Danny Brown Atrocity Exhibition Warp
Rap-rock. As a take on its parent genres, at its commercial height it was as straight and tasteless as the chin-strap on cherub-faced fratmare Fred Durst, the poster-jock for a justly maligned sub-genre. In 2016, though, the face of rap-rock might well have become that of Detroit rapper Danny Brown. Draped in leather and crowned with a detonated afro, since his breakthrough 2011 release XXX Brown has been embracing a rock star image that’s somewhat befitting of the eccentric take on rap, rock and therefore rap-rock found on his fourth album.
Named after a Joy Division song, Brown’s latest LP wears its post-punk influences on its album sleeve and the influence of bands like Talking Heads on the album’s production – largely supplied by Lewisham native Paul White. Over White’s raucous fusion of guitar feedback, clattering percussion, blasts of trumpet, and what sounds like a mariachi band on fast forward, Brown shouts, Brown squawks and Brown is at times borderline incomprehensible. And unfortunately for those who value Brown as a lyricist, the rapping isn’t as fascinating as the music.
The experimental thrust of this album giddies its production with forward momentum. As a vocalist, though, Brown seems to be stuck exploring a rut. Maybe he’s fighting to be heard against the frenetic music. But I can’t help mourning the loss of vocal range, lyricism, and dimensionality that has accompanied these gains in intensity.
The substance of Atrocity Exhibition is often substance abuse, which is well-trodden ground for Brown – one of the few rappers willing to juxtapose the ‘turn up’ of drugs with the comedown. But the substance is buried deep. On XXX, arguably his masterpiece, Brown skilfully interweaved insanity and sobriety; on the follow up Old he split them down the middle, across two ‘sides’.
Here, neither the clear head nor clear voice get much of a look in. Brown used to exhibit the psychological desecration wrought by hedonistic excess and urban poverty with fierce clarity. But on this album, he’s become a different sort of exhibitionist. Not an atrocious exhibitionist, perhaps, but at times, a tedious one.