In his appearance in Busdriver’s ‘Ego Death’, Danny Brown likens himself as the “Rap Marilyn Manson”. This comparison is never more evident than with Atrocity Exhibition. The avant-garde rapper reaches down to his vicious lows in order to hit new highs and strive for dark and visceral innovation. Galvanized by post-punk, the record (which consequently takes its name from a Joy Division tune) presents a harrowing portrait of a man struggling with his very darkest demons: depression, anxiety and addiction. As the rapper says: “Your worst nightmare for me is a normal dream”.
Opener ‘Downward Spiral’ sets the scene, with the listener witnessing the aftermath of a drug binge. Brown leaves no room for romanticism, crafting an intense narrative brimming with paranoia and anxiety. Disturbingly the rapper details the decay this addiction has had on his body- “Been grinding up my teeth so long it’s swelling up my jaw”. The claustrophobia of this scene is further enhanced by hellish low-fi guitars that complement the sinister Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial production. It creates an atmosphere that reigns high from then on up until the close of the album.
While the album should undoubtedly be an impossibly hard listen given the content, the masterclass in production helps translate it into something more digestible. ‘Dance in the Water’ is led along by hypnotic afro-beat, while the presence of xylophones in ‘Pneumonia’ give it the feel of a twisted lullaby. The highlight of the album ‘Really Doe’, pits Brown against guest-stars Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt in an almost incomprehensible display of lyrical dexterity.
Much like Ian Curtis of Joy Division, Brown creates a deeply atmospheric musical masterpiece by bearing all, crafting a creative record of dark psychedelia that is both painfully honest and full of vulnerability. You have never heard hip-hop like this before.