By William McCrossan
Soul and R&B infused Hip-Hop has almost become the norm for up and coming rappers. Chance the Rapper, Anderson Paak and Open Mike Eagle have all engaged with these genres on their recent endeavors. They employ highly produced beats decorated with intricate harmonies to weave in between their vocals that more often resembled R&B songwriters of the 70s than conventional rappers. Thus, this it seems that year’s best alternative Hip-Hop albums has been dominated with aesthetically pleasing ‘pretty’ albums, something that Danny Brown does not fit with. 2013’s XXX provided a showcase of Brown’s style, portraying his lyrical talents through his unique tone and witty lyricism. His vocals were as bizarrely intriguing as his beats that hinted at dissonant harmonies and unexpected drum patterns. However, Danny’s integrity dropped in his third studio album; Old. It was certainly a commercial success though, his individuality was lost amongst generic features and beats. Despite this, Danny’s fan base grew as he became an influential figure in Alternative Hip-Hop.
What was clear from the tracks teased before the release of Atrocity Exhibition was that Danny Brown was overlooking the sounds and stylings of his contemporaries. His first single; When It Rain, was abrasive, menacing yet utterly compelling. Danny’s signature hyperactive vocals collided with an effortlessly frantic beat produced by Paul White, to form a track that harkened back to Danny’s earlier efforts. However, with the new nature of Alternative Hip-Hop, doubts emerged to whether a project exploiting this sound would succeed.
Danny Brown eases the listener in on the first track of the album; Downward Spiral. The title referring to the opening track of XXX, effectively confirming that Danny has lost the commercial façade displayed on Old. He provides an insight into his fragile state of mind with mentions of drug abuse, loneliness and death all delivered over an abrasive beat that would not feel out of place in an opening to a Spaghetti Western.
Proceeding this, every track seems so elevate the insensitivity. Danny’s ability to franticly alter the tone of his voice and his unpredictable flow compliments the unsettling beats lavished with distortion and dissonance, resembling the sounds found in post punk. Hence, justifying why Danny borrowed the title of the album from a Joy Division song. As the intensity rises we reach the first climax of the album; Really Doe, an up-tempo posse cut featuring Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and Earl Sweatshirt. Danny uses this rap convention to his advantage by presenting dark undertones in every bar and mirroring this through an unsettling Gamelan inspired beat. It is Earl Sweatshirt’s verse that ultimately polishes this. Through sombre tones and off tempo flow, he challenges the uniformity of the other rappers. The extravagant instrumentation continues from here with sinister horn sections intertwined with piercing percussion that penetrate over Danny Brown’s vocals.
The 6th track, Ain’t it Funny, ramps up the intensity once more, utilising repetitive horns over a driving bass line. Hence, Danny is able to seamlessly emulate his lyrics about facing the devil during substance abuse onto the beat and encapsulate the sensation of being trapped in a perpetuating cycle of addiction. Every proceeding track holds its own, each with unique instrumentation and themes however all in line with the context and tone of the album. A fitting feature from Schoolboy-Q supplements the track Pneumonia to create, what could be considered, Danny’s most ‘radio-friendly’ effort. Whereas Dance in the Water provides the most up-lifting track of the album with references to P. Diddy and Ryback over a pounding beat and tribal screams.
As the album comes to a close we are treated to the bittersweet track; Get Hi. Presented as smoking anthem, it rather showcases how Danny’s regular habit only contributes to his ‘downward spiral’. And then surprisingly a conclusion that lingers on a seemingly positive note with, Hell for It. Danny stresses how despite all his troubles he is not prepared to go down without a fight. Though, in a fitting manner, the modulating chords underneath suggest a sense of uncertainty in his assertions.
Despite referencing Joy Division, Danny argued that another meaning of the album can be seen by taking the titled literally, stating, “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 album is certainly an exhibition of the disturbing parts of society; such his drug habits or police brutality, though Danny delivers them in such a way that it is endearing and personal. Though the album may not be the easiest to listen too, it is riddled with witty lines that are hilarious and yet tearful, harmonies that are complex but yet jarring and basic tracks that are in fact deep-rooted critiques of themselves. These juxtapositions displayed on this album perfectly stress how Danny is not just trying to create an expression of the problems with society but also to provoke a commentary on those who view them as entertainment.
Best Track: 'Ain’t it Funny'