Review Summary: New York foodie MC is one of rap's best character actors
Hop in the whip and go for breakfast
Fried eggs and prime steak that’s straight from out of Texas
Damn I’m living reckless, smoking all day just like the brisket
My beard is golden brown just like a biscuit
What more could a man need: delicious food, beautiful sex objects, top-quality dutchie, and the occasional wacky misadventure. The 27-year-old New York MC and chef (as in an actual chef) known only by the almost absurdly macho moniker Action Bronson knows rap listeners’ desires to live vicariously through hearing their idols’ visions of fortune and fame (or their recollections of current fame) and exploits that desire by gleefully moving back and forth between rap fantasies–pimp, john, gangster, rich man, hustler, Lothario, killer on the run. Bronson is hardly convincing as a Mafioso, but this makes songs like “Bag of Money” all the more glorious as a vision of escapism–Bronson’s lyrics are detached from both himself and the listener, making none of them believable but all of them fun to imagine. The entire record has the feel of a daydream–a chubby chef from New York fantasizing about living in a gangsta’s paradise between enjoyable but exhausting hours in the kitchen.
My friend Kai, tiring of “vulgar rap,” dislikes Bronson because of his relentless profanity and misogyny. But honestly, does he sound at all threatening, even when he’s making it very clear that “the bag of money’s coming with me?” His pinched, Ghostface-like delivery is just too likeable. He’s like your dad joking about big busty ladies, one of the lovable guys from The Hangover with his head between a stripper’s legs. Furthermore, what single, horny twenty-something couldn’t resist access to any woman in the world? We don’t reprimand each other for having our innocent little fantasies.
Even if Bronson’s vision of paradise doesn’t appeal to you, there’s plenty to be said about his abilities on the mic. Bronson is one of those rappers that rhymes things like “glass filled” with “rap skills” and “Catskills,” or “apple off your head,” “tackle for the bread,” and “shackled to the bed,” with effortless flow and skill. The only other rapper I can think of to emerge recently who pays such lavish attention to his rhymes is Nacho Picasso, the Seattle MC who released the excellent For The Glory last year and caught my attention in part for rhyming the same few syllables for almost entire verses but stringing his lines together so cohesively it sounds completely natural. Yet while Picasso focuses the bulk of his attention on his rhymes and his nifty one-liners, the simple ease of Bronson’s flow makes his rhymeplay sound all the more dazzling.
What captured me most about this album during my first listen was the beats. The production on each Bronson release so far has been handled by a single producer, and while his rap style often clashed with Statik Selektah’s (Well Done) and Party Supplies’ (Blue Chips) beats, Bronson finds a happy medium here with producer Tommy Mas. Mas’s beats have the same urban-jungle swagger as RZA’s best Wu-Tang work, placing samples from jazz, world music, surf rock, and blues over bouncy, non-electronic drum loops. They’re lean, hard, no-frills, non-progressive beats that eschew the dense impressionism that has become dominant in contemporary underground hip-hop production in favor of funky, muscular rhythms that give Bronson ample turf to exercise his flow.
People who have heard Bronson’s music before or read other reviews of Dr. Lecter may be aware of the major elephant in the room here–Bronson sounds an awful lot like Ghostface Killah. He has the same sort of pinched, nasal flow and penchant for bouncy, distinctly New York beats, and the main gripe I get from people trying to get into Bronson is how if they wanted to hear Ghostface they would just put on some Ghostface. Luckily, Bronson has enough of a unique style and personality to offer something new to the rap game. He’s his own character, a food-loving ladies’ man who spends his piles of well-earned money on the best food and the best weed. And unlike Ghostface, whose every word seems credible no matter how outlandish his stories, it’s obvious Bronson is just putting on a fantasy. On Dr. Lecter, Bronson comes across as nothing more and nothing less than an incredibly good character actor.