Don't Laugh at Danny
Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition is first and foremost one of the most unique albums I’ve ever listened to. Danny has always been an artist that a lot of people don’t actively listen to because of the shrill voice he uses when he raps and the heavily explicit subject matter of his music. I’ll readily admit that before Atrocity Exhibition, I thought most of his work felt annoying and excessive. This album completely changed my mind about him as an artist and was one of my favorite albums of the year. The beats that he raps over don’t feel like they have any business being rapped over, yet regardless, Danny makes it work. It is not difficult to see that this album has a lot of references to his mental illness, or at the very least heavily motivated by his mental troubles and instabilities. In the first song “Downward Spiral”, Danny talks about, well, his downward spiral; how his negative thoughts and actions lead to further negative thoughts and actions into a spiral that he cannot escape. The song kicks off themes that persist throughout the album including themes of depression, excessive drug use, and self-reflection. Lyrics like “Your worst nightmare for me is a normal dream” and “On death row, feel like I am, You never know, one day you’re here, the next you’re gone, so I put it all up in these songs” reflect Danny’s dark perception of his life.
The second song “Tell me what I don’t know” is a ballad about the death of a friend and Danny’s short stay in prison. This is one of the few songs where he takes a break from his usual shrill voice to better articulate the story he wants to tell. “Rolling Stone” reverts back to the themes of “Downward Spiral” and speaks on how his excessive drug use leads to loneliness and a perpetual cycle of further drug use. Hard-hitting lyrics such as “Happiness went upstream, Blame myself, I had no control, Now I’m living with no soul” show how much of a destroyed person Danny feels like. We get a momentary break from this intense pessimism with the posse cut “Really Doe” featuring hip-hop stars Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt. The four MCs talk about their place in the rap game all in between a catchy chorus rapped by Kendrick.
The next two songs “Lost” and “Ain’t it funny” are the songs that closest resemble a “typical” hip-hop beat with steady drums and blaring synths. They are also two of the biggest bangers on the album. These two songs in particular are filled with references to his drug use and inability to help himself even though he can recognize that he needs help. In “Ain’t it funny” he raps “Might need rehab, But to me that shit pussy, Pray for me ya’ll, Cause I don’t know what coming to me.” This line also helps show the stigma of rehab. One might not be viewed as “hard enough” or one might lose their “manliness” if they seek help for their problems instead of trying to deal with them on their own. In this song Danny also directly references his anxiety when he says “Anxiety got the best of me, So I’m popping them xannies.” The seventh and eighth songs “Goldust” and “White Lines” continue these same themes.
In “Pneumonia” Danny talks about his inability to keep money after he earns it. The hook rings “Made 30 bands in 30 minutes, Before I count it, I done damn near spent it.” He also touches upon the fact that even though he is insanely addicted to drugs he can still rap better than most, seen in the lines “Put a brick on ya in some Rick Owens, Flow sick, n****, call in Pneumonia.” The tenth song, and my personal favorite on the album, “Dance in the Water” talks about the irony of expecting to not pay for your own actions. The chorus “Dance in the Water, And not get wet, Not get wet, Not get wet” is an interesting metaphor for this idea. Danny can’t take drugs without expecting to have some serious consequences to his mental health, just as one can’t “dance in the water and not get wet.” Yet the never-ending cycle of drug use and dark thoughts continue, without an end in sight. “From the Ground” has Danny using his relaxed voice again as he did in “Tell me What I Don’t Know.” The song is similar also in it’s subject matter as he tells a story about his life, and how him and his mom made it out of the hood and their worst nightmare is going back. He also talks about how his hard work towards his rapping is the only thing preventing him from being forced to go back.
“When it Rain” is the song that closest resembles an old Danny Brown “twerk” track. It’s fast paced and makes you want to get up and dance. “Today” is perhaps the darkest song on the entire album. The chorus goes “Today Today Today, I say you never never know, When your time to go.” Danny is extremely aware of his own mortality. He recognizes that his crazy lifestyle could lead to him dying any day. This awareness must weigh heavily on him, and must only further trigger his anxiety.
“Get Hi” is a beautifully sarcastic song about Danny’s use of marijuana. He sees that he abuses the drug but as mentioned before, his perpetual cycle of drug use continues no matter what he realizes. The bridge sang by Danny gives a painfully accurate description of what using weed just to feel better feels like, “Problem of Today, Smoke it to the face, It’s only for a moment, But the troubles go away.” The hook is sung by rapper B-real and the way he sings it gives off a haunting vybe. The last song of the album “Hell for It” has Danny reflecting on his career and where it’s headed. He doesn’t understand how people value celebrity over music and decides that he no longer cares about his celebrity when he says “I just wanna make music, Fuck being a celebrity, Cause these songs that I write, Leave behind my legacy.”
One of my favorite things about this album is that although it heavily references mental illness and Danny Brown’s dark inner thoughts, it offers no answers. In no way is this album preachy. It doesn’t tell the listener how to live their life, or to fix their problems. Danny is simply reflecting upon his own fucked up reality. A lot of rappers would never admit that they are struggling with anxiety or cannot handle the copious amounts of drugs they are hammering into their body. Danny at least can realize he has a problem, even though he clearly does not know what to do about it just yet. In a recently released music video for “Ain’t it Funny” directed by Jonah Hill of all people, Danny makes clear that a primary point of his album is to show how wrong it is that people laugh at him because of how messed up he is. His pain is not for entertainment, his pain is real, and his pain is just as important as yours and mine. Being a celebrity and an artist should not make negative emotion have entertainment value.