“Atrocity Exhibition” is the opening track to Closer, Joy Division’s second and final studio LP. It provides an immediate counterpoint to their 1979 classic, Unknown Pleasures. Where Unknown Pleasures was ice cold, minimal and detached, “Atrocity Exhibition” was vibrant, angry and vigorous. Atrocity Exhibition, the latest album from Detroit rapper Danny Brown, is heavily influenced by both sides of Joy Division. This may raise a few eyebrows. Rap and Joy Division are usually not mentioned in the same sentence, yet Danny Brown’s love for Joy Division runs throughout his most recent album. Through dark, spacious beats and some of the most creative lyricism in the rap game, Danny Brown has crafted a masterpiece.
Much of this album goes against the general idea of what rap truly is in today’s era. Danny Brown is mostly on his own on this album. Since Kanye West’s landmark My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it’s been quite common to see dozens of contributing artists and producers on a single track. Atrocity Exhibition often deals with the idea of isolation, especially on songs like “Rolling Stone” and “Downward Spiral,” in which the latter Brown raps “Drowning frustrations in an ocean of sin/Thinking irrational, I have no emotions.” The fact that he’s usually the sole voice on each track amplifies his pained, anguished lyrics.
The production on this album is a major highlight. It’s produced mostly by Paul White, who has often collaborated with Danny Brown. There’s a real spectrum of sounds on this album, from the cold, RZA-esque beats on “Downward Spiral” and “Pneumonia,” to the more vibrant “Ain’t it Funny” and “Gold-dust.” However, Paul White uses a similar technique used most commonly by bands like Joy Division, or more recent groups like Pavement or The Strokes. The beats are all super gritty, adopting a lo-fi feel to the songs. This raw approach makes the album thrilling all the way through, both emphasizing the exciting up-tempo songs, and making the more moody tracks feel very intimate and personal. The experimental sound of this album really sets it apart from other releases this year.
Danny Brown has often talked about his rough past, in which he was a crack dealer, faced addiction and had to navigate his hometown’s fall. Atrocity Exhibition continues these dark observations of the world he lives in, as well as the pain he’s endured. This album is dark, to say the least. Danny portrays himself as someone who has real issues, and is often emotionally and mentally fractured. “Really Doe” provides an outlet in an album where the main themes are mental issues, social isolation and struggles with poverty. Featuring Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt, “Really Doe” is an up-tempo, fiery posse cut, with all 4 rappers dropping verses that rival some of the best output of their careers. There’s little doubt it my mind that come the end of December, it will be topping many critics’ “Best Songs of 2016” lists.
Danny Brown comes out of Atrocity Exhibition a fighter. On the closing track “Hell For It,” he discusses his disapproval of fame, juxtaposed with his experiences with poverty. He does not care for the limelight. He simply wants to make music that will end up as his legacy. He will go through hell to get where he needs to be, which given his background, he basically did.
By Sebastian De Lasa