Friday, September 30, 2016

Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition Review

After years of grinding through Detroit's decrepit streets, Danny Brown, on 2011's infamous XXX mixtape, went through a mid-life crisis. Choosing to exasperate his now-iconic high-pitched rapping style, along with some of Hip-Hop's filthiest bars, Brown's Fool's Gold debut was the make or break moment of his career. The rest, as we know, is history. Not coincidentally, 2011 also brought with it a far darker entity into Hip-Hop's consciousness. The mixtape was titled Exmilitary, the group Death Grips, the main madman MC Ride. These two releases spawned the emergence of primal emotion tied to the mic, something far more present in Punk and Metal. One rounded up the outer-fears, the other the inner-demons. Little did we know that when Danny Brown, forever a musician tied to the morbidly curious, caught wind of the growing fan fascination of Death Grips, he'd set out to tie the two sides of the equation. The result is his fourth, best, and most experimental LP yet. In it, Brown, and underrated producer Paul White, capture our ugly world with ghastly affixation. It may be an ode to Joy Divison, or J. G. Ballard's 1970 book of the same name, but Danny Brown's release dares to analyze, scrutinize, and take part in our societies very own Atrocity Exhibition.

The album kicks off with 'Downward Spiral,' which wastes no time failing to get you acquainted with the new sound. Over some loose, industrial drums and synths, the arid landscape barely forms a comprehensible beat, making it the most uncomfortable, yet perfect introduction to Atrocity Exhibition's ensuing insanity. Not just sonically, 'Downward Spiral' also sets the album up with Danny's lyrical content, showing him once again facing tremendous lows. This, of course, isn't new territory for the emcee, but the (almost) total lack of high party anthems, as prevalent on the second half of 2013's Old, shows both the mindstate Brown is in mentality and artistically. This is not a conventional album, even by Brown's already ludicrous standards. The only attainable similarity to his past comes in the forms of the lyrics, which sport the same lewd remarks sewn together by strands of drug-infused nostalgia, and not of the good kind, as we see on 'Tell Me What I Don't Know.' While these fit the concept, and are no slouch by street rap standards, the redundancy the lyrics face make them Atrocity Exhibition's weakest aspect.

There are certainly moments of intrigue though, as the posse-cut 'Really Doe,' featuring Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and Earl Sweatshirt, was specifically designed to see who could turn in the best verse, Danny included. Lyrically, he also succeeds on tracks like 'Golddust' and 'Today,' the latter of which actually sees him take the form of Andre 3000, both in flow and lyrics, interpolating his work on 'B.O.B.' However, while Danny's bars could see improvement, his varied flows and vocal performances, as has always been the case, are top notch, making him one of Hip-Hop's most entertaining emcees. Especially on Atrocity Exhibition, where two handfuls of beats are constructed abnormally, his capabilities are more than impressive. This is best seen on 'Lost,' where he brings a fiery street-wise flow that, in conjunction with the beat, brings his closest Wu-Tang reincarnation out, and lead single 'When It Rain,' which sees him burn through tightly-wound bars over an almost indescribable dance anthem. Really, each track sees Danny tackle it a different way, the scope of the variety is astounding.

This wouldn't be the case had it not been for the production, which sees Paul White, on 10 of the 15 tracks, put in his best performance ever. Fans of Experimental Hip-Hop with a tinge of enjoyment, look no further, this is your goldmine. Like his collaborative album, Hella Personal Film Festival, with Open Mike Eagle earlier this year, White's stunning diversity all under the scope of a single idea is daunting. The remaining beats, including Black Milk's 'Backseat Freestyle'-inspired effort on 'Really Doe' and The Alchemist's dirty carnival ride on 'White Lines' are no slouch, but White's performance is unlike anything heard in Hip-Hop thus far. The best examples of such are 'Ain't It Funny' and 'Dance In The Water.' They are almost beyond definition, the former tearing through a brass section before Danny, and some insane militaristic drums, overtake the preceding, as the latter samples Pulsallama, a 1980's Dance Punk group hailing from New York City, after apparently stumbling upon an African tribal ritual. These tracks, and others, even the quieter cuts, like 'Get Hi,' which blows hollow horns through weed smoke, do a sublime job of conjuring up atmosphere relative to Danny's current struggles or feelings.

Last year, Vince Staples, off his acclaimed debut Summertime '06, released 2015's best music video for the song 'Senorita.' Featuring a trove of inner-city stereotypes essentially fighting over and killing themselves, the camera pans out to reveal a privileged white family viewing the events, smiles wide, between a strong pane of glass. Inside that cocoon is your atrocity exhibition, with the inhabitants being treated like zoo animals. Born in the captivity of impoverished street life, Danny Brown is no different. But his struggles, his pain, his torment is very real, and as we find on Atrocity Exhibition's closer 'Hell For It,' it's one Danny endures so you don't have to. "Grew up virtually poor, realities unmasked, so my task, is inspire your future with my past" he raps, as the hellish constructs around him begin to fall. His position in the rap game is one to be admired, as, for all the drugs, violence, and depravity he endures, his condemnation of such events feels vital to progressing forward. Atrocity Exhibition is as forward-thinking as it is in the moment, making it not just his best work, but one of Hip-Hop's most absurd, grand, and declarative works to date.

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