Review Summary: Bronsolino's major-label debut is simply wonderful.
Aside from perhaps Los Angeles, there is not a more prolific city in the world for hip-hop than New York City. Everyone from pioneering icons like Notorious B.I.G. and Nas to modern stars like Joey Bada$$ and Flatbush Zombies have risen from various neighborhoods in the city to achieve greatness in the genre. Of the Big Apple's latest wave of hip-hop stars, there's none finer than Action Bronson, who hails from the Flushing neighborhood in Queens. Bronson's gritty flow, amusing lyrics and frequent collaborations with top-flight producers have made one of the consistently exciting rappers in the game since he arrived on the scene in 2011. Bronson's long-awaited major label debut, Mr. Wonderful, sees him expanding his musical cannon a bit without forgoing any of the quirkiness he's known for.
For about 75% of Mr. Wonderful, Bronson is just doing what he does best: drop abstract verses over off-kilter, sample-heavy beats. With his choice to bring in a majority of the producers (The Alchemist, Party Supplies, Statik Selektah) that have worked on his mixtapes over the years to produce over half of Mr. Wonderful, it's clear that Bronson wanted to emulate his past success on his first high-profile project. This decision proves to be quite successful as all of the tracks he record with his longtime collaborators are killer. Tracks like the jazzy "Terry", psychedelic-guitar driven "Easy Rider" and the intense yet rousing "The Rising" are amongst the best material Bronson has ever dropped. Bronson is still dropping a plethora of oddball lines with pop-culture references that most people will need to Google to understand and occasionally stumbling over his lines, it just sounds a bit more polished and professional than his previous material. After making a name for himself on nothing but self-released, independent projects, it's great to see that Bronson is still himself now that he has a big record label to answer to.
Bronson sticking to his guns and crafting another batch of highly entertaining songs on Mr. Wonderful isn't surprising in the slightest. Where Mr. Wonderful deviates substantially from the script is on the the three song, blues-inspired rock opera that appears in the middle of the record. Even for someone as notoriously odd as Bronson, putting a full-blown rock opera amongst a bunch of hip-hop songs is a seemingly bonkers decision. As odd as it sounds on paper, these tracks end up being pretty solid on the whole. The completely clean-sung "City Boy Blues" backfires due to way too heavy of a reliance on Bronson's rough singing voice, but the latter two track in the suite, "A Light in the Addict" and "Baby Blue", manage to deliver. "A Light in the Addict" features shockingly subdued rapping from Bronson and a beautiful extended blues guitar solo while "Baby Blue"- a breakup ballad produced by Mark Ronson of "Uptown Funk" fame- is able to overcome a slightly annoying hook with excellent verses from both Bronson and Chance the Rapper, who is early contender for guest verse of the year with his hilarious turn here. While this rock opera is a completely unexpected curveball that will certainly piss off and/or confuse the hell out of some of his fans, it's a well-constructed detour that brings a bit of dynamism to Bronson's traditional formula.
Mr. Wonderful certainly won't win over any of Bronson's detractors, but anyone who's previously enjoyed the abstract ramblings of Bronsolino should find a lot to like here. Bronson is the perfect antithesis to the Kendrick Lamar's and J. Cole's of the world. His music doesn't try to be anything more than unique, clever and fun, and he's almost always successful in achieving that goal. Bronson is exactly the type of bold, unabashedly strange voice hip-hop needs right now, and Mr. Wonderful is some of his finest work to-date.