10 Action Bronson Songs That Made You a Fan
Action Bronson is a star, and he's become one at just the right time. Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt are out here dropping albums on short notice, and we're still stacked with anticipated releases throughout the next eight months. 2015 isn't the greatest year to be an up-and-comer, and fortunately Bronsolino took his career from niche charmer to slick-talkin', cook show-hosting glory.
And thank goodness, because it would've been a loss for Action Bronson to go down as an overlooked act. It's important to note that the eyes on Bronson aren't completely due to great timing. His mix of high-stepping spontaneity and how he just seems to will the beat to his pace with his attention-grabbing presence pushed him to New York rap's forefront. His ear for beats hasn't been bad either; Bronson has made good company with the likes of the Alchemist and Party Supplies to create some of the great mixtapes of the decade in the Blue Chips series and Rare Chandeliers.
Now we're here. After years of mixtape drops, excellent guest verses and Ghostface Killah biter allegations, Bam Bam Baklava is finally about to release his debut studio album. Will Mr. Wonderful live up to expectations? Perhaps. But what's a certainty is that Mr. Wonderful is not going to be predictable. You will do a double-take at Bronson's quotables and you will press replay because he has rarely changed in his delivery -- you know the heat is coming, you just have to wait for it. The 10 Action Bronson Songs That Made You a Fan exemplify this.
Action Bronson's larger-than-life persona wasn't fully developed before getting in stride with Dr. Lecter. However, his on-record fluidity piqued the interests of many early on. This one, off his Bon Appetit ..... Bitch!!!!! mixtape, sticks because even though we may not quite know who he is, the idea of being in the '90s concrete jungle of Queens is immediately compelling: "Orlando Magic warm-up suits and black Shaqs '95 / Younger Bronson on the fast track / To blast gat, now I'm looking past that." And you're hooked before the transformation begins.
This one is simply an exhibition of Bronson being Bronson -- a cursory snapshot on why he’s exciting. The trick here is Party Supplies flipping through six different ‘80s beats, including Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” and John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane.” The MC is as schizophrenic as the song’s structure, mixing it up between trash talk and general incongruence (“Looney Tunes, Taz on the shirt / F--- swag”) with ease. Plus, when was “Sussudio” not ever a dope song?
You could make the argument that Action Bronson’s left-of-center leanings could curse him with a sub-mainstream existence. But this is Bam Bam we're talking about, so not quite. He has a personality large enough to convincingly bend cultural leanings his way. Enter the psychedelic guitar riff of “Easy Rider,” where he recounts a drug trip-cum-spiritual experience (“I had dreams of f---in' Keri Hilson in my Duncans”). Bronson’s war stories are inherently compelling.
The documentary this song gets its name from deserves a look. As you’d guess since it’s on the list, so does the song. Bronson doesn’t get the credit due to him for his attention to detail (he’s a cook, so detail ought to be his thing), and here he infuses that trait with the right amount of flippancy. This track also has another layer of charm with Action Bronson doing his best Eminem-in-“Criminal” rhymes, flipping through drunken jackassery to a clunky hispanic accent. But again, the lyricism is too on-point to pass this cut as a gimmick.
Besides Harry Fraud’s involvement, “Strictly 4 My Jeeps” had fans reasonably excited for the Saab Stories release in 2013. While the EP didn’t live up to the billing, we were left with a jam that featured a B-Boy sense of verve. The thing about Bronson is that his rhymes make you turn up your face and ask yourself, "Did he just say that?" "S--- on my chest shoot colors like a care bear / All year see me tan hopping out the van / You wasn't there now you tryna show face / F--- around be a cold case," he raps. That Care Bear reference is a gem. Queens was undoubtedly in the building, so much so that LL Cool J hopped on the track to deliver one of his best verses in years.
Saab Stories, his collaboration project with Harry Fraud, turned out to be the first effort Bronson created that really disappointed. It’s a shame, because Bam Bam brought out the producer’s best on “Bird on a Wire.” Before lacing Coke Boys Vol. 4, Fraud had captured the sound of dusk in the New York neighborhood of Flushing, Queens with a production that both slinks and twinkles. A wary, fleet-footed Bronsolino skates on thin ice after leaving the party with a girl. Riff Raff uses assonance to channel Gucci towels. Even on paper, the whole thing plays out like a steady exhale -- an invigorating one.
There’s instant joy to be found at each level of “The Symbol.” The cynic who thought that an Action Bronson and the Alchemist collaboration would suck got his mind right the second this dropped. The slow burn of the sampled riff and Action Bronson’s too-ridiculous-to-not-be-somwhat-self-aware presence ("My brain was sculpted at Harvard / Never mention all the crime I been a part of") exemplifies why the two are naturally the perfect match. As a pair of the most eccentric hip-hop purists, they simply have the mindset to make something as cartoonishly badass as this track. That’s not even putting the video, which involves Bronson murdering somebody by force-feeding ammonia, into the equation.
Action Bronson’s production choices tend to be dangerously close to turning his songs into novelties. “Thug Love Story 2012” is an example, as it clearly samples the easily recognizable “I Only Have Eyes for You.” But this choice turns into a great example of the use of negative space. The sample snaps and cackles and Bronson paints a lurid sketch (“She quick to split up an owl / She loves some d--- in her bowels”) of the lover-turned-antagonist. That works on its own, but the song eventually turns into another beast as soon as the drum kicks hit. What follows is one of Bronson’s most fluid performances, laced with urgency and one-liners (“The son goes, a single teardrop fallopians bled”). As the fifth track, “Thug Love Story 2012” is the one that put you on to Blue Chips’ greatness.
Quotables are normally scattered throughout an Action Bronson song. However, none delivers as definitive of a synopsis of Action Bronson’s personality as the main on on “9-24-11”: “I hate when stupid bitches ask me questions that's rhetorical / Like 'Do you want to have sex?', well bitch, it's obvious / Her name was Jeta from the former Yugoslavia.” It’s more than the immediate befuddlement of Bronson name-dropping a country that doesn’t even exist. There’s a confidence with which he says the line that makes the Bronsolino maxim a centripetal force -- as if any other view is absurd compared to his. With that, the bedlam that occurs afterward -- shrugged off faux pas and non-sequitur spontaneity -- is exciting but not completely unexpected. “9.24.13,” the Blue Chips 2 sequel, acts as an addendum in the way the tape had to rewind because Rick James was so ridiculous. Yes, Bronson's maxim hinges on preposterousness: It was he who fixed the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. The best part is that Bronson is so on point that you almost forget how great Party Supplies' production is on both cuts.
The easiest way to put the “Action Bronson bites Ghostface Killah” critics to bed is to point at their reference points. For example, Ghostface would never consider referencing a wrestler whose main signature is patting himself on the back. Here, Bronson -- a fully developed personality even before Blue Chips solidified his star status -- pulls a polychromatic set of verses. Drums rumble to announce the arrival of a boss, and he comes as promised: “To the back with the hat, lean back in the ‘llac / Crack the window, hear the soldier styles and that in back.” “Barry Horowitz” may not be the best track from his catalog, but this is No. 1 on a list titled “10 Action Bronson Songs That Made You a Fan” because it’s a hyper-saturated take on the sides of hip-hop’s most consistently entertaining personalities: the lothario, the slicktalker, the pop culture-referencing aggressor (“Make your ho sniff Hootie and the Blowfish”). It’s a two-and-a-half minute dose that renders all Ghostface comparisons superficial.