Danny Brown’s 2016 album Atrocity Exhibition has pushed the boundaries of hip hop more so than any record of recent memory, owing to its eclectic sampling, experimental charm and dense, metaphorical lyricism. Brown illustrates an overarching narrative of despair and a portrait of the inner turmoil of drug abuse and its associated mental strain whilst the frenzied sound perfectly supports the prose. The samples draw heavily on krautrock, eerie horror soundtracks, East Asian jazz, avant-garde strains of progressive rock and percussive funk, and each one of them is either extremely esoteric or seldom heard in hip hop. Paul White, The Alchemist, Evian Christ, Playa Haze and Black Milk all performed superbly in digging, producing and flipping the samples, and Brown is one of the few MCs who can match the manic beats equally with his vivid lyricism and madcap flow.
Atrocity Exhibition is an experimental hip hop album plagued with post-punk unease, strewn with manic psychedelia, brandished with bombastic prog-rock alongside flourishes of fragmented techno and anomalous party soundscapes. This article uses the video below from the Youtube page ‘Bandstand’ as a source to explore the artists who were sampled in more depth.
‘Oxymoron’ by Guru Guru (1972)
With peculiar resonances emanating from a sample taken from Guru Guru’s ‘Oxymoron’, the first sounds of Atrocity Exhibition let you know that this isn’t your usual hip hop outing. The track opens their third album Känguru from 1972 and it’s a loose and jammy krautrock epic. Paul White does an excellent job of flipping the sample and his method of repeating the warped, rumbling riffs and wobbly percussion add a sense of unease as soon as the album begins.
‘Fragments of Crystal’ by Giovanni Cristiani (1985) and ‘Get Down’ by The Montereys
Black Milk, who collaborated with Danny on the EP Black and Brown in 2011 produced this squad banger featuring Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt, some of the hottest talents currently working in hip hop today. The sample of ‘Fragments of Crystal’ by Italian composer Giovanni Cristiani adds a twinkling, shadowy, horror soundtrack like vibe to the song. Underneath it all is the underpinning kick-to-snare funk from The Montereys‘ ‘Get Down’.
‘Flame of Love (Lian Zhi Huo)’ by Bai Guang (1977)
Seemingly plucked from obscurity, Playa Haze chops up the vocals of East Asian jazz musician Bai Guang for the ode to drug manufacturing ‘Lost’, amounting to a gritty, urbane feeling which matches the dope peddling lyrical content of the track.
‘Wervin’’ by Nick Mason (1981)
In your face, colossal and impatiently loud brass hits you right in the face as soon as the track drops, the perfect backdrop to Brown’s wistful account of his frenetic regimes. One of the highlights from the record, the sample stems from Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s ‘Wervin’’, taken from his debut LP Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports. This assertive track is a perfect example of the direction Brown went for this album; creating deliberately antagonistic music for his fans that desired a more experimental approach, even though it would alienate the casual listeners. It’s an experimental hip hop fans’ dream come true with a first-rate accompanying video.
‘People From Out the Space’ by Embryo (1970) and ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ by Joy Division (1980)
Another krautrock gem was utilised by White here, yet this track by Embryo is much jazzier than the Guru Guru cut. The demented carnival sample is cut with ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ by Joy Division, the titular basis which laid the groundwork for Danny’s overarching concept; an individual’s impaired psychological circumstance displayed for public consumption.
‘Dry Land’ by Dave Greenslade (1979) and ‘It’s Your Thing’ by Cold Grits (1969)
Dave Greenslade is perhaps most well-known for his work as an organ player in prog/psych rock group Colosseum, and his solo work saw increased flirtations with electronic music. Taken from his double album with Patrick Woodroffe The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony, the sample on ‘White Lines’ can be heard at 39:10 in. It’s astonishing to think The Alchemist heard this pattern of electronic bleeps and considered using it for a beat considering how abstract, alien and disparate to hip hop it sounds.
The sparse percussive rhythm of ‘It’s Your Thing’ by Cold Grits will be familiar to many hip hop fans thanks to its application in infamous rap tracks such as Kanye West’s ‘Power’ and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘The Blacker the Berry’ to name a few, however, on ‘White Lines’, it echoes, thuds and slogs, sounding almost completely unalike to the upbeat funk of the original.
‘Black Mamba’ by Cut Hands (2012) and ‘White Room’ by Raz Mesinai (2001)
Industrial, metallic polyrhythmically clattering beats are the backbone of this hauntingly sinister track produced by Evian Christ. Harvested from ‘Black Mamba’ by Cut Hands, a project from musician William Bennett, a figure who’s recognised for his work with noise/power electronics pioneers Whitehouse. The resounding beat is shrouded with the eerie soundscapes of Raz Mesinai’s ‘White Room’ and the ensuing final product gives the feeling of a trip directly down the downward spiral.
Dance In The Water
‘Ungawa Pt. 2 (Way Out Guyana) Remix’ by Pulsallama (1982)
Another little-known track was uprooted here by White, this time he delves into the short lived but highly influential no wave scene and unearths Pulsallama’s ‘Ungawa Pt. 2 (Way Out Guyana) Remix’. The outcome sounds practically like a Talking Heads song, which is unsurprising considering Brown stated they were one of his main influences for this LP.
From The Ground
‘Sleeping Earth’ by Godley & Creme (1977)
Weird experimental prog taken from a double concept album, the sample (which can be heard at 6:42 into the album/video) is taken from a petite snippet of the ambient part of the track ‘Sleeping Earth’.
‘Pot Au Feu’ by Delia Derbyshire (1968) and ‘Percolator’ by Cajmere (1992)
Delia Derbyshire was a pioneer of electronic music and musique concrète; she was a key figure in the BBC’s radiophonic workshop and is celebrated for composing the Doctor Who theme song. Additionally, she was member of the psychedelic pop project White Noise who influenced The Orb, Animal Collective and Broadcast. This is one of the most ridiculous and commendable sample flips on Atrocity Exhibition; the way the electronics are utilised as the centrepiece for the track is preposterously mind-blowing. White takes primitive, experimental electronic music and turns into a party ready jam, one of the production highlights of the album for sure. ‘Pot Au Feu’ was also sampled by the similarly eclectic producer Madlib on ‘Real’ from Piñata, his collaborative album with Freddie Gibbs.
Hailing from Detroit where genres such as techno and ghettotech came to fruition, Brown is no stranger to electronic dance music and the influence results in frequent explorations into electronica throughout Atrocity Exhibition. The impact from regional scenes from nearby states such as Chicago where house spawned is also evident in Danny’s music, even lyrically referencing Cajmere’s ‘Percolator’ here on ‘When It Rain’.
‘B.O.B.’ by OutKast (2000)
“The question is, ‘Do you know five OutKast songs?’ If you don’t know five OutKast songs, then we have a problem. If you don’t know where you come from, you can’t know where you’re going.”
This was Brown’s response to being asked about Lil Yachty’s supposed unfamiliarity with hip hop classics and here, Danny declares the importance of OutKast more-so than any rap artist.
Brown references the Southern hip hop stars on ‘Today’, applying lyrics from their incredible track ‘B.O.B.’ to his own take on hood mentality. Brown testifies OutKast are a huge influence to his music, even going as far as affirming their classic album Aquemini to be one of his favourite records of all time. He’s also referenced them on ‘The Return’ which sampled ‘Return of the ‘G’’ from that very album.
There are few artists you can compare Danny Brown to in contemporary music; sure Kanye West may employ a tonne of eclectic samples and exert a huge array of influences, Earl Sweatshirt often delves into morbid darkness throughout his work, Vince Staples might also love Joy Division and many Death Grips fans share a similar love for Brown, but there’s nothing quite like Atrocity Exhibition. It’s an album that will be extremely difficult to follow up, surpassing it in quality especially but also bettering the magnitude of experimentalism. The most likely scenario is that Brown will explore his grime influences in more depth  or he’ll reject the concepts completely and create a more straightforward hip hop album in a similar manner to Kendrick Lamar’s approach for DAMN..
 Danny Brown has affirmed his love for grime on numerous occasions: he’s freestyled over Wiley beats, claims to be massively influenced by Dizzee Rascal, he’s done tracks with Darq E Freaker and Scrufizzer, he’s been interviewed about the genre with Mike Skinner of UK garage act The Streets and his new track for the Silicon Valley track is his most grimey work to date