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Is It Worth It: Danny Brown’s “Atrocity Exhibition”

Hailey Spaeth

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By Shaan Dahar ’18, Contributor

The first thing you notice when listening through Danny Brown’s record “Atrocity Exhibition” is the bleak, almost surreal atmosphere. On opener “Downward Spiral” Danny’s voice is barely attached to an echoing drumbeat and dreary bass line, with lyrics like “been grinding on my teeth so long its swelling up my jaw” and “cause when I’m all alone, feel like no one care” on the same track as “I eat these ***ing rappers like ****ing last steak.” The honesty in his observations about himself clash with the one liners he constantly spews.

That’s the second thing you notice on these tracks: the duality. This album is Newton’s Third Law sonically and thematically. For every un-humble brag comes a bleak and blunt realization, and for every conventional rap trope, there’s an experimentation with another. “**** is like a cycle. You get out, I go in, this is not the life for us.” Despite “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” having some of the more intense and personal lyrics on the record, it has one of the calmest, quietest deliveries on the album from Brown. “Today,” possibly the darkest track on the record, is about the struggles of growing up with police brutality and financial needs. It ends up being followed by the most serene track on the record, “Get Hi (feat. B Real).” “It’s only for a moment, but the problems go away.” Perhaps the contrast is the point.

However, the clashes wouldn’t be nearly as compelling without such amazing beats by producer Paul White and friends. The minimalism of tracks like “Lost” and single “Pneumonia” in contrast to the more hectic tracks work well as a refresher and give more space for Danny to set up the atmosphere. A special shout out goes to lead single “When It Rain” for sounding like nothing I’ve ever heard from any rapper whatsoever. The strong bass-lines throughout the album also recall post punk groups from the ’80s.

That’s an apt comparison given that the album name “Atrocity Exhibition” is both a reference to a book by J. G. Ballard, as well as the name of a song by post-punk pioneers Joy Division. The Joy Division song deals with the darkest of humanity’s desires, a morbid curiosity as a museum of obscene images: “For entertainment they watch his body twist. Behind his eyes he says ‘I still exist.’ This is the way, step inside.” This song also borrows its name from the Ballard book. Ballard’s observations fall in line with many of Danny’s; a quote from Atrocity Exhibition reads “A kind of banalization of celebrity has occurred; we are now offered an instant, ready-to-mix fame as nutritious as packet soup.” Danny’s record of the same name seems to portray his dealing with the same kind of fame while trying to show the differences between the character of Brown and the person. The insane smoking and drinking of his previous works as a character comes with a hangover to the person that is just as intense. We see this through lyrics that recall Ballard’s musings and sonic textures, that in turn recall Joy Division’s lyrical intensity.

Check this one out, and listen to it in full. You won’t regret it (unless you understandably get annoyed by Danny’s voice. He has this weird yelping thingy and he sounds like a chihuahua.)

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Is It Worth It: Danny Brown’s “Atrocity Exhibition”