Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown's latest album is also his greatest musical achievement.

Danny Brown

Atrocity Exhibition

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2016-09-27
UK Release Date: Import

Unlike other cities, Detroit’s hip-hop community lacks homogeneity. In the late '90s and early '00s, J Dilla molded the Soulquarian soundscapes of Erykah Badu, Common, and the Roots through his idiosyncratic soul samples and iconic bass lines. Following on his heels was Eminem, one of the most popular emcees of all time, repping his neighborhood of 8 Mile in the heart of Detroit whilst serving up plate after plate of hip-hop hilarity, domestic violence and insanity all in equal measure. And while Eminem is still enormously popular, his reign at the top of the Detroit rap game is coming to an end. So who’s left to pick up the mantle? It is none other than Danny Brown.

Ever since making his solo debut splash with The Hybrid, Danny Brown’s music has progressively gotten darker and filthier almost to the point of excess, and it’s easy to see why. As a young child who grew up in the decaying urban jungle, he witnessed the more primal side of humanity -- especially when in combination with hallucinogenic drugs. His music therefore serves not only as a reflection of his own life but as a mirror into a city long past its Golden Age, where a person’s only reprieve from the slums is to reflect on the cultural and industrial greatness that once was.

This, in effect, is what defines Brown’s latest album Atrocity Exhibition.

“Really Doe”, the last single to drop from the album, was produced by fellow Detroiter Black Milk, and the song perfectly encapsulates the gritty rot hidden in every crevice of the city. A posse cut between Brown, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt -- all who could arguably claim the throne as the rawest emcee out right now -- the track covers everything from smoking weed to murdering people to having sex with a girl in a car with 24-inch rims. It is a gaudy display of wealth and relaxation juxtaposed with the harsh realities of growing up in Detroit, leaving its ultimate impact as memorable as the song’s hook.

As with its predecessors Old and XXX, Atrocity Exhibition contains moments of reflection and nuance is one is willing to look for them. Over druggy basslines like on “Downward Spiral”, manic vocal samples on “Lost”, and woozy piano melodies on “White Lines” and “Pnemonia”, Brown remembers his youthful, idiotic debauchery with drugs and recognizes how much it negatively impacted his life in the process. His unmelodic and goofy vocals match the sentiments found in his lyrics, while his wobbling flow mimics a drunkard’s walk down a lonely city street. Before Atrocity Exhibition, Danny had the lyrical content but sometimes failed to complement it with interesting production and flows. Now, however, everything’s fit perfectly into place like the most horrific yet engrossing jigsaw puzzle imaginable.

If Atrocity Exhibition truly is a mosaic of jagged musical pieces though, then “Get Hi” does not fit. While the song’s title matches its lyrical content, Paul White’s production feels too airy and content to be on an album as dark and disgusting as this one. No matter what subject matter is being discussed, Atrocity Exhibition remains coherent and cohesive because Brown maintains the same atmosphere and tone throughout. And although doing so does make this album much more fulfilling as a whole, it also places tighter restrictions on each individual track, and “Get Hi” simply does not seem to work within the confines of this record, no matter how good of a song it is.

Just like ScHoolboy Q’s newest album Blank Face LP, Atrocity Exhibition is Danny Brown’s greatest musical achievement thus far because the Detroit native not only elevated his lyricism, but also complimented said lyricism with atmospheric production and distinct flows that accentuate everything he’s saying. As an album, it is both as lovably outrageous as Danny Brown, but also as menacing and impenetrable as his city is. Ultimately, it is this duality that makes Atrocity Exhibition the masterpiece it is.




Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.