No one does it like Action Bronson. Sure, the go-to comparison when you hear him is Ghostface Killa from Wu-Tang Clan – they have freakishly similar voices and yes, they’re both from New York – but that’s about where the similarities stop. He’s a man of taste, a man who loves fine food and fine music. Before the inimitable entertaining rapper that he is now, he was a chef of 10 years and he’s brought the creativity and flair from that pursuit into his rapping, and it’s what sets him apart from the rest of his peers.
In the last three years, his mixtapes, the Blue Chips series with Party Supplies and the Alchemist-produced Rare Chandeliers, have been some of the most refreshingly sounding projects in the game, full of vivid outrageous imagery and the ever-present talk of food over richly-sampled production. That feast is served up once again on Bronson’s major label debut Mr. Wonderful.
The jovial piano-stabs of album-opener “Brand New Car“, sampled from Billy Joel’s “Zanzibar”, announce what’s to come in the following 49 minutes. There’s a mood of celebration as Bronson embarks on his journey and welcomes us along, graciously thanking us “a lot for coming, it means a lot to me”. He’s not called ‘Mr. Wonderful’ for no reason. The production comes by way of Mark Ronson, synonymous with the retro-soul sound of the late great Amy Winehouse, and while at first glance, this partnership with Bronson presents an odd couple, the soul-tinged sound invites a playfulness that the rapper revels in, proclaiming himself the “new joker in town”.
Ronson’s trademark soul bounce returns on the back-end of the album with the Chance The Rapper-featuring track “Baby Blue“, another of the lighter moments on the project, where both the rappers are somewhat embittered and jaded by their experiences with women. Chance The Rapper dishes out many a curse, “I hope you win the lottery and lose your ticket” amongst those, while Bronson’s moving on from the problems in lavish fashion, “catch me somewhere where the sun is next”, but not before leaving a few final words to think on in classic Bronson fashion: “I’m not exactly flawless, but I’m gorgeous, just like a horse is”. A real specimen ladies. You’re missing out.
“Baby Blue” is one of the clutch of singles that Bronson released from the project, and two of the others feature early on in Mr. Wonderful. The Alchemist-produced “Terry” is a smooth jam, with a progression of jazz chords that will very likely put you in a very dreamy state. Bronson lays out the four things that his life revolves around: “smoke good, f**k, eat, drink”. It’s not as simple a lifestyle as it sounds though; he’s always been one to indulge in luxuries, like a “pedicured foot”, “Z3 keys”, “spicy coconut curry” and “green mink”. After all, Bronson’s a man of undoubtable taste. “Actin Crazy” meanwhile is a curve-ball thrown by regular Drake collaborator Noah ‘40’ Shebib, switching up the tone with shadowy production, with a twisted sample at its core that moves like molasses. Bronson’s mindful that “opportunity be knockin’”, that big things await him now, and assures that he “got it covered”.
It’s the first single, and album closer “Easy Rider” that’s unarguably the stand-out track of the album though, and even though we’re only a third of the year in, it’s easily already one of the stand-out tracks of 2015. The production by way of regular collaborator Party Supplies is as grand as things come, so much so it has Bronson “feeling like Slash in front of the chapel”. He’s coasted far and wide on this track, from “up in the mountains”, to “running with the stallions”, to “playing Frisbee in the West Indies” and “from all the places that I’ve been”, he now sees the world with “eyes open”. And there’s also a cherry on top of this cake. The track arguably has the best line of the album too: “I had dreams of f**kin’ Keri Hilson in my Duncans, woke up naked at the Hilton with a b**ch that look like Seal’s cousin”. That’s Action Bronson. Vivid imagery combined with an abundance of humour flawlessly executed.
Throughout Mr. Wonderful, there’s a level of music that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere in Hip Hop. From the fuzzed out blues-rock jam of “City Boy Blues“, to the instrumental breakdown in the downbeat “A Light In The Addict“, to the spazzed-out double-time piano solo in “Only In America“, and finally peaking with a shredding guitar solo in the outro of “Easy Rider”, it’s clear that Bronson is first and foremost excited by good music. He just so happens to have the ability to turn all that good music into an exhilarating brand of Hip Hop that gets your imagination running wild. This isn’t somewhere to come to for a heated protest on the social, political and economical realities of our times. This is somewhere to come when you want to have some unadulterated fun, and that’s just as vital to the genre.
Action Bronson’s Mr Wonderful is out now via VICE/Atlantic Records, purchase the album here.
Words by Oli Kuscher