Review Summary: An intelligent but almost insufferably dull mixtape
Action Bronson is an incredibly busy performer for somebody who doesn’t consider rap his first love. In fact, if his interviews are as honest as, say, his incredibly personal track “9.24.11,” he doesn't love it at all. Rap was a diversion for the Albanian-American who once occupied a head chef position in New York City but suffered a broken leg in a freak accident and was forced to take a break. What seemed like a temporary digression eventually consumed Bronson, who has paired up with producers like The Alchemist and Harry Fraud, who has released more than 100 songs in the last three years and promises a proper full length project in the foreseeable future. However, in lines like “I’m on the food and rap scene/*** rap, laying back eating poutine” from the original Blue Chips and his YouTube series Action in the Kitchen, which expanded into a full-blown partnership with Vice Magazine, his unwillingness to fully commit to the craft appeared obvious.
Blue Chips 2 partners Bronson and up-and-coming producer Party Supplies, best known for his beat for Danny Brown’s single “Grown Up.” Of all the producers he’s hooked up with, Party Supplies seems to be the best fit for Bronson’s style. His production is subtle and unconventional, keeping the bass low and the samples fresh- the short but sweet “Pepe Lopez” borrows the guitar line from The Champs’ “Tequila,” which Bronsolino gleefully associates over. What’s most interesting about the dynamic is how Bronson tends to just ignore the beat altogether. On “Contemporary Man,” the rapping yields to Phil Collins after the first verse, the beat switches and Bronson’s delivery remains constant. This gives Supplies the ability to alter the backdrop with astonishing frequency: guitar riffs are inserted and removed on a measure-by-measure basis, 80s soft-rock samples weave through the background and suddenly vanish. Other experiments, however, like the back-to-back audio from the Bob Knight Applebees commercial and an excerpt from Allen Iverson’s “we talking about practice” rant leave you scratching your head.
These weird fragments of pop culture, with a Phil Mickleson endorsement for male enhancement included later for good measure, make little sense, but fit the aesthetic of an Action Bronson project perfectly. In the long-standing tradition of comparisons to other powerful figures, Bronson has the most bizarre laundry list of name-checks ever compiled; among the many on here are Miami Marlins third baseman Placido Polanco, WWE entertainer Rey Mysterio and former French superstar midfielder (and perpetrator of the world’s most famous headbutt) Zinedine Zidane. To call his lyrics free-associative would be inaccurate because there’s never an obvious association between the setup and the punchline or between consecutive lines. Every deduction seems like it’s missing a step or five in between; an encounter with a woman snaps from “first course came from the Finger Lakes” to “I got her tatted, trying to erase her name” with just two intervening lines.
Sometimes, Blue Chips 2 sounds like a satire of a rap album performed by an outsider who found his way to the inside. He cuts verses short to acknowledge errors and laugh it off, almost addressing the audience directly in the process, the classic “I can’t hear the headphones” is performed in the style of a skit, “Rolling Thunder” comes with the tagline (feat. Action Bronson). The self-awareness is coupled with a breakdown of the scatological, “poo-poo” is an often repeated phrase, and comically bungled and uncomfortable brags: “Big Bird, Farrington alumnus/mouth like a pussy, she gummed it.” The comedy in Bronson’s words is usually a byproduct of bizarre imagery, like “doing a 360 in a tux on a Seadoo,” but after two years of begrudging work, he uses Blue Chips 2 to cut through the veneer and expose and amplify the silly tropes and regularities hip-hop consumers are too willing to accept.
This is all fine and dandy, but the bottom line is there’s no flair or urgency to supplement the message. This release is actually incredibly smart and Party Supplies does a brilliant job balancing continuity and experimentation, but Bronson isn’t a particularly engaging MC, nor does he seem particularly interested in driving home the satire. His voice will probably never modulate, his flow rarely does even as all the bells and whistles clamor behind him and his style is simply too random to produce anything of true merit in one song. Even though his husky voice sounds slow and his pronunciation is deliberate, he packs so much information and oddball jokes into each verse that tracking its progress is like following Harold’s purple crayon line at its most looped and tangled.
Taken at face value, Blue Chips 2 is boring. It’s 19 tracks of the same schtick repeated ad nauseum with enough wit to elicit a smile or a quick rewind to make sure you heard him right. Otherwise, there’s no excitement, no thrill in listening. In the past, Bronson would describe food- and you can tell he really loves food- with such zeal and fire; now, it’s the subject of throwaway comments like “I’m glad I ordered lamb.” Without his first love being constantly dissected there’s no vibrancy. Not even a Spanish language commercial and a guest verse from his bodyguard, another jab at the culture (see: Bricksquad’s nepotism), can inject the last third of the mixtape with energy. The best beat is wasted on the dullest song, “Jackson & Travolta.”
Ultimately, the lack of energy and grinding listening experience hurt the effect of the satire, if that is indeed his intention (and given other songs from 2013 like “Alligator,” his interest in satire is pretty apparent). Even the slick, fun production is rendered drab by the nasally monotone. Bronson already knows what he hates about hip-hop; discovering what he loves about it will be the key to refining and improving his music.