In a genre where the performer's persona bleeds into every syllable they spit, where developing uniqueness in sound and image is as important as any technical metric, Danny Brown has triumphed as truly peerless. You can see it in his beyond-Eric-Andre hair and gap-tooth grin and... wait, maybe he got his teeth fixed, I have no idea. Regardless, he is immediately evidently a rare beast. He's signed to Warp but made a song with Insane Clown Posse. His album is named after a Joy Division song and his cat is named after a Persona 4 character and apparently he loves We Bare Bears. We haven't seen a genuine eccentric like this since ODB. It's to the point that writing about him like this, as this unprecedented bizarre storm of a rapper, has become cliche itself. And even he acknowledges it: "I was gone for three years, who took my spot?"
But that might be in part because being Danny Brown isn't the easiest thing to be. As you'd probably guess after I compared him to Ian Curtis and ODB in the last paragraph, his is not a life of pleasantry and joy. His breakout album XXX climaxes in the admission that the preceding album was his last ditch effort, at 30, to make something of rap, of his life. And sure, it succeeded, but you wouldn't know it listening to his 2013 followup Old, full of harrowing memories and future fears. The more spilling his guts and chronicling his self-destruction brings him fame and attention, the more he's tortured by the very process. And we, as eager witnesses, are not without blame.
Okay so the act of listening to this album might be a bit... morally ambiguous, maybe. But what about the music itself? Well, if we try to map the bizarre quadrangle formed by ICP, ODB, Warp Records, and Joy Division, we get... something absolutely crazy. I've only listened to the lead single "When It Rain" so far, but it told me enough: anything is possible. The production and features list reads like a fever dream. Let's go for it.
Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition
1. Downward Spiral
oh damn, I'M SWEATING LIKE I'M IN A RAVE, right deep into his mentality, omg and that big hollow sound, that's right out of joy division, primal sort of despair. "nothing on but my bathrobe and pinky ring/worst nightmare for me's a normal dream", omg and that guitar coming in right when he drops the title, this is crazy, i love this. the hugeness, the emptiness... this crisis about his legacy, but also "blunt after blunt", the classics, the bangers... the duality, the hybrid. "One day you're here the next you're gone", Danny talking about death always feels WAY too close for comfort. not that he's aiming for comfort... "I gotta figure it out" feels tragically manic, so painfully doomed. The way this guitar solo sort of pieced itself together is so enthralling. Wow. **
2. Tell Me What I Don't Know
okay here we go WARP RECORDS BEATS lol. wow we don't hear this sort of flow from danny too often, but he has so many voices. drug dealing days stories, "One lane going wrong way till I crash", holy shit this hook, holy shit this beat. wow he said copacetic, a surprisingly good word for rap hahaha. OMG though the hook, the way the beat comes on during that, this is genuinely like nothing I have heard before. And it still has that element of "primality" in it, with the heaviness of those drums... and that whistle, what an insight hahaha. "Tell me what I don't know" is such a bleak idiom god damn. okay this is a new frontier, for everybody. ***
3. Rolling Stone
i dunno who Petite Noir is but it's a pretty sick name, and I love this bass, and ooooh this must be the aforementioned little black lol. this spaced out sessiony energy is sick, and then DANNY "NOPE, I'M JUST MEGA RICH", "bought a nightmare, sold a dream", "I'm on a road that never ends", and every other line is good too lol. when he does this super intense beat but with this sort of spaced out definitive unrushed flow is siiiiiiick. "I'm walking on this long road, will I come back? Homie I don't really know" haha well that's actually a little more optimistic than he usually is. "Feeling like I'm not alive, but I know I'm not dead" s/o to Microphones LOL. okay but man this beat is just fantastic, all disjoint and yet so smooth and luxurious... unsure what I mean by that exactly. OMG that vocal effect at like 2:55, that is one of my musical fetishes, that pitch shifting siiiiiick omg. this is a level of sophistication and quality that makes me think immediately of big boi's sir lucious left foot for some reason LOL. **
4. Really Doe
Kendrick and Ab-Soul and EARL??? REALLY DOE???? omg this beat too... the persistence of the bass is so sick, especially in this new contrast with the xylophone, jesus i'm so happy rn, i can't even process the lyrics LOL. "ah haaa?" one of my favorite danny ad-libs which is saying a lot. "Thinking about going back I wish a motherfucker would" and then it's REALLY KENDRICK, like REALLY DOE LIKE REALLY DOE. they actually have a pretty similar "mode" i think. ab-soul going in too with that slightly "goofy" sorta flow, idk how to describe it, i love it, having fun, breaking it down here, dropping the ALBUM TITLE, another musical fetish hahaha. woahhhh, like REALLY DOE, like REALLY DOE, omg i love it so much. i still can't believe we're about to hear earl on this. oh but first a kendrick verse where he goes super tryhard and jesus what the hell how does he ALWAYS do this, two flows already, a million counting sheep, 22, a million lmao. holy shit this flow. how will earl top this? he prolly will tho. how does he do all these mixups? "When I'm done is when the rain stop" what a sick way to end a verse wow. ohh shit earllll "listen". oh shit i haven't heard him like this in a bit "You a mouse that the falcon picked up" holy shit. "I just broke up with my bitch cause we don't argue enough", WOW GETTING OUT THE HOUSE IS A MUST??? who is this?? holy moly this one, this is the real one ***
I'M LIKE KUBRICK WITH TWO BRICK haahhahaha omg and this beat?? and the way it transitioned into this one??? and lines about cunnilingus ofc??? can he really just go in like this for 2 minutes?? it seems like he can ahahaha. "Dog I'm trying to eat so I'm staying in the kitchen" damn how has no one said that before? I'M LIKE SPIELBERG WITH ILL WORDS ahahahahah PLEASE danny. jesus his emphasis, the litres of spit he puts into some words, there really is no comparison. nice. *
6. Ain't it Funny
wow this feels like a DOOM beat lol, in the best way, that sort of relentlessness of sample, and then OMG what is happening, those horns, this flow, this is like many bombs going off arounds me. "Check out the mic, prototype for Adderall" ahahaha. The way he says "ain't" is so enthralling for me, I feel like I can hear his whole personality on that one word. "Nose running right now, can you pass me a napkin?" I feel like this is maybe the truth during recording. and these crazy synth effects and stuff, and yet that gigantic beat behind it... "It's a nightmare we all share", "Might need rehab, but to me that shit's pussy/Pray for me cause I don't know what might happen" or something like that... bleak, lol. okay yeah, yet another back to back banger, wtf how. *
and now an entirely new continent of beat aesthetics, and danny goes in hard anyways... sniffing sound effects, "I got a hunch/roll another blunt" is hilarious for some reason. I think he referenced like a dozen drugs on this album so far. This has the same sort of crazy structure of like... lots of stuff happening, but giant elephant stomp beats behind it, it works so well. "Most woulda died, but my tolerance grown", man some of these lines are so so bleak. "This is the way, nigga, step inside" Ayyyy that's the Joy Division lyrics! From the song the album is titled after!! That's so sick actually. "You wanna have a twerk-off?" man, what an insane emotional smoothie this song is. with the blender on max. **
8. White Lines
ahahaha what the heck, this singsong flow, this crazy heavy beat, what in the hell am i hearing, this doesn't add up, is he having fun right now or in the middle of some sort of episode? that is, i guess, the question of the whole album. "Heart beating, hope it ain't my time to go" damn. "I feel a little tingle in my toes", what an endearing image. "I'm trying to eat, but all I got is pussy" hahaha what c'mon how can you say that when you were just talking about dying two bars before. wow this one again is like... absolutely nothing else. **
this was another single, i haven't heard it yet tho but a lot of people loved it. "pneumonia" is a sick word to say in raps. nuh-moanya. and then woah what the, this is like a weapon of a flow, and I think it's Schoolboy Q doing the ad-libs, which is sick too. "Before I count it I'd damn near spent it", just his phrasing, so colloquial, i love it. "Got a half a pound of artichokes" wow even danker than broccoli? and the beat keeps shifting... something really ominous is sneaking up in it... it has that sort of eerie industrial production as the album's namesake. "Grabbin pills just like Mike and Ikes", woah the sample use right there at like 2:40 was really cool, seemed Kanye-esque. cool, very cool. *
10. Dance in the Water
ohhhh yeah this beat, here we gooo, the drive behind it, that inherent rhythm, he's gonna have fun on this one. he sure loves twerk songs hahaha. even on his death bed he's gonna wanna watch someone twerk. well, good for him. okay this hook is gonna be permanently in my head for weeks i think. DANCE IN THE WATER AND NOT GET WET, NOT GET WET, NOT GET WET hell yeah. hahaha man, this one is just pure fun i thought, but with that almost radioheadesque roaring guitar in the background, how the hell can he synthesize all this? and the drums too holy moly, there's some real end of the world shit going on here and i love it. **
11. From the Ground
Kelela I've heard of I think, she did uhhh... Hallucinogen or something? This certainly sounds hallucinogenic. Rhymes on a paper bag, the snore samples, the dreamy vocals, this is like... drifting memory of a complicated past. Kelela's vocals here really nice with that sorta bubble snap sound. that's twice he's talked about counting sheep lol. inspirational raps, hell yeah, we can all make it if danny did, or who knows idk i think he's like crazy smart too lol. nice, good stuff, very atmospheric but still poppy *
12. When It Rain
ahhhhhh yeah this is still SO GOOD, even though i listened to it like 50 times. Bruiser brigade shoutouts feels so nostalgic. And the way the melody of the hook comes in the beat early is so genius, you really anticipate that rhythm and then he just absolutely destroys it, and every line where he delays it sounds even more frantic, even more intense. OH YOU AIN'T KNOW THAT, DID YOU?, i love that line so much. and the way the bass comes on at the start of the hook proper, omg, WHENITRAINWHENITPOURGETYOURASSONTHEFLOORNOW, this is a mantra, or something, who knows. i hope every track on this album ends up as addictive as this one, seems very likely. something about that raw kinetic energy. like a car with no brakes driven asleep by a madman. so good jfc. ***
damn man... that abrasive industrial wall into this super minimalist scattered sound, "watch what they say, watch what they do", real paranoid flows. this is... super interesting... omg radio voice effect, musical fetish #3 lol. OMG BOB HOMAGE thank u based outkast. omg and this hook too, it feels so... imposing, that children's choir backing track??? is that what that is??? feels like the world's gonna end to-day to-day to-day. my god. the minimalistic restraint here, really insightful, and the slight edge to the beats and such. "or get marked out like crossword game" lmao s/o to crosswords. what sort of insane nightmare birthed this song? oh and the slight desync here at the end, and that edge again, so good. **
14. Get Hi
wow and okay this is completely different. i remember b-real from the song "killafornia" which i heard in a smash bros combo video and little else lol. this is bizarre. "Furry little butts" lol, smoking out the hotel room, "Propane flow game", nice relaxing song about smoking weed, "Jaws go Gillespie" lmfao. And here's B-real, with that super sneery flow, feels sorta "retro", same with the "mmmm" beats, I love both of these things, and kinda miss them. all the troubles in life, going up in smoke, how nice. there's a way people said "high" in the 90s that no one seems to do anymore lol, you know what i mean right? this is nice, this is the sort of "Float On" equivalent maybe. Good stuff. **
15. Hell For It
woah WOAH this beat, sounds like a 16 bit rpg with effects not known to god or man. And Danny just dumping all his feelings and memories again, sometimes so painful to parse. lmao the "That's So Raven" reference, where tf did that come from, I guess cause they thought they could predict the future?? and the distortion coming on during the hook... "Unless death come first, I'm gonna give them hell for it", this is actually so sick, again it's just... how did he conceive of this? "People scared of doing business thinkin I smoke crack" damn. "My task is inspire your future with my past/I lived through that shit so you don't have to go through it", this sort of... embracing of this... right at the ending... jesus, wow. "These songs that I write leave behind my legacy", I guess that's good enough lol. Intense intense, these are the thoughts keeping him alive. Thank god for that I guess. ***
It feels funny to say this with an album so varied and crazy but... it was pretty much what I was expecting, hahaha. Danny gives us a front view seat to his personal apocalypse, cataloging his degeneracy, his mania, his despair, and right when we feel that maybe we're crossing the line between cinematically enthralling and car-crash enthralling, he's right there to confirm: yeah, it's pretty fucked. Sure, it isn't all doom and gloom - the immediacy of his voice makes his party stories feel like parties, his excesses feel like our own indulgences - but the shadow of death hovers over everything.
And this is all brilliantly reflected in the beats, too... we range from raw industrial empty thuds to soulful smoothness to manic footworky drumsplosions to Boards of Canada ethereal beats to stuff that just straight up defies description, even descriptions with silly words like "drumsplosion". Not only does this reflect Danny's eclectic music tastes, and the maddening challenge of synthesizing them, but it illustrates perfectly the unimaginable narrative that is his life. Like really try to imagine being Danny for a second, to have his set of memories, to have his ambitions, to have his success, and his lifestyle - you gotta imagine all of this while also being currently on more drugs than you've probably done total - and to try to get this stuff down into words. The whole existence of the album is basically miraculous.
So yeah, it's really good. So good I forgot for a second that NEW BON IVER COMING SOON OMG IT'S OUT RIGHT NOW I'LL REVIEW THAT SOON TOOOOOOO