Danny Brown Embraces His Struggles on 'Atrocity Exhibition'

Erika Goldring/Getty Images
Danny Brown performs at Waterfront Park on July 16, 2016 in Louisville, K.Y.

Danny Brown unpacks many layers on Atrocity Exhibition, his fourth studio album that was released three days ahead of its Sept. 30 date on streaming services. Brown is obsessed with detail in his music, possessing a unique ability to get younger and older listeners to think about their own lives in the same analytical manner -- but perhaps with fewer drugs and sinful nights.

He’s no different from the Danny Brown heard on XXX, a project which recently celebrated its five-year anniversary and was lauded for his self-reflection about growing up in Detroit ("Fields"), his drug use ("Adderall Admiral"), and the struggle of finding a fast paycheck ("Scrap or Die"). Even his third studio effort, 2013's Old, was a reflective set where Brown crisscrossed through hip-hop and alternative rock, showcasing his technical rap skills and experimenting with sounds foreign to a hip-hop traditionalist. With Atrocity Exhibition, Brown made up for the three-year wait by fine-tuning his presentation, which has only boosted his momentum as a new signee to Warp Records after leaving Fool’s Gold Records.

The album’s opener "Downward Spiral" expands on the depression he described on the title track of his 2011 project XXX, where he says he’s "gotta figure it out" or the vicious cycle will continue: "Turning to these drugs, now these drugs turned my life/And it’s the downward spiral, got me suicidal." At this point in his career, he’s not a veteran per se, nor is he a rookie fighting for attention -- but his risk-taking rhymes and ability to create progressive hip-hop has earned him kudos as an artist who plays by his own rules. 

Danny Brown's New Album Is Named After a Joy Division Song

During his recent New York stop at Webster Hall on his current fall tour, Brown -- with his hypeman Dopehead beside him -- weaved through his catalog with ease, mixing XXX and Old anthems with Atrocity Exhibition cuts "When It Rain" and "Really Doe," offering a pure turn-up regardless of what dark, paranoid or happy headspace he’s in.

While Old helped widen his indie fanbase and established his name in the festival circuits, especially after performing alongside Trash Talk, A$AP Rocky, Action Bronson, Tyler, the Creator, and other outlier artists in the past. Despite its low first-week sales numbers (Brown pushed 15,000 copies for a No. 4 entry on the Billboard 200), which some critics might consider a lukewarm debut, Brown’s cult-like status in hip-hop falls in line with his peers who brush off the idea of going mainstream. The songs on Atrocity Exhibition continue that tradition, but the main difference is they’re a lot more accessible for those curious about the Danny Brown Phenomenon, a twisted take on today's trends. Whether he’s rapping excitedly about doing cocaine and molly while contemplating his death ("White Lines") or he’s getting extremely high to block out his worries ("Get Hi" featuring Cypress Hill’s B-Real), the tracks are honest portrayals of watered-down party cuts by other rappers. 

Danny Brown Drops Menacing New Single 'Pneumonia' From 'Atrocity Exhibition'

Atrocity Exhibition initially made headlines for sharing its name with a Joy Division song, which in turn was taken from a J.G. Ballard novel. But it's truly an opus designed by Brown to create a legacy. Influenced by Raekwon, Björk, Joy Division, Talking Heads, System of a Down’s Toxicity, and Quentin Tarantino movies, the set also includes a loaded list of producers including U.K. beatsmith Paul White, Alchemist, Evian Christ, Petite Noir and Black Milk. Brown’s vast musical knowledge adds to his eclecticism and urge to be remembered by the rhymes he puts out into the world. On "Hell For It," he makes that clear (Iggy Azalea slight and all) by rhyming: "Respect for lyricism in this game ain’t none left/Have a b----h like Iggy think she sicker than me/And that’s so f--ked up, that’s just how this shit be/I just wanna make music, f--k being a celebrity/'Cause these songs that I write, leave behind my legacy.”

Maybe Future Danny Brown won’t have to resort to sex, drugs, and whatever else to calm his nerves. But for now, Atrocity Exhibition is proof he has much to look forward to.


The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.