Danny Brown

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Danny Brown took his grotesquerie to its highest level yet with Atrocity Exhibition. Concurrent with his divergent pursuits and evolving public image -- he's now done a sitcom theme, dipped into acting, hosted a talk show, and has spoken about living less recklessly -- the rapper dials back a bit with his follow-up and second Warp LP, executive produced by Q-Tip. Paul White is still one of Brown's preferred co-pilots, producing or co-producing four of the cuts. The uptick in serious matters is signaled with the slow-churning rhythm undergirding the weary but resolute opener "Change Up," as in "Never change up," "clench my teeth, knuckle up." Another White collaboration, "Shine" -- also involving Standing on the Corner and Blood Orange -- trudges along with some of the producer's heaviest clomping bass drums, amplifying Brown's despondency about the cruelty of humanity and the passing of time. Brief meetings with Flying Lotus and Thundercat, and Run the Jewels and Jpegmafia, return Brown to crazed mode, but the headliner's input is rote, if delivered with the skill of a technician. Tip is also hands-on with production on three tracks, gems distributed across the short sequence. Loopy with prog sax, Morse code-like keys, and a knocking beat, "Dirty Laundry" has the most gross-out horndog hijinks, yet with references to enough cleaning products to fill ad slots for a block of daytime game shows. A Curtis Mayfield-style exalted soul obscurity lifts "Best Life," where Brown resembles a lisp-less Kool G Rap with hard-boiled memories of being an impressionable wannabe turned stressed street hustler. The best is saved for last on "Combat." Tip-sourced blurting and wheezing horns at first provide the high frequencies. Brown expounds in his natural deeper register before his pitch shoots progressively upward and increasingly agitated over the next verses, tracing a perilous trajectory from carefree to troubled, from "Used to chop grams off my grandma's faucet" to "Prayin' for probation, hope I get lucky." The track begins and ends with talk from a late-'70s documentary featuring members of a South Bronx gang after which another cut is titled -- one of many details that help make this sound like a unified, deliberate, and conscious work.

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