Danny Brown's brilliant "Pneumonia" is like a fever dream set to a hip-hop beat
Hip-hop's resident Stanley Kubrick, the Detroit-raised Danny Brown, has returned with the second single off his highly anticipated Atrocity Exhibition — a paranoid, hallucinogenic cut titled "Pneumonia."
The track's skeletal, chiming beat, the latest from producer Evian Christ, one of the integral contributors to Kanye West's Yeezus, offers Brown an ideal canvas to spit his hysterical, drug-addled rhymes. It ventures into that same lo-fi horror movie territory that made West's avant-garde opus such a thrilling listen, but "Pneumonia" stretches way deeper into the nightmare.
The cadences on the chorus are about the only thing that makes it recognizably hip-hop. "Made 30 bands in 30 minutes," Brown spits. "Flow sick, nigga, call it pneumonia, I'm on ya." The resulting hybrid creature is about 30 times more intriguing than any other rap in rotation right now.
It's vile. It's explicit. It leans into every stereotype and scare tactic used to warn kids to keep off the drugs. "Running low on alcohol, nigga gotta make a call," Brown raps. "Stay afloat, trying not to choke." It's the "he thought he was an orange and peeled his skin off" PSA counterpart to Chance the Rapper's tie-dyed and colorful Acid Raps.
The singles he releases from here are likely only going to get darker. But like they're graphic with purpose.
"We're always giving you the fun-ness of doing drugs but no one's giving you the side B to it," Brown said discussing hip-hop's norms and his new album at a 2015 Red Bull Music Academy lecture. "But now it's bigger than just me in the hood. It's a bigger situation."
Brown's latest music is the rudest possible wake up call for hip-hop. In addition to disrupting the coke-and-lean-bender narratives all the fun club songs tote, the sonic and lyrical sheer audacity of the songs he's released — "Pneumonia" and his previous "When It Rain" — function like smelling salts and a wake-up slap for the genre.
As we've all seen throughout history, hip-hop has a tendency to compromise, to settle into well-worn tropes and sonic pathways. Danny Brown is stacking those standards onto the funeral pyre yet again. It's going to be such a thrill to watch it burn when Atrocity Exhibition drops September 30.
August 18, 2016, 12:24 p.m.: This article has been updated.