Photo from thebackpackerz.com
By Vinny Ball
The confines of hip-hop will not define music artist Danny Brown.
On his latest release, “Atrocity Exhibition,” Brown walks the fine line between accessibility and the experimental madness that fans have come to expect.
The album’s title, a clear nod to a Joy Division song of the same name, is fitting as Brown explores many of the same sonic templates the band did during their short run; sparse production accompanied by bursts of extraterrestrial energy entering when least expected.
This genre bending remains a subtle marriage of styles, which allows Brown to elevate each track with his lyrical contributions. While most artists would shed their identity in trying to tame this diverse batch of instrumentals, Brown does just the opposite, proving he can maintain his unique style no matter the circumstance.
Because of that myriad of influences, hip-hop, electronic and punk, Brown has carved out a niche in the music world where it is hard to imagine anyone stepping on his toes.
With a one-of-a-kind voice that cuts through the mix unlike anyone else in hip-hop and flows that bob and weave from bar to bar, Brown’s “Atrocity Exhibition” would still be an interesting listen even if it consisted of only vocal tracks.
Brown’s dense lyrical content, marked by his willingness to juxtapose themes of depression against a life excess, is a hallmark of the record. “Live a fast life/Seen many die slowly/Unhappy when they left/So I try to seize the moment,” Brown raps in “Ain’t it Funny,” one of the few tracks on the record that is reminiscent of his past radio hits “Dip” and “Smokin’ & Drinkin’.”
On “Today,” Brown integrates an interpolation of André 3000’s rhymes in Outkast’s “B.O.B.” with his own to create a frenetic pace that addresses life in the limelight, while also touching on social issues, particularly the killing of African-Americans at the hands of the police.
The track “Rolling Stone” features a Peter Hook style bass line that once again harkens back to the angst ridden work of Joy Division. With melodic contributions from Petite Noir and timeless lyrical contributions from Brown, “Bought a nightmare, sold a dream/Happiness went upstream/Blame myself, I had no control/Now I’m living with no soul,” “Rolling Stone” is a definite standout that will leave listeners with a bit of an ear worm.
“Really Doe” is a posse cut that contains the albums most star-studded appearances courtesy of Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt and Kendrick Lamar. These outside contributions serve to only elevate the totality of “Atrocity Exhibition,” and it does not hurt that Earl Sweatshirt makes a strong case for verse of the year.
A break from the usual intensity in Brown’s delivery occurs on “Tell Me What I Don’t Know,” where Brown opts for a calmer flow to discuss the perils of urban life as an African-American “S— is like a cycle/You get out, I go in, this is not the life for us/ Tell me what I don’t know/Last night homie got killed at the liquor store.”
Throughout the record, Brown is able to cover a lot of ground. The diversity in lyrical content is matched by his willingness to experiment with musical motifs beyond the primary genre.
While Brown’s previous records, “XXX,” and “Old,” helped him infiltrate the consciousness of hip-hop heads, “Atrocity Exhibition” was the type of release he needed in order to retain his spot in hip-hop’s ever changing landscape.
Thanks to Brown, a drastic change within the genre might just be on the horizon.