Danny Brown’s tendency to duck expectations is the most predictable thing about him. Brown’s music is inventive, brash, original and uncompromising. He draws influence from his hometown, Detroit, but maintains a je ne sais quoi that separates him from his peers, from Detroit or otherwise. A concept album examining the dichotomy between Brown’s notably wild behavior and crippling depression that’s been both a cause and an effect of his drug-fueled lifestyle, his major label debut XXX premiered to raving critics. Atrocity Exhibition is an unadulterated dose of Brown, free of fear and restraint.
Rap music is undergoing a subtle genre shift, as the simple kick-snares and boom-bap beats of the ‘90s gave way to the glitzy, overproduced pop-rap of the early 2000s, and eventually becoming dominated by the deep bass and rattling hi-hats of trap-rap in the last few years. However, Brown scoffs at genre limitations and “traditional” beats and, from Atrocity Exhibition’s first track, the listener is hit with walls of wailing guitar and distorted punk beats. The album doesn’t let up on the aggression for the entirety of its 15 songs. Tracks like “Ain’t it Funny” and “Golddust” are left-field, experimental beats, ones that a majority of rappers would have difficulty creating an entire project out of.
His beat selection is as abrasive and non-traditional as his delivery, as Brown is noted for his shrill, almost shrieking vocals that perfectly complement the utter insanity of his lyrics. For his unorthodox beat selection, piercing delivery and shocking subject matter, Brown is an acquired taste. Many listeners will, understandably, not even make it past the first song — Brown is not for everyone. Continuing beyond the surface, though, reveals a complex picture of a man stuck between two worlds, that of his history as a dealer and fiend and his current rock star lifestyle, constantly hungering for a way to escape the life that brought him so much success and adoration.
None of the songs on Atrocity Exhibition feel like “traditional” rap, with the exception of “Really Doe,” the absolutely stacked posse cut that is five minutes of lyrical flexing over an exquisitely crafted beat produced by Black Milk. Brown brings in three of the most talented lyricists in the game: Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. And they do not disappoint. The beat is airy and ominous, and each listen further reinforces the fact that all four artists are clearly at the top of their game.
Brown thrives in environments that would prove troublesome for other artists. The funky cadence and out-there flow on “White Lines” initially seem ill-fitted, but Brown’s self-confidence lends authenticity to his tracks. “Pneumonia” is a left-field banger that’s grimy and untraditional to say the least, with SchoolBoy Q’s signature ad-libs expertly peppering Brown’s manic and unhinged vocals.
Above all else, Brown serves originality and creativity. In an era where posturing and pretending for the camera is an epidemic, Brown is a breath of fresh air. His music is decidedly him, and it is better for it. Atrocity Exhibition takes the listener on a raucous journey filled to the brim with sex, drugs and solemn self-exploration. The album is by no means easy listening; it challenges listeners, constantly forcing them to stay on their toes to try and keep up with the frenzied energy that Brown so effortlessly emits. Atrocity Exhibition encapsulates Brown, with its rough edges, frenetic energy and meticulous lyricism.