Action Bronson Shows No Concern for Trends, Choruses or Any Nonsense on ‘White Bronco’
Sometimes, disparate professions attract similar dispositions. A particularly curious case of this phenomenon is the culinary enthusiast/music aficionado or artist. Queens rapper Action Bronson is very much the hip-hop chef. He has hosted Viveland’s culinary show “The Untitled Action Bronson Show, and done things like teach Rachel Ray how to cook “Explosive Crispy Chicken.” This is all extremely representative, as Bronson raps over “crispy” beats — barebones, gritty productions — and always sounds “explosive,” like a man with too much to say, on the verge of a system overload. His sound is largely a throwback to the nineties, and his flow has been repeatedly compared to that of Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah. Bronson has left Atlantic Records and just released his first independent record, “White Bronco.” It’s largely boom-bap hip-hop of a distinctly nineties strain, with no concern for current trends. It’s just under thirty minutes of Bronson rapping raw and uncut, making for an album that will surely prove a treat to hip-hop purists.
From the first few seconds of opener “Dr. Kimble,” Bronson makes it clear that he means business. There’s no time wasted on introductory ambiance, or any intro really — no nonsense, just straight to rapping — and Bronson continues in this vein, with hardly any stops for breath for the twenty-six minutes of the record’s running time. It’s immediately striking how extremely New York he sounds, repping Queens in his every syllable. And this is New York in the sense of classic Wu-Tang — gritty rapping with intentionally sloppy adlibs, with no concern for choruses, just full dedication to cramming as much slick wordplay, braggadocio, and inside references as possible into every bar. The title is a reference to the protagonist of “The Fugitive,” originally a TV series, remade into a classic nineties film, starring Harrison Ford, playing a doctor falsely accused of murder, and running from the cops. Leaving Atlantic is ostensibly at the core of the reference. He’s fled from the authorities, and this album sounds appropriately raw and edgy.
“Irishman Freestyle” refers to Bronson’s role, along none other than Robert De Niro, in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film “The Irishman.” Bronson basically makes gangsta rap, and casting in a Scorsese film is like the ultimate badge of honor. The song is built over a seventies-sounding soul sample, and has Bronson rapping too loud in the mix, as usual, giving the feel of hip-hop happening in real time, unfiltered and unadulterated. Bronson throws culinary references into his rap in the most hip-hop way possible, in lines like “Don’t drink gin and tonic / Only natural wine to be honest / Your chick plastic like fake rice from China.” “Mt. Edna” keeps the mood going, and by now, a specific unifying aesthetic to the album has been established. The songs are all short, a bit like interludes, and the whole record runs like a mixtape that owes much of its charm to the recklessly slipshod way that it has been put together.
“Live From the Moon” comes with lines that you would expect from the title, such as “My third eye been powerful for ten years.” Upon hearing such snippets, one can’t help but notice the discrepancy between the sound and the lyrics. Bronson is going all psychedelic and spiritual on us, but he sounds anything but. These claims of enlightenment are delivered in the usual guttural, unpolished, tough-guy, street vernacular, and it can come across as almost laughably absurd. Things achieve clarity however, in a subsequent line, “I don’t get caught up in the bright lights, dear.” According to ancient Eastern teachings, if you really have your third eye open, you’ll have no need to put on any fronts, or mystic, magical posturing — you’ll be perfectly comfortable as you are. Bronson might be onto something.
The title track is a rare moment of instrumental indulgence, starting with a relatively lengthy jazz intro of twinkling keys and saxophone. Then comes a loop of angular jazzy chords, in the tradition of Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation.” There’s an old school breakbeat, and Bronson rapping just as you’d expect someone to rap over such a beat — old school, chest-pounding, head-nodding fare. There are lines that seem to rather hilariously encapsulate the entire genre of hip-hop, such as “Now it’s middle finger up with the hoodie.” Bronson raps the refrain, “And I’m just out here living my best life,” until his voice suddenly gets pitched down for the final line, “But somebody always tryna fuck it up,” likely a reference to his record label struggles,” over which this record represents a final triumph.
“Brutal” lives up to its name, an especially energetic number, ending with a bizarre mishmash of sampled off-key singing and gunshot sounds, a frenetic mess evoking a mafia scene. Next, “Prince Charming” starts off like a hood slow jam. There’s something funny about a rapper professing, in his most thugged-out voice, that he has found love, sounding as if he’s making gang signs to signify all his emotions. A few lines in, however, Bronson asserts, “Enough of that soft shit,”” and gets back to his usual shit talking. “Telemundo” begins with a sample of some deranged screaming of incomprehensible relevance. Let’s hear it for independent releases. “Swerve On Them” is a solid ending to the onslaught, with a guest appearance from A$AP Rocky, who is a breath of fresh air, with his varying cadences providing some sorely needed relief from the relative monotony of the last nine tracks. Bronson and Rocky are effective foils for one another, as Bronson’s steadfast delivery makes Rocky’s dynamism more striking, whereas Rocky’s skirting around the surface makes Bronson’s head-on attack ever the more impactful.
Contemporary mainstream hip-hop has become more like hip-pop. There are very few audible remnants of the style’s identifying characteristics. Amid this landscape, Bronson has come through, guns blazing, with an unabashed disregard for current popular taste or conventions. Bronson focuses on the rap — no Auto-tune, no trap, no spliced-up vocal stutters, no EDM productions, no elaborate studio tinkering. It’s an exercise in hip-hop fundamentalism, going straight to the source, and turning things out with the bold recklessness characterized hip-hop in its original form. “White Bronco” is raw and reckless from start to finish, and comes across as a refreshing reminder of what rap is really about.
“White Bronco” is available Nov. 1 on Apple Music.