Retrospective Classics: Atrocity Exhibition | Album Review
Updated: Mar 22
Review of Danny Brown's album Atrocity Exhibition | Axel Aguilar
Intro to Danny Brown:
The album that is the epitome of what insanity must sound like. The album that is considered a gem in the underground hip-hop scene of experimental, out-there music. Admittedly, the first time I heard this album, it was a lot for me to take in. I left this album thinking, “it was cool,” and nothing more. Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “you have to listen to this album 10+ times to really get it” reviews, so I’ll try not to come across as pretentious. Let’s start with understanding who Danny Brown is as an artist. Danny Brown is a rapper hailing all the way from Detroit, Michigan who has been rapping for as long as he can remember. One of Danny Brown’s earliest mixtapes, “Hot Soup,” was made when he was 27 years old, an age that’s considered a bit old in the genre of rap with most rappers releasing their breakout albums in their mid 20’s. To put this into perspective, Danny Brown’s breakout album, his 2nd studio album “XXX”, didn’t come out until 2011, when he was 30 years old. Brown’s peers, A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar, didn’t break out until the ages of 23 and 24 respectively. Danny Brown had been in the rap game longer than the 2 of them but could never quite find his footing with the mainstream, even to this day. “XXX” was an eclectic album that reflected on his career up to the age of 30 and the struggles that came along with it, including resentment, poison of fame, drug use, and mental health. What made Danny Brown stand out from other rappers was his high-pitched rapping style that came across to listeners like a crazed maniac, alongside occasional humor in his lyrics that will make you think, “Did he really just say that s*** and make it work?” Nonetheless, what was evident in his music was that he was a RAPPER RAPPER with some hard bars and clever wordplay that rivaled a lot of his peers rapping. Prior to Atrocity Exhibition, Brown had never been afraid to share his struggles with mental health, specifically depression, but had always camouflaged it under what appeared to be surface level bangers. He never really got into these topics deeper, despite implying or even dedicating entire songs to them. This is where we enter Atrocity Exhibition.
Enter Atrocity Exhibition:
Atrocity Exhibition is an album consisting of 15 tracks in the span of 46 mins and 51 seconds. The album makes good use of that time by offering some of the most eclectic instrumentals and darkest sounds you’ll hear from a hip hop album in the 2010s. The album opens with the track “Downward Spiral” that sets the mood of the entire album with the lyrics, “I’m sweating like I’m in a rave, been in this room for 3 days, Think I’m hearing voices. Paranoid and think I’m seeing ghost-es, oh s***.” This instantly brings the listener into the mind of Danny Brown. Atrocity Exhibition tackles many struggles Danny Brown faces with depression. It’s a very raw but otherwise maniacal album that is unrelenting in its dark tone. For example, the circus horns of “Ain’t It Funny” contributed to it becoming one of the most out-there hip-hop songs because of how aggressive and insane they sound. No track in rap today has come close to replicating a sound like this track. As well, the pounding on the track “Dance In The Water” made it one of the many bangers on this album. In some shape or form, all these songs have a take-away of how self-aware Danny Brown is of the state he’s in. Track after track he illustrates a person who is either in obvious need of help but drowns his troubles in drugs, hoping to meet his demise even though he knows that it isn’t the right way to go, or a person who screams for help, but denies help at the same time. A verse from “Ain’t It Funny” encapsulates this with “I’ma wash away my problems with this bottle of henny, Anxiety got the best of me so I’m popping them Xannies, Might need rehab but to me that s*** p****.” Another verse that captures this is on the track “White Lines,” with the lyrics “Lines and lines of coke, Heart beating hoping it ain’t my time to go, Take another snort no way no no.” This hook shows his self-awareness to this situation and his consenting wish for death. I could go on and on about the many things that you could interpret and pick apart from this album, but that would turn this into an unnecessary 3-hour video essay. So yes, you will find depression and turmoil all over this album, but that’s not to say that this album doesn’t also have its fair share of fun banging moments either. For example, tracks like “Really Doe,” which is a total banger of a posse cut featuring rappers such as Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, & Earl Sweatshirt. Each of these artists bring a hard verse, delivering bars after bars while still maintaining the mood of the album. Another banger off the album is a track called “Pneumonia,” that has a gloomy industrial sound with supporting adlibs from ScHoolboy Q and Danny Brown rapping relentlessly. The standard Danny Brown humor is also on this track with lines like, “Licked the c*** and she did the Macarena” and, “Geeked up, geeked up, pop a pill just like Mike and Ikes.” Of course, I picked the lyrics with the most crude humor from this album, but that is just part of the Danny Brown charm. His unusual, insane humor somehow always hits, and just doesn’t come across as cringey or in poor taste.
I want to talk over the production of this album very quickly. The album, as I've said before, has a very industrial, gloomy sound. It’s not quite dark and murky like an Armand Hammer album, it’s dark and murky like the world of Danny Brown. The majority of these instrumentals are just so unconventional and genre pushing for the experimental rap genre at the time this album dropped. This album has producing credits for many well-known producers, including The Alchemist and Evian Christ who have also had writing credits for Kanye West and Travis Scott respectively. The producers’ ability to use obscure samples and warp them into out of this world sounding amazing songs. Overall, you get the deal. I’m just in love with the sound of this album.
This album has grown to become a personal favorite of mine; I love it more and more every time I listen to it. There are a lot of ways people could personally connect to this album’s subject of spiraling down in their mental health. It has very raw and emotional feelings that any day-to-day person working a 9 to 5 could relate to. This is a project that has aged like fine wine and continues to show why Danny Brown is one of the best and most underrated rappers of our generation. Danny Brown is an artist that deserves his flowers and respect in hip-hop today.
Favorite Tracks: "Really Doe," "Ain’t it Funny," "Pneumonia," "Today," & "Hell For It."
Least Favorite Tracks: None.
https://youtu.be/Xs-Dc3_eiV8 Danny Brown – Pneumonia
https://youtu.be/7L4JnAuW00k Danny Brown – Ain’t It Funny