Review: “Atrocity Exhibition” — The downward spiral of Danny Brown

The Detroit rapper delivers his strongest release to date, one that near-perfectly synthesizes his off-the-wall delivery and penchant for inventive production.

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Detroit rapper Danny Brown is a mess.

Alcoholism and heavy drug use color many of his songs. The music’s abrasive.

One can’t help but wonder if the man should seek help.

Yet it’s hard to look away when it sounds this good.

Danny Brown’s “Atrocity Exhibition” finds Brown focusing on many of the same ideas and themes he touched on “Old” and “XXX,” his previous two albums.

Lyrically, it’s far from broken, so Brown need not fix it.

Detroit rapper Danny Brown released his third studio album, "Atrocity Exhibition," September 27th.
Detroit rapper Danny Brown released his third studio album, “Atrocity Exhibition,” September 27th on Warped Records.

Production-wise, Brown has never shied away from the experimental. That remains true on “Atrocity Exhibition,” which finds Brown rapping in his trademark squawk over brooding, metal-inspired and synth punctuated beats, primarily produced by British producer Paul White. It’s comparable in production to Death Grips, albeit not quite as intense and in-your-face.

“Downward Spiral” starts off the album with Brown “sweating like I’m in a rave; been in this room for three days; think I’m hearing voices, paranoid, think I’m seeing ghost-es.” It’s a perfect mood setter (and a nod to Nine Inch Nails), one that showcases Brown’s unabashed self-deprecation and paranoia. The best line on the track, though, is unquestionably, “If I learned anything, it’s don’t nod off with ya mother****ing cigarette burning.” Wise words.

“Tell Me What I Don’t Know” finds Brown ditching his normal high-pitched cadence for a deeper, more restrained flow, detailing his teen years selling drugs. “Street smart, Ph.D., dropped out for a slanging degree,” Brown begins the track. It showcases his vocal versatility — I can’t help but wish Brown would use this voice more often. Vivid imagery abounds: “Slice your tomato if you owe use for the lettuce.”

Verbal couture, parkour with the metaphors; the flow house of horror dead bolted with metal doors.” — “Ain’t It Funny”

“Lost” finds Brown comparing himself to two of his favorite directors: “I’m like Kubrick with two bricks and hoes on the strip; I’m like Spielberg will ill words and hoes on that curb, gotta screw loose, I’m cuckoo, mentally disturbed,” Brown raps. At just over two minutes, it’s one of the best tracks on the album, enforcing the idea that Brown doesn’t put time in on just the big singles, but puts TLC into every last track.

Standout “White Lines” has Brown balancing on a tightrope with a glitchy synth line, one he tip-toes along with in melody and in pace. When the synth disappears, so does Brown’s voice. “Smoke so much I faint, drink so much you’ll think I’ll make you walk the plank,” Brown raps. The track sounds like Brown is walking the plank, trying not to fall overboard. It’s captivating.

And then there’s the posse cut “Really Doe,” featuring Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt. Brown uses it as a chance to really let loose, rapping “That hoe want my piccolo, smoking on that mistletoe, make her kiss all on it while we chop chop on them 24s.” It’s undeniably the most fun track on the album.

And really, that’s the only gripe I can think of. It’s not that Brown isn’t having fun rapping — it’s just that nearly everything he says is dark. The album is filled with rampant self-destructive behavior with actual consequences. “Really Doe” acts as a chance to forget about those consequences and just enjoy the ride.

“Atrocity Exhibition” stands as Danny Brown’s most concise, well-executed album to date. It’s not as spastic as “XXX” and it’s not as pandering as “Old.” It finds Danny Brown sounding, dare I say it, comfortable. If his vices aren’t going to end, why not channel them into great songs?

Final Score: A