Danny Brown has made the avant-garde psych-rap record that only he could make, and which so many were cautiously hoping for in the wake of Old. Danny’s last record wasn’t a total wash, and the effusive personality and agile mind that makes up so much of Danny’s appeal was at least still present in spades, but the album lacked focus, its swagger seemed obligatory, and Danny got his famous front tooth fixed (?). One can forgive one of the most promising rappers of our generation for taking a slight “breather” in the form of a sprawling, if forgettable, 19-track album, especially after the chrome-plated sci-fi surrealism of XXX, a mixtape which many consider a masterpiece in its own right; but for those who have been anxiously awaiting the return of the sonically adventurous, lyrically outlandish, and just downright weird Danny Brown we fell in love with, Atrocity Exhibition is that, and then some.
British producer and frequent Brown collaborator Paul White‘s production work on this record is fairly unconventional; in fact, at points one would be hard pressed to find a contemporary album in any mainstream genre that sounds quite as strange as this. The album’s sonic textures tend towards the jangly, ambiguous and amorphous; it succeeds at being dark and murky without being physically or metaphysically oppressive, for the most part, until Danny wants you to feel oppressed. Detroit techno, 80’s pop, Wu-Tang-esque boom-bap horror-rap, and nitrous-y existential disassociation devolve into herky-jerky menace reminiscent of Captain Beefheart and solipsistic freak-existential despair ala Marilyn Manson. Certainly, few hip-hop albums have ever sounded this wacked-out, but Danny tries to play it off, spitting undaunted flows over idiosyncratic beats, and experimental production that most MCs (including great ones) wouldn’t even think of fucking around on, much less putting out for public consumption. Thankfully, those other MCs aren’t Danny Brown.