Written by: Andrew Kirkpatrick
I should’ve reviewed Danny Brown’s stunning new record, Atrocity Exhibition, when it released last Fall. It’s a fascinating and utterly eerie listen; Danny Brown is one of the most forward-thinking figures in modern rap music and his ruminations on how addiction and depression continue to weigh on him well after becoming a breakout success cut deep. As a result of failing to spread the good word about Danny’s latest masterpiece (his other projects, The Hybrid and the classic XXX are also mandatory listening), I wanted to highlight his disturbing and stunning new music video.
Directed by two-time Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill (which is an amazing phrase to write), the new visual for “Ain’t It Funny” takes the form of the most fucked up family sitcom never made. Also starring Gus Van Sant and Joanna Kerns, the video’s faux TV show finds its characters bluntly explaining their deeply troubling attitudes and behaviors (“I’ve been destroyed,” Danny says at one point, “and if I destroy maybe I’ll feel okay”), only to be dismissed by the canned emotion of a laugh track. If that wasn’t problematic enough, shots of Danny coated in the family’s blood, cuts to him having conversations with pills and a codeine bottle, and shots of a grotesque audience laughing at all the misery seal the deal on one of the biggest mindfucks of a music video you’ll ever encounter.
In fact, it’s one of the rare videos that not only fits the track, but adds a compelling new dimension to it. Purely as a song, “Ain’t It Funny” finds Danny realizing there’s something that there’s something wrong in his life, but he’s ultimately too fucked up to take it seriously, rapping “Say you need to slow down ‘cause you can feel yourself crashing / Staring the devil in the face but you can’t stop laughing.”
With their video, Jonah Hill and Danny Brown shift the spotlight from the stage to us, listening to an artist struggling with their demons for our enjoyment before moving on to the next hot album. The image of the tortured artist whose fans fail to truly understand them has become a pretty common trope throughout any medium you could think of. But the message behind “Ain’t It Funny” feels especially important in 2017.
According to a recent report from the RIAA, revenue from album and single sales was higher in 2016 than it had been in 8 years, citing streaming services as the primary reason for this success. To break that down even further, people (mainly millennials) such as I pay for streaming services simply to have access to the deluge of new releases that hits each week, not to support individual artists. The more accessible music has become, the more disposable it’s gotten — most of my friends find new tracks through curated playlists now, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hit with streaming ADHD, veering wildly between different artists and genres mostly because I can.
To bring things back around, Danny Brown’s concern that his listeners won’t be concerned about his lack of concern for his inner demons is both absurd and totally valid, and Jonah Hill does a fantastic job of putting this nuanced dilemma to film in the most blunt and vicious terms possible. Artists, philosophers, academics, and (most importantly) cyberpunk authors have been warning us for decades about the negative effects the 20th century’s mass commercialization of art and entertainment could have on us as a people. We didn’t listen. Ain’t it funny how it happens?