There’s no one else in hip-hop like Danny Brown. His frenzied rhyme style and nasal voice are instantly recognisable. Heavily influenced by grime and other electronic music, as well as punk—and based in Detroit, a long way from today’s Southern rap nuclei—he’s an ingenious derelict locked out of the mainstream rap fraternity and all the better for it. It’s clearly this unique quality that made British electronic institution Warp come calling; and Atrocity Exhibition, his sixth album, is guaranteed to expand his already substantial fanbase.
It deserves to. Named after the Joy Division song—itself named after a very surreal, dark JG Ballard novel—Atrocity Exhibition isn’t a happy listen, but it’s an electrifying, deep record that is as musically adventurous as rap gets in 2016. Wisely keeping his frequent collaborator, London leftfield hip-hop producer Paul White, onboard for most of the beats, the sounds occupy a twilight territory of spooky, smoked out atmospheres that veer from dank, moody post punk bass to skeletal, 1970s psychedelia and '80s synths. It’s a suitable sound-bed for Danny to release his wild lyrics upon. Depression, drugs and sex are some of the subjects explored, with a dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.
There are also some heavyweight guests. "Really Doe" features modern-day rap royalty Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar and Ab Soul, though it’s Danny Brown who stands out the most over the Black Milk-produced, heavy beat, with its Exorcist style horror soundtrack bells and discordant piano chords. B-Real from Cypress Hill, probably the closest vocal antecedent to Danny, stars on the opiated "Get Hi," though it sounds like they’re indulging in something a little stronger than weed here. "From the Ground," with Warp label mate Kelela, is an emotive alt R&B thing—a chance for Danny to dial back his wild style to a mellow delivery, and he sounds completely different.
However, where the album is at its most exhilarating is when Danny tries something new. First single "When it Rain" is intensely unsettling. Danny is at his most manic spitting over an initially beatless, chilling sample from British electronica pioneer Delia Derbyshire’s "Pot Au Feu." It suddenly switches up into 4/4, ratcheting up the tension, nodding at ghetto tech and juke or some fresh hybrid."Play Today" maintains the horror atmosphere, sounding like something prog rockers Goblin would make, while "Hell For It" is a Kraftwerkian ambient number, albeit with Danny’s confessional rhymes on top.
That Atrocity Exhibition sounds like neither backpack rap, hipster drivel nor dull trap, but something fresh that stands on its own is itself to be applauded. But that it’s so damn good too puts it among the best hip-hop albums in years.
01. Downward Spiral
02. Tell Me What I Don't Know
03. Rolling Stone feat. Petite Noir
04. Really Doe feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & Earl Sweatshirt
06. Ain't It Funny
08. White Lines
10. Dance In The Water
11. From The Ground feat. Kelela
12. When It Rain
14. Get Hi feat. B-Real
15. Hell For It
Atrocity Exhibition is out now on Warp Records.