Detroit rapper Danny Brown has rocketed to national attention for a lot of reasons, but the biggest are undeniably his music, marked by its pulsing, unrelenting darkness, and his presence, which, in contrast, can be optimistic, energetic, and unabashedly weird. Brown's most recent album, Atrocity Exhibition, has steadily risen in its popularity and critical reception since its release in September of this year on Warp Records. He's currently touring in support of the album and will come to Asheville's Orange Peel on Sunday, October 30th. Asheville Grit is giving away two tickets to the show. To enter, leave a comment on our Facebook post. We'll pick a random winner on Friday night at 9 pm.
Atrocity Exhibition is characterized by its overall darkly grim production and Brown's incredible lyricism and voice, which arcs over the beats in frenetic bursts. Songs are gut punches, and I mean that as the higest praise. The album is visceral and thudding, but it's also amazingly high-energy and playful. Songs critique the deepest darknesses of American society, from drug use as a coping mechanism to racialized violence and poverty. The video for "When It Rain," set against the backdrop of neglected Detroit buildings, is scrambled like a bad television transmission, adding to the sense of distortion that infuses the world of the video and, by extension, our own.
And it don't seem like shit gon' change
No time soon in the City of Boom
Doomed from the time we emerged from the womb
So to cope, drugs we consume
Here we go, now, here we go
Ain't no water, how a flower gon' grow?
Ain't no change, then how we gon' change?
But despite the bleak message, there's a sense of levity in the video, because it includes people doing what you are ultimately compelled to do when you listen to Danny Brown: dance.
This compulsion to move, though, doesn't ever take you away from the harsh realities painted by the lyrics. For example, a song like "White Lines," which is explicitly about doing drugs, doesn't glorify that lifestyle; rather, the experience becomes about the tenuous border between life and death.
"Lines and lines of coke
Heart beating hope it ain’t my time to go
Take another snort
No way no no"
"No" becomes the refrain and is also the final word of the song. There's a sense of both desperation to do something different and resignation to what seems like an inevitable fate. And this honest, if occasionally brutal, outlook is what really makes Brown's music so incredibly effective and unforgettable. It's why he's respected by anyone who knows anything about hip hop, from other rap artists to academics to people who, listening at home or the car, with friends or alone, are moved by these songs. Brown's musical collaborations are a further testament to this: Atrocity Exhibition features artists that include Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Kelela, Ab-Soul, and Petite Noir.
The album's title itself is a statement about Brown's versatility as both an artist and a thinker. Atrocity Exhibition is also the title of a J.G. Ballard work from 1970 told from the perspective of a doctor at a mental hospital who attempts to cope with--and eventually succumbs to--his own mass media-induced psychosis. It also to the Joy Division song of the same name, from the 1980 album, Closer, which invites viewers at an asylum to "step inside" and watch inmates twitch for entertainment. In one sense that's what happening on the album, as listeners step into Brown's experiences. But the passivity of Joy Division's inmate is missing here; rather, Brown invites participation and witnessing, affirming through the songs that he "still exist[s]," and he won't be silent about it.
The show starts at 9 pm, with doors at 8. Tickets are available here and include VIP Early Entry and Meet and Greet Packages. We'll choose our lucky ticket winner at 9 pm Friday.