The Riff
Published in

The Riff

A Revisit To “Atrocity Exhibition”

Danny Brown, I am blown away…

Danny Brown’s 2016 experimental effort is one of the best hip-hop has seen in the last decade. No, you cannot listen to it passively. Give it your time, it will reward you. A sort of psychedelic, sort of dark, but enjoyable record from one of the most creative rappers of the last decade.

Complete Album Characteristics

Like many experimental albums, there is a huge variety of instrumentals on this thing. A great deal of them are very bare, and they sound wonderful. Not beautiful, though, so don’t expect to feel butterflies. You’ll probably want to vomit after listening to the lyrics, or you could smile. It is all about perspective, isn’t it?

What is not up for debate is the fact that Danny Brown is on point with the concept and theme of the album. The album is based on addictions and their pleasure, along with its downsides and how the pleasure decreases after every experience. I haven’t experienced it yet, but my science books can confirm.

It is short — 47 minutes — but not short enough to be underwhelming. A huge part of that is his blown-up vocals. Over the top in every conceivable way.

Coming back to the concept of the album, the theme is portrayed like a downward spiral, starting from the first track, named ‘Downward Spiral’ and the albums ends while he goes down(hell, in his words), infinitely.

That’s all well and good, but the songs need to be nice to enjoy the album, don’t they? They are.

The instrumentals are a mix of scary, dark, heavy and brilliant.

Track Listings

Downward Spiral is an…apt(?) opening for this album. It is vile, it is dirty, it is painfully aware and it sticks to the theme. Pretty impressed. This is in the first verse of the album-

[Verse 1]
I’m sweating like I’m in a rave
Been in this room for 3 days
Think I’m hearing voices
Paranoid and think I’m seeing ghost-es, oh shit
Phone keep ringing but I cut that shit off
Only time I use it when I tell the dealer drop it off
Had a threesome last night, ain’t matter what it cost
Couldn’t it get hard, tried to stuff it in soft
Had to fuck em both raw, keep my fingers crossed
Been grinding on my teeth so long it’s swelling up my jaw
Nothing on but my bathrobe and pinky ring
Your worst nightmare for me is a normal dream
And if I learned anything
Is don’t nod off with ya motherfucking cigarette burning
Knocking on my door but I won’t answer
Residue on mirrors, Jojo dancer

Don’t worry, this will probably be the last time I drop lyrics at you. But I am just laughing at the fact he used ‘it get’ instead of ‘get it’ just to sound better.

The instrumentals are a mix of scary, dark, heavy, and brilliant. There is a guitar riff that repeats every few seconds. It is addictive. I am not saying that it was a conscious effort, but I think it was. In fact, I bet it was.

Tell Me What I Don’t Know is a diary-esque song about him getting caught with drugs in school, which is hilarious(not quite when you are the one though…) and going to prison, and all the other things that come with it, his explanations and indulgence all in one song. The instrumentals were a bit muddy and a throwback to the nineties, and I am fine with it. They are great.

Rolling Stones is one of the weaker songs aesthetically, but lyrically, this is one of the most important and introspective moments on the album. The song is essentially about the fact that Brown knows that this is happening, that he sold his soul and his dreams for this life of indulgence and he knows this is not very good. However, he is also not capable of stopping, and that this ‘road’, or path has no end.

Very powerful lyrics are refrained from, but the track benefits from its abstractness. The very low-key bass is super…juicy? I don’t know, but it is played by someone who knows what he’s doing a bit too well.

Really Doe is a star-studded track. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt all feature, all three of them are some of the most respected rappers among the hipsters. It was just so good that I expected this to be bad. But, all three of them delivered.

Danny Brown kicks things off in the first verse and his vocals are very confusing. I can’t think of a better way than to describe it as too unique to be bad. The flow is very complicated, the complexions are varied, squeaky and everything in between, it's just perfect. Every hook is Kendrick’s and he delivers. In fact, everyone delivers.

My favourite part was Brown’s but I was pleasantly surprised by the guest verses. The lyrical contents are back to indulgence and the fun of doing it. With a few lines of self-consciousness thrown around. Instrumental is dreamy, and I love it. This is the most pleasure-y song on the album, so it is only fair that this has a dreamy instrumental, isn’t it?

On the surface, Lost is another similar track, but I think it is not. The lyrics are almost the same, yes, but the instrumental is almost melancholy. The sax on this thing is powerful, and the sample is…smart. He is using the sample to ride this generic beat, like most samples are used, but the sample here is also very symbolic. At least I feel that way. I think the song is trying to convey the start of sucking all the pleasure out of this thing. Maybe I am wrong, but this where he feels a tad bit lost and hence the name.

Ain’t It Funny is a full lounge jam. Although the lyrics won’t be appreciated there. The lyrics are about how all his life led up to him being an addict, after all the success and struggle. ‘Ain’t it funny how it happens’ Maybe not. He is still sniffing though, so take it for what it's worth. The horn, bass, and vocals are totally dry and repetitive, representing the continuity of the habits that he has developed.

Golddust is the culmination of the previous two tracks, with him accepting everything from the fact he lost his soul to that it is no longer the pleasure, but suppressing pain that drives him to consume drugs and indulge in other things that he talked about. The pain comes from drugs too, so it is really a cycle he may never leave. He spits these lyrics under an aggressive and continuous guitar riff and drums. The sax in the background does a lot, too.

White Lines is a great track and features some of the best instrumentals on the entire album. This lyric made me laugh very hard, though-

Bitch you know my rank
I’m high

Yeah, I know. White lines is exactly what you think it means. Just what the Weeknd meant with cleaning pieces of ivory with her face in Starboy. If you don’t know that, well, go and learn it, it will be helpful in your music listening journey. It also features some outrageous vocals and ad-libs. The bare drums and horn section is everything I need it to be, this is one of the best tracks in the album.

But, not my favourite — That goes to Pneumonia. It is a complete Snoop Dogg imitation in the start, and by the end, it reaches vintage Danny Brown. This is brilliant. The instrumental is akin to a Jason Derulo beat done right. I know, that does not seem that hard, but the instrumental on this is exceptional. I listened to it twice without paying attention to the lyrics, it is just very enjoyable. After I read the lyrics, it is not that joyous. As you’d expect, of course, but yeah.

The lyrics are essentially hitting on the habitual side of the things, as he talks about making ’30 bands’ I don’t know how much that is, but he spends all of that money on drugs. And again, and again. It is just sad. It also touches on how even that is not enough for him, and how that led him to crime. That is even more… scary?

Dance In The Water is confusing. I can only get from the track that ‘you can do whatever you want.’ But, that doesn’t make sense here! I don’t know what this track is supposed to mean in the context of this album, maybe confusion is what he is going for? Maybe it is a nod to the sense of invincibility that one gets when he/she is high. I do not know.

From The Ground has a minimalistic, but detailed instrumental, and lyrics that are nostalgic. Brown is reminiscing the past when he wasn’t successful, and more importantly, not indulgent. He used to work very hard, write rhymes and dream of a Cadillac, and he built everything from the ground up, till here. It is a slow song, but one that is justified. It is not a highlight, but it is good nonetheless.

When It Rains is a certified banger. I think the album is a conversation between him and his conscience. His overwhelming vocals are his conscious, calling him and his peers out for indulging in unsolicited and ugly activities. It is framed as an anthem, but somewhere in the middle, it becomes dance music.

It is great, but a bit too repetitive. His reply is that his conscience does not know anything because he hasn’t experienced it, and when he experiences it once, he has to do it again and again. Maybe. I don’t know for sure.

Today is a fascinating song. It starts with an anti-racism angle, and by the hook, it has transformed into life every day like it's your last. This line is repeated continuously:

Today today today
I say you never never never know
When ya time to go
I say you never never never know
When ya time to go
So damn right I cheated

Yeah, he is trying to justify his actions, even though he has alluded to knowing his wrongdoings. I don’t know if the instrumental even matters here. This vocal performance is one of the greatest by any rapper. I know that is a heavy statement, but I will stand by it.

Get Hi is a psychedelic experience we all deserved after a truly heavy experience. Yes, it is exactly what you think it is. Get Hi is a cry to get high after a tough day. But this is no justification, like the last track, he is calm, and he is at peace with his position in the world. B-Real does a great job in the hook, his voice fits perfectly there and delivers a comforting experience. The instrumental is equally low-key and comforting.

Hell For It is an apt ending to this great album, with its message simply being don’t be me. Not that simple, but he did convey exactly that, which makes me think that the previous tracks where he was talking about the joys of getting high as sarcastic? Maybe. This is one of the best tracks on the album, especially the instrumentals. The keyboard on this thing is almost as good as it gets, and the production, too.

All in all, it was a kind of cautionary tale? I am still confused. I think this album has not been appreciated enough. I love it if it wasn’t clear already. Even though the songs are not ones that I would listen to every day, I would like to listen to this album every once in a while, as an album. And, hey! I have a newsletter now! It will be a monthly email, a kind of monologue about literature, writing, philosophy, and humanities, linking the articles I found most useful. It will be delivered on the 19th of every month. Do Subscribe if you are interested.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
M.A. Mercier

I am MA Mercier. I am interested in anything and everything! I am here to write about things that amaze me, things I am curious about.