper.