The hype surrounding Danny Brown’s latest work is funny in many ways. His new album, an absolutely bonkers assortment of crazy songs, is being praised from pretty much everywhere. It’s named after a Joy Division song, was inspired by Talking Heads and Death Grips, and it sounds so post-punk that some have decided it could be classified as just such an album. One can only picture Danny whispering these details in the ears of counter-culture indie listeners. Yet despite an obvious step in sonic maturity, this is still Danny Brown. He still is among the league leaders in rapping about his dick, his lyrics are still coated in misogyny, and it doesn’t sound he’s striving to stretch these walls. In fact, whether we proclaim his latest work a masterpiece or utter trash, I doubt he really gives a fuck. He thinks he’s the best rapper alive, and whether you think that’s true or not is irrelevant because Danny is somewhere sniffing cocaine off of some woman’s breasts. He doesn’t give a fuck: not in the sense that he doesn’t care about his music, but in the sense that nothing else matters but his music. The rest is just fat for people like myself to chew on.
It seems that Danny has realized there’s no way of fixing his chaotic lifestyle and he’s indulging in his vices instead of running from them.
Yet chew away we shall, and Danny Brown’s most recent work – Atrocity Exhibition – plays out like an aimless plunge into dark waters. It begins with “Downward Spiral” – a song that gives one the sonic impression that this album will be “different”. The drums (if you can call them that) are off-kilter, the guitar swells spacey. His imagery immediately puts you in this room with him: “I’m sweating like I’m in a rave / been in this room for three days / Think I’m hearing voices / Paranoid, and think I’m hearing ghosts.” It’s as if we’re right back where we started on prior albums. His attempts to free himself from his vices and demons have failed. But that warm, droopy bass feels like this downward spiral isn’t as gloomy as his lyrics let on.
The somber “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” and “Rolling Stone” both give off gloom, but it doesn’t take long before he snaps out of it. The devilish chimes of “Really Doe” ring out, and the hubris ensues (this track features the best bassline and the best bars). The next five tracks closely mirror the themes of Old’s B-side club bangers. This time around, the production is very different but the lyrics are more or less similar. Whether it’s “I’m like Spielberg with ill words and hoes on that curb” on “Lost”, or “Powder stains on my Balmain / Slurp that pussy up just like lo mein” on “Pneumonia,” Danny’s lyricism continues to be the least appropriate to share with your mom. Nevertheless, Danny proves that he can damn sure rap over everything. His flows over beats like “Ain’t It Funny” or “White Lines” are mind-boggling. Lyrical maturity? No… it’s the same Danny. But the type of production doesn’t exactly suit whatever introspectiveness we may hope to hear from him. Nobody goes to the circus to learn something.
That said, the pandemonium in the middle of this album can only be described as a circus. It’s as if his earlier, more minimalistic beats overdosed on eight different pills. “Ain’t It Funny” sounds like a circus with those ridiculously bombastic horns; “Golddust,” a high speed car chase; “Pneumonia” is a caged animal on the verge of being released. And then there’s “When It Rain”. Even though it was released months prior, it still feels unpredictable. It’s equally as experimental as it is danceable, and the build-up to the bass drop at the 2:40 mark is the album’s most invigorating moment (and that intro tho!!).
Powder stains on my Balmain / Slurp that pussy up just like lo mein
Songs 4-10 can best be summed up best by the chorus of “Dance in the Water”, an analogy that dates all the way back to Parliament’s “Aqua Boogie”. Danny wants to live this drug-fueled, pussy-filled, lifestyle without succumbing to any of the consequences. It’s a similar theme to some of his prior albums, but Atrocity Exhibition lacks the sobering wake-up calls such as “Nosebleeds” or “Clean Up”. “From The Ground” is downtempo, sure, but it’s a defiant song which parallels the theme of “Hell For It”. That’s what distinguishes this and his past projects. It seems that Danny has realized there’s no way of fixing his chaotic lifestyle and he’s indulging in his vices instead of running from them.
It’s that and the remarkably rich production that makes this album worthwhile. The catchiness factor? Pretty low, but the fact that you can find new details with each and every listen serves as a testimony to this album’s richness. Of course, how often you would like revisit a high-pitched Danny Brown rapping about his dick over unmelodic drums is up to you. The lack of any traditional groove will alienate a fair amount of listeners, but as I mentioned, Danny Brown doesn’t give a fuck.
Atrocity Exhibition is as sonically captivating an album as you will get in 2016. It isn’t experimental for the sake of being experimental. It isn’t ambitious for the sake of being ambitious. It’s Danny Brown and his team of producers making some crazy beats and letting the schizophrenic yelper have at it. It’s a formula pretty similar to his previous projects, but the completely different sound will keep us coming back for more.