For years, Danny Brown has been putting on for the left-field lyricists, but with every new release he's further blurred the line between traditional hip-hop and experimental electronic music. It's a unique quality, being able to consistently write lyrics with substance over increasingly challenging sonic palettes.
More conventional rappers often try to take on unorthodox production, and usually they're unable to adapt to their surroundings. They sound out of place. But Danny? Time after time, he works out where his voice can fit and he chisels out his nook. On Atrocity Exhibition, which dropped September 27 on new label home Warp Records, Danny takes this ability to a new level.
One of Danny's most compelling attributes has always been his knack for picking tracks that sing to the weirdo in me. A coworker who'd heard the album before the rest of the world told me it was Danny's most challenging release, and that got my attention. While I'm a fan of Danny's more straightforward tracks like "Guitar Solo" and "Grown Up," I really look to him for the more intoxicating, mind-bending material like XXX's "Outer Space," where Danny's "dipping brushes in war paint" over an otherworldly instrumental from SKYWLKR.
When first hearing Atrocity Exhibition's "When It Rain," I knew that Danny was taking it there: there's no real snare on the track, a hypnotic drone playing underneath an unforgettable melody that Danny raps circles around at one moment, then sits right on top of at others. With each pre-album single, Danny challenged listeners in different ways. "Pneumonia" was closer to Danny Brown's older electronic experiments, but with Evian Christ on production Danny moved away from the party-starting territory of his work with Darq E Freaker or Rustie into the realm of distorted minimalism.
It makes perfect sense that the record label behind Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, Flying Lotus, AND Hudson Mohawke would be the perfect home for Danny Brown's most fully realized, boundary-pushing project.
"Rolling Stone" (which features and is produced by Petite Noir) and "Really Doe" (the monstrous posse cut that features both Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt throwing all kinds of darts into a boom bap slapper from Black Milk) both showcased Danny in zones we'd been somewhat familiar with, but it's interesting to discover that it's with longtime collaborator Paul White (who produced 10 of the album's 15 tracks, including "When It Rain") that Danny was able to spread his wings and truly let his freak flag fly. It’s through his fruitful working relationship with Paul White that Danny created what Passion of the Weiss called the best post-punk album of the 21st century.
In a recent conversation with Complex, Danny said that Atrocity Exhibition was a product "of all the ideas I had when I was making albums like Old or XXX. This is the first time I ever had a budget like this, to clear all the samples." Ain't it funny how that happens? It makes perfect sense that the record label behind Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, Flying Lotus, and Hudson Mohawke would be the perfect home for Danny Brown's most fully realized, boundary-pushing project.
Danny's drinking "mimosas for breakfast" on the fuzzy "Golddust" after getting properly lit alongside B-Real on the dreamy wake-and-bake anthem "Get Hi." The introspective "Tell Me What I Don't Know" finds Danny putting his nasally vocal to the side so he could reminisce on the days when he'd "slice your tomato" if you owed him the "lettuce" over invigorating percussion, while "Dance in the Water" is the soundtrack you need to be playing if (when?) the world comes to an end.
On this album, we're not getting a new Danny Brown. Instead, it feels like he’s reached a point in his career where he can clearly express everything he wants to, exactly how he wants to.
On this album, we're not getting a new Danny Brown. Instead, it feels like he’s reached a point in his career where he can clearly express everything he wants to, exactly how he wants to. He's reached a new height. A line can be drawn from 2010 mixtape The Hybrid, through XXX (2011) and Old (2013) to Atrocity Exhibition. We need tracks like "Party Like A Rockstar" or "Blunt After Blunt" to get to the "Downward Spiral," and where would "Tell Me What I Don't Know" be if we didn't know Danny's history from cuts like "25 Bucks" or "Dope Fiend Rental"? The Danny Brown on Atrocity Exhibition has a more mature and adventurous ear, along with an understanding of how his voice and lyrics fit in with the more challenging production. Danny Brown has always been unique, but now he’s able to harness that idiosyncratic energy and remain in control.
Maybe it's on us; maybe it took fans eight years to be properly ready for peak Danny Brown. It might be better that way. We needed time to grow with him as he eased into more and more experimental soundscapes. Or maybe we're just finally familiar enough with one of the most complex characters in rap to appreciate him. Whatever the case may be, appreciate the fact that Danny Brown is here, giving you the most challenging—and rewarding—hip-hop album of 2016.