My first introduction to Danny Brown’s music was through his 2016 album “Atrocity Exhibition”. After subsequently visiting the rest of his discography, this album still holds its place as Brown’s most introspective and critical.
Over the 45 minute runtime, Brown delivers a haunting portrayal of a life intimately tied to drugs, including all of the pleasures and struggles that accompany them.
Admittedly, it takes some getting used to his voice on the majority of “Atrocity Exhibition” tracks. However, Brown’s whiny, nasally rapping helps reinforce the sense that he is most certainly not sober as he raps.
“Ain’t It Funny”
Brown’s primary goal with “Atrocity Exhibition is to keep people from getting sucked into heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and other drugs. At the same time though, he knows why people do get involved, and much of the rest of the album is dedicated to exploring those reasons.
Live a fast life, seen many die slowly
Unhappy when they left so I try to seize the momentLyrics from “Ain’t It Funny” by Danny Brown
“Ain’t It Funny” explores Brown’s own denial of the dangers of hiding away his problems with drugs. Part of the denial comes from a place of drugs being inescapable. Growing up poor, drug use seems “inherited in our blood”. He also falls victim to toxic masculinity, seeing drug use as a sort of ritual that all the men in his area undergo. Therefore, even though he “might need rehab”, he’s not going to for fear of seeming weak.
The title of the song itself, “Ain’t It Funny” reflects Brown’s feelings on exposing his most vulnerable self to an audience primarily looking for entertainment. Especially considering his previous work, many listeners have taken home a message of: “doing drugs is fun kids!”
Brown simultaneously knows that people get drunk and high at parties to his music, which he does make a living off of, yet these tendencies are extremely harmful to both himself and others. He needs to stop, but he can’t due to addiction to the chemicals, the thrill, and the success.
A Race to The Bottom
If there’s anything Brown especially excels at, it’s pacing. The album never feels like it stalls anywhere, even when songs slow down their bpm and feature less intense beats. “Downward Spiral” begins the album with a raucous, uncertain experience of not feeling grounded. Intensity of tracks fluctuates slightly through the ghostly “Lost”.
All hell breaks loose as “Ain’t It Funny” hits and the energy from that climax seeps through the following four tracks into “Dance In The Water”. This track forces you to keep up as best as you can as it speeds through its sporadic yet hypnotic verses and party-fueled chorus. You feel pulled into the need to “dance in the water / and not get wet” as if that task were actually possible.
And then, everything just stops with “From The Ground”. The beat on this track is far more minimalistic than anything else on the album, especially compared to the prior song. Brown also shifts to his speaking voice, which sounds more sober, matured, and heartbroken.
“When It Rain” immediately contradicts this sense with the now familiar whiny vocals you’ve come to expect from Brown. The beat, which is almost completely made from sampling of the experimental “Pot au feu”, imitates the feeling of Brown taking an absurd amount of drugs to escape the worries he discusses on “From The Ground”.
Personally, I feel the urge to continuously speed up while driving when listening to the track. The thrill is invigorating, but it’s progressively more dangerous to both myself and the people around me as I do it. Brown’s whole point is to keep from giving in to that urge.
Only way you hang is with a noose
Beef with us, it ain’t no truceLyrics from “When It Rain” by Danny Brown
There is a level of depth of analysis that can be applied to “Atrocity Exhibition” that I’ve only seen a few other albums be able to achieve. Brown subverts the whole gangster rap genre while also fitting in perfectly by referencing all of the “right things”: gun violence, sex, drug abuse, etc. The entirety of the album reeks of irony: even though the experimental, sample-heavy instrumentals seem to encourage escapism, only excaping the grip of these pleasures will keep you alive.
Best tracks: “Ain’t It Funny”, “Pneumonia”, “Dance In The Water”, “When It Rain”
— DJ Cashew