Listening to albums is a full time job. Every day, new bodies of work flood iTunes and your favorite mixtape sites. I love the process of giving an album a spin from start to finish. It’s like test driving a car: wavering back and forth between committing and seeking alternatives with every turn. After a few listens, I tend to pick out favorites I religiously quote, place on playlists and recommend to friends.
The Standout is here to highlight one record from a particular album that fits the criteria above.
Album: Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition
Song: “Hell of It”
Unorthodox, left-field, crazy, unique, and unpredictable are all terms used to describe Danny Brown. He’s never fit into any archetype of what an MC looks or sounds like. If you wanted to group him into a category that housed any rapper, you can’t. Cliche, but true, terms aside, Brown has never been my first choice. I’ve often found his voice to be unbearable sometimes. Once I tweeted that if he used his real voice found on the first half of Old, he’d sound better, to which Danny responded by calling me “resharded.” It’s a moment we shared, and I learned a new word, too.
The hype surrounding his latest album, Atrocity Exhibition, is well deserved. Not many can take three years to craft a follow-up album, but Danny Brown did. He spent $70,000 on samples, which alone made me curious to listen. He nabbed Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and B-Real for features, providing another reason to listen. The first listen was one big blur, though. It’s clear that Brown has had a lot of emotional trauma throughout his life; the type that translates well into an audio form. It wasn’t until the album’s closer, “Hell for It,” that I felt like the rewind button was necessary.
Not only does “Hell for It” standout, it serves as a definitive record to play someone who might not be a fan. Brown certainly has other tracks that fit the bill, depending on who you ask, but this one chronicles both personal and professional lives. In the first verse, he reminisces on his rap dreams and how his life was crumbling around him. His mother’s house was almost lost, so Brown took up hustling at a young age. Slanging everything from Prada to crack, he was also planting the seeds for his rap career:
“I was out there hustling
Scraping up and saving
Just to catch a 12 hour bus to NY
Sleeping on the floor in studios
Asking God why
But never got deterred”
The second verse jumps ahead to when rap started to click for Brown, but also starts out with substance abuse. His reasoning for being addicted to lean is drawn out in the clearest way possible: “had them demons on my back/ was escaping through that.”
Unfortunately, this verse isn’t filled with happiness. The album doesn’t end on a sunny day with a rainbow in the sky. He felt ridiculed for his appearance when it came to make some moves as an artist (“people scared to do business/ thinking I smoke crack”). Then, there’s the very honest take on radio, sales and a particular Australian artist.
As established through his music — and his response to my tweet, Danny Brown says what’s on his mind all the time. In this case, he ends the verse by discussing his views on the industry. “Radio don’t make you ill,” he raps. “They get a hit, they feel they self.” He goes on to address the lack of lyricism appreciation and targets Iggy Azalea. “Have a bitch like Iggy thinking she sicker than me/ and that’s so fucked up/ that’s just how shit be.” He’s not mad, just disappointed. There’s no vendetta against Iggy, in fact he said her name rhymed and that’s why he included her.
For the first time, I feel like digging deeper into Danny Brown as an artist. “Hell for It” saved Atrocity Exhibition. That’s not to say the album would’ve been in the trash bin by now, but it generates excitement to actually listen again instead of feeling forced. I want to throw on headphones and take a long walk to this album, dissecting the inner subject matter and getting to know Brown more. I can’t act like I’m a Danny Brown fan yet, but, if “Hell For It” taught me anything, we all have to start somewhere.
Listen to Danny’s “Hell for It” below and stream his new album in full for free right here. Plan on picking up the LP when it releases on Friday, September 30.
Check out previous installments of ‘The Standout’ right here.