One writer's impassioned plea about why he likes Bronsolino more than Biggie, Jay-Z, and every other MC.
Written by Daniel Isenberg (@stanipcus)
[Ed. Note—The opinions expressed in this article reflect the opinions of the writer and the writer only. The writer does not speak for Complex Magazine as a whole, although we do maintain that Action Bronson is a great rapper. Furthermore, Complex ranked Bronson's joint album with Party Supplies, Blue Chips, as the 12th Best Album of 2012 (So Far) as recently as this past June.]
I know. Saying that Action Bronson is my favorite rapper of all time is a very bold statement. Especially considering the fact that I’m 34 years old, and have been listening to rap music nonstop for the past two decades. Most hip-hop heads my age who grew up in New York would say their favorite rapper is one of the holy trinity—you know, Biggie, Jay-Z, or Nas. Even if their favorite isn’t one of those three obvious choices, it’s still probably someone someone who was around during our formative years, like Big Pun or Redman.
Fuck that, though. I’m a huge fan of all those dudes. They’re incredible rap artists. But never has a rapper captivated my interest like Action Bronson. And that’s not to say he’s the nicest ever. He’s fairly new to the scene, so of course I could never compare his body of work to someone who’s been releasing albums since the early ’90s. Still I can state with absolute confidence and sincerity that Action Bronson is my favorite rapper of all time. Here’s why.
“In only one year, considered as a veteran.” —Action Bronson, “The Symbol”
Initially, when I saw the “Brunch” video, I didn’t know what to make of him. The visuals of this overweight, bearded white guy carving a woman up and throwing her in his trunk distracted me from how dope the actual song was, and didn’t really clue me in to what he was all about as an artist.
I first got put on to Action Bronson sometime toward the end of last summer. I had heard of him from seeing his stuff on UpNorthTrips, a site I contribute to, but had never clicked on any of the content because—let’s face it—I was sleeping on him.
Then, within the span of a week or so, I had three different friends reach out to me, either asking me if I had heard of Bronson, or sending me links to his latest video, which at the time was “Brunch,” off his first album Dr. Lecter. Being that I too am a white rapper, I was curious to hear him, especially since one of my closest buddies said Action’s style reminded him of mine.
Initially, when I saw the “Brunch” video, I didn’t know what to make of him. The visuals of this overweight, bearded white guy carving a woman up and throwing her in his trunk distracted me from how dope the actual song was, and didn’t really clue me in to what he was all about as an artist. Or maybe it revealed too much. Either way, I was just like, “Yo, this dude is crazy.”
But then, I was on Twitter and saw someone post this clip of him at Meatopia, an outdoor food festival in New York City. It was this video, which featured Action going around to the different tasting booths and interacting with the chefs and other festival goers, that really piqued my interest. He was a smart, likable, and cultured guy, with an easygoing way about him, and a witty sense of humor.
Plus, after all the festival footage, there was a clip of him rhyming live on stage, and he was killing it up there dolo, with excellent breath control and no hype man. Bronson was tearing through his lyrics effortlessly, while rocking yellow sunglasses on his head, a tank top, and shorts—the same outfit he had worn to Meatopia.
The combination of the festival footage and the performance clip really intrigued me. I was possessed with a sudden desire to check out Dr. Lecter and find out more about this Action Bronson. One thing was very clear after watching the video: He was not your average rapper.
Since that day last August when I first downloaded Dr. Lecter, it hasn’t left my whip’s disc changer. It’s easily my favorite rap album in years. I instantly loved the production style—it felt like a throwback to the days of slick samples and hard drums, but it wasn’t retro. And Bronson’s lyrics captivated me.
As a fellow rapper, I was impressed by his ability to mix street slang with food and pop culture references, and also by how ill his flow was. There was nothing corny or wack about his music—just a raw rap album from top to bottom. And there were a handful of songs that I loved just as much as any rap song I’d ever heard. “The Madness,” a track with four, yes four, rapid fire verses and a tight hook laced with lines about eating Crispix cereal with breast milk and putting a Roman Candle firework in a woman’s butt especially caught my attention.
Lots of people’s first reaction to hearing Action Bronson is, “He sounds just like Ghostface Killah.” And yeah, there’s definitely a similarity in their vocal tone, pronunciation, and accent at times. But once you really dive in and listen to Bronson, you forget that he ever reminded you of Ghostface, because he’s so clearly his own man.
However, since everyone likes a comparison, I often tell people that he’s like a mix of Ghostface and Big Pun. If you take Ghost’s tone of voice and slang-heavy delivery, and mix it with Big Pun’s flow, humor (and weight), you get something sort of like Action Bronson. That’s a pretty scary combination of MCs to embody, but I think it’s a fairly accurate assessment.
Lots of people’s first reaction to hearing Action Bronson is, “He sounds just like Ghostface.” And yeah, there’s definitely a similarity in their vocal tone, pronunciation, and accent at times. But once you really dive in and listen to Bronson, you forget that he ever reminded you of Ghostface, because he’s so clearly his own man.
The thing about Bronson is that he’s got such a unique style, any attempt to break it down into elements of other rappers will only capture a fraction of what makes him such a special artist. He’s an odd guy—from the way he talks, you can tell he’s a straight-up Flushing, Queens-bred dude, with plenty of hip-hop knowledge. At 28, he’s old enough to have listened to the same artists I grew up on, but young enough to relate to guys like A$AP Rocky and Earl Sweatshirt.
He also spent much of his life working as a chef before he started rapping, so he makes these unbelievable food references, and then somehow relates them back to the streets. He explained this during a recent podcast appearance on Food Is the New Rock, and used the example, “I make a hollandaise out of 80 grams of coke.” He also relates food to sex often, like on his Blue Chips mixtape cut “Double Breasted,” where he says, “Twist the pussy like a soft pretzel.” It’s very entertaining.
Plus, he’s a guy’s guy, who loves rapping about getting dome from hookers, and names songs after old athletes that most rappers have never heard of, like NFL fullback Larry Csonka. And he loves trees! You’d be hard-pressed to see Action Bronson in a music video, an interview clip, or on stage at a live performance without a huge joint hanging from his mouth. He even has his own limited edition customized portable vaporizer. The guy must puff constantly. I don’t think there’s ever been a song of his that doesn’t mention smoking in some way, like on his most recent “Yacht Rock” verse with Alchemist where he compares the smell of his weed to “a Jewish fart.” Being a Jew myself, I crack up at this line, thinking of the skunky stench of my own flatulence.
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In November of last year, I was assigned to interview Action Bronson for Steve Stoute’s The Tanning of America website. Up to this point, I had interviewed mostly ’90s legends like Raekwon, Diamond D, and Pete Rock, so getting the opportunity to speak to one of my new favorite artists was an exciting shift. Plus, Dr. Lecter was all I had been listening to in the whip for the past couple months, and I wanted to hear first-hand who the man behind the music was.
We had a refreshingly honest conversation about race and hip-hop, where he candidly revealed to me how he wasn’t a fan of white rappers like the Beastie Boys and Eminem growing up, and that he used to use the n-word in his raps and everyday lingo before his friend told him that he should cut it out.
But what I learned most from interviewing Action was that he was a genuine guy, who has never fronted or put up a facade to further his rap career. I believe that the reason he’s achieved so much success in the past two years is because he doesn’t fake the funk, ever.
What I learned most from interviewing Action was that he was a genuine guy, who has never fronted or put up a facade to further his rap career. I believe that the reason he’s achieved so much success in the past two years is because he doesn’t fake the funk, ever.
And Bronson’s absolute realness can be seen not only in his style of dress and appearance, which often consists of outfits pairing swimming trunks and hooded sweatshirts, but also in his music, from his sample-based beat selection to lyrical content. I mean, the guy is 300 plus pounds and raps about doing backflips into jacuzzis and cartwheels into car doors. He isn’t afraid to write about topics completely different than the content covered by his contemporaries, no matter how outrageous. It feels like he’s making himself laugh, and in turn, it makes his music that much more fun to listen to.
One great way to get to know who Action Bronson is to follow him on Twitter. His feed is off the hook, and will give you a real time idea of how sharp his sense of humor is, and what his moral values are. He pops shit all day, saying how gorgeous he is, and how he’s the type of guy a girl can bring home to your parents.
Plus, if you try to diss him on Twitter and tell him he sucks at rapping, he’ll tell you to go suck your Dad’s dick.
Once a day, I scroll through his feed to see his interactions with everyone and catch up on any tweets I may have missed, and there’s usually more than a few moments of brilliance. His fans drop gems too, which he retweets regularly for everyone’s amusement.
But back to his music, and the reason why he is my favorite rapper of all time. Yes, his social media presence contributes to him obtaining this status in my life, especially his recent Back and Forth video exchange with frequent collaborator Alchemist, in which he admits how awesome it is that he gets paid to “say words in a fly manner,” and also jokes, “I have three dicks.”
But it’s his actual recordings that have really sealed the deal for me. I already explained my love of his first album Dr. Lecter, but since then he’s dropped some serious crack tracks that have forced me to play on repeat for months and also crown him my personal favorite MC ever.
I’d be lying if I said I love every Action Bronson song. It’s not true. And I don’t think for someone to be my favorite rapper of all time, I have to like everything they do. Like Well Done, his 2011 project with Statik Selektah, has a few really dope songs on it, but overall, I’m not crazy about it. Blue Chips too. It’s an amazing body of work, but I have my specific songs on it that I am obsessed with, and others I skip through.
Overall though, I applaud the idea of him teaming up with one producer and banging out full projects. He’s got a serious work ethic, considering the amount of material he’s put out in the past two years. And he still has projects like Rare Chandeliers with Alchemist, Saab Stories with Harry Fraud, and Blue Chips 2 with Party Supplies, all on the horizon. He builds a chemistry with a producer, rather than just taking beats randomly from a bunch of people and piecing them together, and it shows in the final product.
But actually, it’s his loose releases from the past year, like “Midget Cough,” “Northern & Roozy,” and “A Simple Man,” that I’ve grown most fond of. “Midget Cough” may be my most played rap song of 2012 when it’s all said and done. It’s got one of those lazy loops that I can ride to all day, and some of his best rhymes ever, like, “Steer the whip with one arm like Jim Abbott/Chocolate sauce over thin rabbit.”
Look, here’s the thing about having a favorite rapper. The title doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you. As much as I love Dr. Lecter—and consider it a classic—I would never, ever, ever say it’s better than the other titles that occupy my top five albums list, which includes The Low End Theory, Illmatic, Ready To Die, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., and Reasonable Doubt.
As much as I love Dr. Lecter—and consider it a classic—I would never, ever, ever say it’s better than the other titles that occupy my top five albums list...Those albums shaped who I am, and they’re just superior pieces of hip-hop music. But my favorite Action Bronson songs from the past two years are beloved enough to place him at the top of my all-time favorite rappers list. He brings more to the table than just a classic album.
I don’t think anything will ever be released that will knock one of those out of my top five. Those albums shaped who I am, and beyond the personal nostalgia, they’re just superior pieces of hip-hop music. But my favorite Action Bronson songs from the past two years are beloved enough to place him at the top of my all-time favorite rappers list. He brings more to the table than just a classic album.
I’ve had a few all-time favorite rappers in the past. As a middle school kid, I loved Q-Tip. He was the coolest guy in the world to me, and the artist who made me fall in love with hip-hop music. Then, in 9th grade, Grand Puba was my dude. After that it was Redman, followed by Ghostface. They were superheroes to me, and I thought everything they did was the dopest shit I had ever seen. Sure, I always thought Biggie, Nas, and Jay-Z were the best, but these other guys were personal favorites. But never, in the history of my twenty-plus years as a rap fan, has anyone won me over like Action Bronson.
I just saw Action live a couple weeks ago for the first time at Complex’s CMJ event Judgement Night, and I loved every minute of his set. He came on stage, in shorts and a hooded sweatshirt, nonchalant as ever, smoking a huge spliff. He did one song, then grabbed a huge plastic bag filled with baggies of weed, and said, “Daddy’s here,” and started chucking them into the crowd like the Santa Claus of cannabis. He even threw a few bags as if they were baseballs, complete with a sidearm, Dan Quisenberry style wind-up. I mean, who comes to a rap show and throws thousands of dollars’ worth of weed into the crowd? My favorite rapper, that’s who.
Then, he just started rapping his ass off. No hype man, no TV track bullshit with lyrics in the back. Just one man and a mic, slaying it. And he performed half the show walking through the audience, who mobbed him with every step, without missing a syllable! This wasn’t surprising though, because I’ve posted pics and videos here on Complex of him doing that before. I even posted a video a couple weeks ago of him rapping during a gig from inside a Porta Potty. Plain and simple, this guy knows how to excite a crowd, but it’s not a gimmick. That’s just how he gets down.
It’s pretty clear to me at this point that I’m not the only one who is a dedicated Action Bronson fan and supporter. People were going nuts for him at the show, packing the front of the stage with their hands up, reciting his lyrics word for word, and suffocating his space the moment he jumped into the crowd. And he obviously has a huge fan base, which is why he was able to sign a deal recently with Vice Records and secure the same management as Eminem. Yes, Paul Rosenberg, Eminem’s manager, is now Action Bronson’s manager, and I’m pretty sure it’s because he was a loyal fan first. And respected rappers from Sean Price to Snoop Dogg co-signed co-signed his talents recently, too.
Plus, with the buzz off his latest video, “The Symbol,” which is a mini-motion picture starring Bronsolino himself as some sort of Whitesploitation stud—not to mention his latest project with Alchemist, Rare Chandeliers (which has some of the most amazing album artwork ever created) dropping tomorrow, Bronson’s grip on the game is only going to get tighter. It may not be long before other rap fans are proclaiming Action to be their favorite rapper of all time as well.
With all that said, I’m not looking to argue with anyone about this. You don’t have to agree or disagree with me. I’m not going to go back and re-read this to make sure I gave enough examples to support my statement, because I’m not trying to win you over. Action Bronson is my favorite rapper of all time, and that doesn’t need to make sense to anyone but me.
Now excuse me while I go listen to “Midget Cough,” again.