Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
Danny Brown likes to get high. This isn’t really a secret to anybody who is familiar with his body of work, especially the songs on his second album XXX, but he makes that fact even clearer on his most recent album for Warp, Atrocity Exhibition; and no, it’s not just a coincidence that it shares its name with a Joy Division song. Brown said to Complex in 2013, regarding the band’s deceased singer Ian Curtis and Joy Division’s classic Unknown Pleasures, “He was just talking about what was going on in his life. It kind of hit home with me. It made me real emotional when I first got it. It triggered an emotion in me.” That emotion is all over Brown’s fourth major label album.
Atrocity Exhibition is reflective of a time where smoking blunts, sniffing coke, and swallowing Adderall seems to be the only cure when you are directly exposed to the crisis that is being black in America. Further explaining the album’s title in a podcast with NPR, Brown, a Detroit native, describes a careless, irresponsible American generation: “When they see anything happen… like say police or anything that’s violent that’s happening, instead of them trying to fix the situation, what do they do? They pull they phone out and try to record it… We living in an atrocity exhibition.” This idea is visualized on the album’s schizophrenic cover and on tracks like “Tell Me What I Don’t Know”.
Brown lives his life as a rockstar, like many rappers, but he exceeds expectations when it comes to the innate indulgence of the crazy lifestyle he leads. The rapper feels like it’s eventually going to get the better of him. “I’m sweating like I’m in a rave/Been in this room for 3 days/Think I’m hearing voices/Paranoid and think I’m seeing ghost-es, oh shit/Phone keep ringing but I cut that shit off/Only time I use it when I tell the dealer drop it off”, raps Brown with his inimitable flow and looseness. It’s the album’s first stanza and it creates a solid mission statement for the next forty-seven minutes.
With features from rappers like Kendrick Lamar to Ab-Soul to Earl Sweatshirt to R&B sensations like Kelela and Petite Noir, Atrocity Exhibition is jam packed with filthy, sinister, experimental beats (“Really Doe”) juxtaposed against loops with exotic instrumentation (“White Lines”). Over it all is Brown’s crazy-ass voice and his thoughts on excessive fame and endless indulgence of sex, drugs, and hip-hop. “Smoke so much I faint/Drink so much you’ll think I’ll make you walk the plank”, Brown raps on “White Lines”. It’s a celebration of the party life until the last lines of the track, “Lines and lines of coke/Nose bleeding got me with an itchy throat/Heart beating fast/Oh no, oh no, oh no/I hope it ain’t bout my time to go.” Brown, like so many Kurt Cobain’s and Jim Morrison’s before him, reminds us all that there is only one end to a life of excess, and it may come much quicker than anticipated for some.