Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition
After a year of blockbuster records and blustering surprise drops, the history books will look favourably on Danny Brown. Atrocity Exhibition is the Detroit rapper's fourth studio album, and he's taken his time getting here. Mid-2015 he told fans he was too far "ahead of schedule," and that although he'd finished this album, he didn't feel like dropping it just yet. Instead, he guested for The Avalanches' return (on single Frank Sinatra), started penning a Dr Seuss-inspired childrens' book about self esteem, and carefully spent $70,000 clearing samples. Now, suddenly, here we are: Atrocity Exhibition might just cruise past this year's chaos.
Brown has one of the most left-field vocabularies in the game – his sometimes goofy, sometimes sinister sense of humour makes for an uneasy, unmistakeable ride. Glamour and excess is excused and made redundant by open-hearted admittances of anxiety, but not enough to convince you that Danny's been taking it slower.
In another rapper's hands, a track like White Lines could become an accidental party anthem. Instead, Brown's narrative is unnerving, but almost played for laughs: "Lines and lines of coke," he apes, "Oh no, I felt a little tingle in my toe". He counters with nose bleeds, itching and very real fatalism; "I hope I ain't bought my time to go."
Distinctive and likely divisive, some spots showcase the most original beat-work you'll hear this year. Aint It Funny is a blow-by-blow "flip the table" ride over old-fashioned, cop thriller brass. Golddust is shamelessly, brutally exciting, operating on your heartbeat with cold, grubby steel.
Single Really Doe sees Kendrick (!) and Earl Sweatshirt (!) share guest duties with Ab Soul, helmed by Brown's long term collaborator Black Milk who spikes the track with eerie, ominous bells. Ambition challenges modesty, and statements of success challenge any sense of humble brag. Brown spits – not without pride – "now I sell out all my shows / used to sell out all my blow," and Lamar puts in an impassioned turn; "made a million counting sheep, gave it all to public housin' / look at what I ain't doin' / K Dot, four years, I got the same watch."
Hard rhymes, hard beats and a metallic self-scrutiny see Danny Brown make astute decisions, and reap all that he deserves. Rolling Stone is a cold, whistling documentary of a life on the road: "Don't feel for me," Brown instructs us. "Some people say I think too much / I don't think they think enough."
Best tracks: Golddust, Really Doe