Album Review: Danny Brown – “Atrocity Exhibition”


Back in October, fans of hip hop collectively laughed at a young mother who uploaded a video in which she discussed at length how aghast she was over hearing rapper Vince Staples’ song “Norf Norf” on her local radio station. As ridiculous as this video is – she at one point sobbingly recites the song’s explicit lyrics with her young children present – Vince later came out with a set of statements defending the mother and her right to state her opinion even if the opinion was off base from the original message of the song. This video, after quickly becoming a meme, finally dissipated into the ether of internet lore, but not without creating some discussion on the artistic merits of rap and hip hop and their possible glorification of drug use, misogyny, and violent imagery. While there are many advocates who believe rap and hip hop are glorifying these types of lifestyles, there is something to be said about a growing number of rap artists currently showcasing these lifestyles as snapshots of where they’ve been as if to warn others not to go down the same route they did.

Such is the fact with Detroit rapper Danny Brown who recently came out with his fourth album, Atrocity Exhibition. Every track on this album showcases various personal stories of sex, drugs, and situations far from rock n’ roll, but never once does it glorify these types of lifestyles. Rather, Danny showcases these songs as “cautionary tales.” If someone happens to misconstrue it as anything but, Danny lays out his mission statement with complete sincerity in the closing lines of the last song on the album: “So my task is/inspire your future with my past/I lived through that/So that you don’t have to go through it.”

Brown’s writing is on point here as he tells little pieces of his backstory from song to song, and it’s definitely a hard listen when one digs into the lyrics. On “Tell Me What I Don’t Know,” Brown details his past escapades with friends getting in trouble with the law and dealing with drug deals gone wrong. On “Rolling Stone,” Danny Brown details his drug dependency and how hard it is to break out of the cycles of the highs and lows it brings about even if he is completely aware that this is happening: “I’m on a road that never ends/Don’t know opposite of sin/Some people say I think too much/I don’t think they think enough.” Every song on this record showcases his growing ennui of the lifestyles that he had chosen to immerse himself in, and it’s an engrossing listen through every turn.

Before going further, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this album is not for everyone. For fans of Danny Brown’s earlier albums, this is not Old. Neither is it XXX. It is Danny Brown by way of Death Grips and clipping. Certain beats contain punk rock-like elements, such as on the guitar-driven “Golddust.” Things turn toward the deliciously abrasive on album highlight “Ain’t It Funny” where a horn section blares to no end as if to signal an incoming tornado. However unconventional and experimental the instrumentals and samples are, it plays into the albums themes perfectly. It’s the musical equivalent of a bad acid trip with the listener riding the highs and lows.

In terms of features, other than Petite Noir, Kelela, and B-Real all singing hooks on their respective songs, “Really Doe” is the only track with guest features rapping over the instrumental, and it’s stacked with Ab-Soul showing some passion for the rap game, Kendrick being Kendrick, and Earl Sweatshirt showcasing some brash, brazen verses that cements his top billing on the song. With a line-up such as this with the performances given on the track, it’s crazy to think that this might not be the best song off the album. There are many highlights on Atrocity Exhibition, and it’s thanks to Danny Brown’s lyricism and fiery delivery. There are instrumentals on this album that Danny has absolutely no business sounding as good as he is when he raps over them – especially on a track like the album’s second single, “Pneumonia,” where Brown spits bars over an idiosyncratic industrial beat with a time signature that should make spitting bars over it humanly impossible. Songs like this one shouldn’t work, but they just do thanks to Brown’s technical ability.

To say Danny Brown reinvented his sound with this album is an understatement. Many of the tracks here – other than “Really Doe” – are a far cry from anything you’d hear on mainstream radio. However, the album is well made, well produced, and very much so a rewarding listen – no matter how weird or how long it is. Although this album is soon going to be measured up to other strong rap albums that came out this year – like Schoolboy Q and Anderson Paak’s new records – Atrocity Exhibition is a different beast entirely. It’s most akin to Kendrick

Lamar’s turn last year with the politically driven, jazz-influenced To Pimp a Butterfly. Both records showcases two highly skilled rappers at the top of their game – artists who switched up their styles and showed why they’re the best at what they do. They accomplished this because they both made strong, entertaining, and experimental album experiences with a message rather than their records being just vehicles for hit singles. They were both risks, and those risks paid off. And while Atrocity Exhibition isn’t on the same level as Kendrick’s masterpiece, it’s still an important piece of music and an enjoyable one at that.

I highly recommend this album to lovers of industrial, experimental, and alternative hip hop, especially for those that dig artists like Death Grips, clipping., Shabazz Palaces, and Run the Jewels. And to rap and hip hop listeners who usually stick with more traditional artists and sounds, this may be a challenging listen, but I implore you to give it a chance. It may just surprise you in ways you could never expect.

TBD Festival: Under the Radar

TBD Fest has just wrapped up this past weekend and I for one had a lovely and rip roaring good time listening to music, hanging out with friends and supporting local businesses and culture. For me the draw of any good music festival is two fold. One being the promise of seeing some of your favorite and typically well established head liner. Personally, this year’s festival’s most enticing lineup eye candy were MSMR, Danny Brown, and The Drums. All of whom delivered on their unspoken promise of fulfilling my desire see them perform live and perform well.

However, this blog is not about them. It is instead abut the second fold I mentioned earlier. An aspect that is equally vital, if not the direct line to the heart of any successful music festival. I speak of course, of the bands you didn’t know you wanted to see; but now that you have, you could not imagine having gone to this festival and not have their set be apart of your experience. This blog is about those bands who make festivals more than just an extra expensive way to see your favorite bands and turn it into a Pandora’s box of musical discovery.


The first such band I would like to highlight is Male Gaze. This band had my attention as soon as they announced their name, as I presume it is a reference to film theorist Laura Mulvey’s idea of “the male gaze” in cinema. Which, as a film student and theorist nerd, I appreciate immensely. But name aside, Male Gaze was killer. At first listen they appeared to be a n extremely tight and fuzzy lo-fi punk band. But as their set goes on and you begin to listen to their songs more in depth, they are revealed to be an extremely tight and fuzzy lo-fi punk band, with an ear for pop. Beneath the layers of pristine fuzz and feedback laced punk angst are some well crafted layers of surf pop and 80s Bowie infused pop hooks.

The second band I feel deserves some praise and greater recognition is quirky electro synth funk group French Horn Rebellion. Now, this band was recommended to me by my friends and colleagues here at the station, so I was expecting and hoping for a quality performance. But what I was not expecting was the explosion of frantic awesomeness that was French Horn Rebellion’s dance inducing, charisma infused set. As the name suggests front man Robert Perlick-Molinari lays down funky melodies on his French horn, as well as, taking up most of the singing, sequencing, and synth playing duties. The highlight of the set came when Perlick-Molinari burst off the stage and into the crowd to serenade a lucky female audience member with a sexy horn solo. For those of you who happened to miss the epicness that was this performance, fret not, for French Horn Rebellion will be back in Sacramento playing at LowBrau restaurant on Sunday November 2nd.MSMR

Last but not least is Small Pools, a band that  is on the up and up in the pop scene, getting a nice bit of radio play and love for their recently released self titled EP. Small Pools is probably the most well known group out of this bunch, but one that I had not heard of prior to stumbling upon their set, in the hopes they could provide some entertainment while we waited for MSMR. However, after their set was over, I came away more than pleasantly surprised at Small Pools paradoxical mix of crisp musical polish and charmingly awkward in between song banter. For me, their music bridges a sonic gap between fun, and Two Door Cinema Club. Blending shiny guitar lines with sparkling synths, party pop hooks and a subtle nostalgia for pop punk, Small Pools are able to capture the raw energy of a late night house party. It seemed that with each song their set just kept getting better and by the end, both me and my friend, were happy residents of the Small Pools fan base. Be on the look out for the drop of their LP, which is rumored to be coming out some time soon.coil

So if the festival scene has never seemed like your kind of thing, I hope this blog has shown you that the music festival has much more to offer than the glimmering appeal of big time headliners. That they offer a chance to poke around and explore the world of the bottom half of the lineup and maybe, just maybe you’ll find your new favorite band.

This blog has been brought to you by DJames, be sure to listen in to my shows each week from 3-4pm and 6-7pm, only on KSSU

TBD Fest 2014 Review

10497888_977879928905052_6671002027215165432_oAnd just like that, TBD Fest 2014 came and went.  I won’t bore you with the historical background of this festival (I already did that).  So lets get to it!

There were some technical difficulties of sorts to start things off.  The crowd was not let in to the grounds on opening day, October 3rd, until close to the close of amazing local band Autumn Sky’s set around 4 PM’ish.  Once things opened up and everyone came in, amazing happened.  I could tell you how amazing so many artists were this weekend, but that would be a very lengthy read for you.  Instead, just know that many were extremely on point.  But for the sake of getting it out there, here’s a list of bands I saw (in no particular order except from me reading the schedule from Friday to Sunday):  Autumn Sky, Who Cares, Exmag, Young Rising Sons, The Drums, Gramatik, Com Truise, Dillon Francis, Danny Brown, French Horn Rebellion, The War on Drugs, Male Gaze, Smallpools, Sister Crayon, MS MR, Teen Daze, Explosions in the Sky, Keys N Krates, Kurt Vile and the Violators, Total Slacker, Deltron 3030, 8th Grader, and Yacht. [Read more…]

TBD Fest Preview

tbd-fest-2014-1557452-regularComing on October 3rd, 4th, and 5th, Sacramento will be sonically assaulted by the biggest musical festival the 916 has yet to see.  From the makers of the Launch Festival comes to newly re-branded TBD Fest!

The Launch crew is seven years deep in experience with providing Sacramento with their SXSW-inspired festival.  For a number of years, Launch was a one day ordeal.  In 2012, Launch expanded into a two-day extravaganza.  Last year, Launch was a two-day party at Cesar Chavez Park, with a pre-party being held the Friday before at Ace of Spades.  Those three days last year was probably the most fun, enhancing, and artistically filled days of my life on the best coast.  Last saw headlining acts of Wallpaper on Friday at the pre-Launch Party at Ace of Spades, and Girl Talk and Imagine Dragons on Saturday and Sunday night at Cesar Chavez Park in Downtown Sacramento.   [Read more…]

Music Review: “Clppng” by Clipping.

clipping-clppng-2500pxLike many other genres, hip hop in its truest sense has been under a transformation over the last few years.  All genres are experiencing change.  Country has changed big time over the last five to ten years.  Indie music and culture has also changed.  It would also make sense that hip hop has changed.  But don’t get me wrong, you still have your good ole fashion hip hop out there to be had.  And much of it is still being produced, thankfully.

However, hip hop has seen a large infusion of EDM.  EDM being the flavor of the decade, it has seeped into pop music, a little bit of country, and now hip hop too. This isn’t to say that electronica just now got into hip hop, as we have always seen electronica of the old sense in hip hop.  However, if you were to listen to “Dip” by Danny Brown, or just anything referred to as trap music, you hear the new age electronica with its various elements of dubstep, house, and techno, with modern day samplings and synths all wrapped together. [Read more…]