It’s surprisingly fitting that Detroit rapper Danny Brown and Toronto singer The Weeknd came into mainstream prominence at the same time.
Bizarre But Brilliant
Both appeared in 2011 like bolts from the blue with projects that took the well-worn schtick of their respective genres and turned it up to 11, taking the brags and boasts of their contemporaries and cruelly warping them to the point of satire. While Abel Tesfaye now seems happy to dilute his style in the pursuit of pop superstardom, Brown is clearly pushing in the complete opposite direction. Nowhere is this clearer than in the final moments of Atrocity Exhibition where the thirty-five-year-old raps ‘I just wanna make music/fuck being a celebrity.’ Even without making it explicitly clear, it’s pretty obvious that ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ is Brown fully off his leash. Through the album’s 15 tracks Brown takes his well-established style and uses it to craft something utterly twisted but surprisingly honest and introspective.
Opener ‘Downward Spiral’ sets the scene perfectly. With a wonky, jazz-fusion beatundercutting Brown’s strained delivery as he finds himself fucked up and isolated, painting a striking and brutal portrait of the consequences of your typical boast filled party track, replacing partying, drugs and sex with impotence, come downs and crippling insecurity. Here Brown is letting us see him at his most exposed and vulnerable but, as with every moment of Atrocity Exhibition, he does so entirely on his own terms.
What follows is an album of sheer visceral energy, with Brown’s cracked and nasal delivery undercut by a diverse selection of beats unified only by their refusal to let you relax. “Ain’t It Funny” and “Golddust” both feature beats so nasty enough to raise Zach Hill’s eyebrows and even the albums subtler moments come with an edge, from the wobbling, retro-futuristic synths of “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” to the bizarro R&B of “From The Ground”, which includes one of the albums sole delicate moments thanks to a radiant feature from Kelela. It takes a special performer not to be swallowed up by the raw creative power of the music on display here.
Fortunately, Brown proves that he’s more than capable of holding his own. ‘When It Rains’ brings to mind that unhinged, wacked out energy that made XXX so exciting and ‘Really Doe’ is destined for inclusion on the list of the decades best posse cuts with guest verse from Ab-Soul, Early Sweatshirt and Kendrick Lamar. Predictably, Kendrick’s verse is the stand out, proving yet again that he really is the best rapper in world right now, every performer brings something to the track, including a surprisingly aggressive verse from Earl Sweatshirt.
Atrocity Exhibition may cover the same familiar tropes of Brown’s previous work, but he’s never been more focused, his wordplay has never been so creative and potent and the beats have never been so twisted. Brown has put on an exhibition as uncomfortable as it is uncompromising but, as with all great perverse art, manages to find the fascinating beauty in it all the same. He’s certainly impressed the team here at Keakie.
Check out the exciting album below: