Action Bronson is getting ready to drop the mixtape Blue Chips 7000 on our heads any day now, so this is the first offering from that project. The Supercat “Dolly My Baby” flip is amazing. As evidenced on “Jerk Chicken” with Maffew Ragazino, Action does well over reggae sounds. Meyhem Lauren is also along for the ride and preparing to drop Piatto D’oro by the end of the month.
It’s well known that Action Bronson and Meyhem Lauren are tag team behemoths when it comes to the freestyle tip, but in what was like an ill fever dream, Wayne Brady happens to walk by and gets roped into a quick session. What follows blows everyone present away. Alchemist on the turntables.
If you weren’t already salivating over Alchemist and Oh No’s upcoming collaborative album You Disgust Me, which drops August 7th, this single should definitely whet the appetite. The duo team up with none other than Action Bronson to rap their respective asses off while wreaking absolute havoc on a rental car (check for Simon Rex as the rental agent).
Let me preface this by saying I’m a huge fan of both artists involved (Action Bronson and Ghostface Killah) to the point that both are in my personal top five at present. I have dedicated playlists groomed specifically for each artist. I’ve witnessed firsthand the wild energy of an Action Bronson show. While I’ve never had the honor of seeing GFK perform live, I was one of few kids at my northern California high school rocking Clark’s Wallabees in the summertime like it was nothing. While Ghost is obviously the veteran artist with a ton of classic joints under his belt, Bronson has, in a short time, become a personal favorite long before he became the darling of hipsters and mainstream outlets. I write this out of love for both artists and for the culture, so don’t get this twisted as some sort of slight to Ghostface as opposed to an honest critique as a disappointed fan and music journalist.
If you’re not up on things, read the story and catch the video here.
In a nutshell, Ghost is too much of an OG to be taking potshots at other rappers via YouTube. It would be one thing to express distaste, but to issue threats? He’s old enough to know better. That was a move of a rapper born in 1992 or something. Everyone knows that the best way to ensure nothing ever happens is to issue the threat on a public forum, specifically on video. So I think we can establish that nothing serious will come of this…and that’s actually a good thing.
The people who seem to be hyping this up online seem to be mostly fans of Ghost who don’t know much about Bronson’s work. These are people who heard of Bronson on a “this guy sounds like Ghostface” note and went into it looking to find someone biting Ghost’s style, which he absolutely doesn’t do. Aside from a slightly nasal vocal similarity, there really isn’t that much the two have in common, as heard when the two collaborated on “Meteor Hammer”. Personally, I hear a lot more Queens/Kool G Rap or even Big Pun in Action Bronson’s rhymes. In terms of style, I can’t think of one song Bronson has put out that I could see Ghost doing the same way. Both MCs are highly adept at stream of consciousness raps and being obsessive about details when painting a picture for listeners, both seem to draw from different places entirely. Love it or hate it or know nothing about it, you can’t say Bronson isn’t operating as a completely unique artist on Mr. Wonderful or any of his prior projects, for that matter.
These are two unique MCs with a lot to offer to the game even currently. Bronson doesn’t need to pay homage to Ghost for sounding like him, though he has paid homage to Ghost’s influence and contributions to the culture many, many times. Unfortunately, Bronson responded to the comparison for the billionth time on SportsNation and got a little out of pocket saying Ghost “isn’t rapping like this no more”. This is false. Ghost has been putting out some very good material recently (even his contributions to the abysmal A Better Tomorrow were bright spots). Bronson’s comment just struck me as self-aggrandizing shit-talking, not as an actual scathing diss, as some have hyped it up to be. As we all know, the Wu tends to get a little touchy about other rappers questioning their abilities. That being said, when has rap not been about competition and bravado? Bravado is damn near the fifth element of the culture as a whole. Ghost feeling a need to elevate the situation to violence was trite and beneath his stature as a pillar within the culture. What would have been dope and will probably never happen now is Bronson and Ghost getting on a track or giving us an Action Vs. Ghost EP to kill all talk of similarities or swagger-jacking once and for all. Unfortunately, the present day rap game is so thirsty to have something matter in this dreadfully banal period in hip-hop history that they’ll hype this situation up into perpetuity and egg on a feud over artistic progress. And don’t think this is going to result in top shelf rap beef. Kids who weren’t around for Ice Cube vs. Common or even LL vs. Canibus would rather read tweets between moody rappers than hear classic diss records being dropped, so let’s just all cut our losses and act like this whole thing never happened. Cool? Cool.
One of the most selfish things we music fans do in an age of selfish music consumption is look on disapprovingly as an act we discovered at its inception gains more mainstream attention and inevitably changes to accommodate that attention. I admit to being one of those critics who will praise a band’s first album and then complain about how later efforts became “over-produced” and lack the grit and hunger of the debut. Admittedly, I’ve held a fear in my heart for the moment Action Bronson would “go mainstream” for some time now. Starting with his heavy output in 2011 (The Program EP, Dr. Lecter, Well Done, and Bon Appetit…Bitch), Bronson has brought a flavor to the game that had not been seen before, despite casual listeners feeling inclined to compare him vocally to Ghostface Killah. Despite some questionable creative decisions, I’m happy to say that Mr. Wonderful manages to appropriately represent the artist as he’s grown musically without compromising much for the approval of mainstream listeners.
The album’s earlier tracks are more the Bronson one might expect, from “Brand New Car” (which borrows excellently from Billy Joel’s “Zanzibar”) to “The Rising”, which features the ever-present Big Body Bes, who has the unique ability to crush your ego and build it up to unreasonable levels simultaneously with his eccentric rants. “Falconry” has Bronson and cohort Meyhem Lauren in rare form, with Bronson stating that “your ideas lack adobo” before Lauren declares he’s “New York before it turned into a bike lane”, no doubt commenting on the gentrification of New York City and its transformation into hipster central.
“Terry” is easily a standout on this album, along with the other singles like “Actin’ Crazy” and “Easy Rider”, which all seem to highlight the two qualities that make Bronson a top MC: his ability to paint an abstract picture and his ear for great production. It’s this that allows one to not only excuse songs like “A Light In The Addict” and “The Passage (Live From Prague)”, but even appreciate Bronson’s conviction about including them on the album. While it all may come off like a hodgepodge at first, the common thread here seems to me to be musicality. Bronson appreciates music to the point he doesn’t mind it obscuring or completely replacing his rapping at times. Songs like “Only In America” solidify my theory that Mr. Wonderful is the kind of album that will appeal to rap fans who also like Whitesnake and Phil Collins. The robust electric guitar on this record takes you right back to the 1980s, an era Bronson seems quite fond of if you recall he and Party Supplies’ concoction “Contemporary Man”.
The flaws on this album, however, sit in the middle of the album like a malignant tumor, just waiting for an excision from your otherwise palatable tracklist. Starting with “Thug Love Story 2017 The Musical”, which is an interlude, Bronson allots two minutes and twenty seconds to allowing what appears to be some random person on the street to sing (badly) which leads into Bronson himself singing badly on the next song. “City Boy Blues”. While musically solid, “City Boy Blues” has Bronson overdoing his faux-crooning (which, to date, is mildly amusing everywhere except here), leaving the listener hoping for a sixteen bars that never comes. It’s the kind of song that probably sounded great in Bronson’s head but has the avid listener wishing the track had been replaced by something better, like the recent “Big League Chew” with Alchemist. The other stinker is “Baby Blue”, an obvious Mark Ronson product by the plodding piano and old-time vibe. Given the artists we’ve seen Bronson collaborate with, Chance the Rapper is also an odd choice for a guest feature, leaving one to think his addition was something the label was probably excited about, hoping for some attention from fans that wouldn’t normally pick up the album. Needless to say, it wasn’t an interesting collaborative effort and again, the money could have been better used on the guest artist and the slot could have been filled by a better record. These forays into subject matter and romance pale in comparison to earlier concept tracks like the stellar “Hookers At The Point”.
Mr. Wonderful is a bizarre album, to say the least. To me, it resonates as an experiment in sound, mixing very new-sounding, “out there” backdrops with a very comfortable 90’s-era flow. While I appreciate the boom-bap Action floats effortlessly over on older records like “Get Off The PP” or “Imported Goods”, he’s also got an impeccable ear for off-the-beaten-path tunes provided to him by the likes of Alchemist, Party Supplies, Statik Selektah, and Mark Ronson. Where else in rap are you going to hear an arbitrary Chuck Knoblauch reference on top of a track that sounds like a tranquil gondola ride (“Terry”)? This album isn’t for everyone and by no means is it without its fumbles, but this is the kind of evolution artists should be looking at musically because artists should be making music that’s true to them and not so much what will appeal to everyone. Action Bronson continues to be in his own lane in rap and that’s to be applauded within a music industry that’s focused on taking minimal risks.