This album has been a long time coming. Not only because his last release was three years ago, or because hip-hop nowadays only cares about the next big single, because for the first time in his career, it feels like Danny Brown has managed to create the real deal, the childhood dream; a genuine, bonafide, classic-style song-for-song album.
He almost achieved this with 2011’s XXX; an absolute monster of a mixtape showcasing Danny’s signature blend of Detroit techno and grimy ass gangsta rap which introduced the world to that iconic high-pitched Danny Brown wail. He followed up with the breakthrough double-disc banger-fest Old in 2013, but since then it seems like he’s been holding his cards pretty close to his chest. Some speculated on whether he was just stalling, feeling the pressure of the newfound success singles like ‘Dip’ and ‘25 Bucks’ had afforded him. As it turns out, Danny Brown wasn’t stalling; he was busy. Very, very busy.
Atrocity Exhibition is a complete evolution for Danny Brown in every single way. Every single element of Danny Brown – his flow, his character, his production style, even down to the environments he creates and the pictures he paints; every single aspect of his artistry has been honed to the point of perfection on here. From the minute the exhibition opens and ‘The Downward Spiral’ hits you with those sparse psychedelic guitars, you can feel it – you know instantly that this is something you’ve never heard before. This is the sound he’s been searching for ever since he began experimenting on 2010’s The Hybrid. This is the REAL Danny Brown, and to see it fully realized is truly something to behold.
The album takes you on a guided tour of Danny’s paranoid drug-addled psyche, which at times feels so unrestrained that the whole carriage could derail at any given moment. Cuts like the swagger-fest ‘White Lines’ and lead single ‘When It Rain’ are so unhinged, they make the Danny Brown on ‘25 Bucks’ sound like Noni Hazelhurst in comparison. Unstoppable posse track ‘Really Doe’ is an instant classic, featuring downright hungry verses from Black Hippy alumni Ab-Soul, alternative hip-hop’s new prince Earl Sweatshirt, and the undeniable current king, Kendrick Lamar – the latter absolutely murdering the hook of the year (“they say I got the city on fire / I ain’t Roman, that’s a god damn lie, WOAH”). I mean, just the line-up alone – you know heads will be telling their kids about this one for years to come.
The album highlight ‘Lost’ is a straight up bar-fest. The beat creeps up your spine like a classic Def Jux era Blockhead cut while Danny carves out some of the most intricately crafted verses I’ve ever heard him spit (“I’m like Kubrick with two bricks and hoes on the strip/off a two piece a toothpick I flick and I preach”). Then BOOM – your equilibrium gets stomped out of your brain sideways by an all-out assault on ‘Ain’t It Funny’ – one of the most abrasive and infectious numbers Danny Brown has ever created. The mix on this number is straight up INSANITY; a wall of horns peels your skin back up-front before the bottom drops out completely mid-way, sending the horns plummeting into sub hell.
The penultimate track might be the most perfect ‘stoner record’ committed to tape, seeing Danny team up with (wait for it…) B-Real of Cypress Hill for the so-ridiculous-it’s-actually-amazing ‘Get Hi’. The pair put down the most glaringly stereotypical stoner performances even they can muster, completely self-parodying in the process. Which on paper sounds pretty awful, I know. But the entire track is so self-aware that the gag pays off BIG with Danny and B-Real laying it on so thick they feel almost sincere in their sarcasm – like you’re in on the joke.
The exhibition finishes up on ‘Hell For It’, a fitting closer for what will prove to be a career-defining album. Reminiscent of XXX’s ‘30’, he once again takes the final moment to reflect on what it means to be Danny Brown today, calling out the likes of Iggy Azalea and trash-talking, scene-jumping hipster kids with straight vitriol while reaffirming exactly why he has the right to call himself ‘the greatest rapper ever’. And while he might have his competitors, if the growth from Old to Atrocity Exhibition is anything to go by, it’s only a matter of time before that title will be undisputed.
Daniel Sewell, take a fucking bow.
Rating: Absolute 10/10
Atrocity Exhibition is out now via Warp Records