By Cole Altmayer, entertainment editor
My first impression of Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s “Atrocity Exhibition” didn’t come from the album itself, but rather an out-of-the-blue text message I got from a friend almost immediately after its release.
According to him, “Atrocity Exhibition” was an atrocity not worth exhibiting. That only tempted me to listen even more; the only thing I love more than good music is a great trainwreck.
But instead of a trainwreck, I got something ironically more disappointing: a very impressively produced and infectiously moody rap album.
Right from kickoff of the album’s paranoia inducing intro track “Downward Spiral,” I could tell why someone would hate this album: Danny Brown’s voice. For those uninitiated to his style, Brown’s ultra-nasally and high pitched rapping can be really off-putting. I reserve all judgment for those who have to listen to “Atrocity Exhibition” with some Advil migraine pills within reach, as it can be a lot to get used to.
But once you get past the initial annoyance and confusion, Brown’s vocal style proves to be refreshing, especially in a rap game with too many mono-emotional mumblers dominating the charts.
Tracks like “Pneumonia” and “Downward Spiral” show Brown’s great vocal range and lyrical aptitude. Brown does rap quite a bit about the standard rapper topics, like doing drugs and “killin’ the rap game,” but he also explores themes of depression, isolation and addiction.
The track “Ain’t It Funny” in particular paints a portrait of how a life of hedonism doesn’t equal a life of satisfaction, all through the combined power of Brown’s lyrics and his instrumentals. It’s a dark whirlwind of pulsating blast beats, the dissonant droning of brass and synths that rise to the sky before crumbling down into dust.
“Live a fast life, seen many die slowly. Unhappy when they left, so I try to seize the moment,” Brown raps. “Funny how it happens, who ever would imagine that jokes on you, but Satan the one laughing?”
The whole album is provided as a dark carnival of noise and chaos, with Brown as your manic tour guide. It’s definitely all Brown’s show; the album is pretty lacking in terms of featured artists, save for “Really Doe,” which has an all-star ensemble of Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt and Ab-Soul.
“Really Doe” is easily the most accessible track on the album, feeling much more like a Kendrick Lamar song featuring Brown than the other way around. However, it still has a brooding and ominous beat characteristic of the rest of the tracks on the album, as well as one of the most braggadocious and catchy hooks I’ve heard on a rap song all year. The song sticks out, but not in a bad way, and definitely not enough to hurt the cohesiveness of the album.
“Atrocity Exhibition” is very much more than the sum of its parts. One of my main problems with rap as a genre is that many rap albums lack cohesion and concept, feeling more like a collection of good tracks than a single work of art. Danny Brown shattered this expectation with “Atrocity Exhibition,” as he challenges listeners and rewards them with something that’s both fun and unique.
The “Atrocity Exhibition” may not be for everyone, but I recommend that anyone who even has a passing interest in rap buy themselves a ticket.