Action Bronson had a massive 2014. Coming off a tour of Australia and New Zealand supporting Eminem along with J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, America's favorite gourmet-chef-turned-rapper launched an excellent web series, thoughtfully called Fuck That's Delicious, through Vice's food-centric offshoot, Munchies. The series follows the MC adventuring around the world, eating a metric shit-ton of delicious food and smoking somehow even more weed.
In short: 2014 was a very productive year, but 2015 is when he blesses us with his major label full-length debut, Mr. Wonderful.
Mr. Wonderful builds upon the legend that Action Bronson has worked to construct around himself: while the album showcases his larger-than-life-and-literally-most-other-rappers persona at its most cartoonish heights to date, it also finds the rapper showing new levels of emotional depth--albeit in the nonchalant, absurdist way that only Action is capable of.
Single "Baby Blue," Action's second collaboration with Chance The Rapper, is a great example, focusing on jealousy with bars like "I paid for the bed and never even slept in it/ I paid for that crib I never stepped foot in/ And now somebody else is eating all the pudding." Chance's verse is so spitefully great, its vitrol tempered by an always-present sense of humor.
(The video for the song also dropped yesterday, and it's awesome:)
An even better example, though, is "Light In The Addict:" the song is uncharacteristically serious for Action Bronson: "Sittin' first class, feelin' like shit though/ Starin' out the window with the mind of a schizo/ Thinkin' if I jump, will I feel it when I hit the ground?" Dark thoughts like this aren't entirely unprecedented for the rapper, but they always feel out of left field when compared with otherwise light-hearted material.
Don't let this distract from how hilarious Action Bronson is though -- this is the same goofy, imaginative rapper who rides jet skis in formalwear and has fixed every sporting event in modern history. "Falconry," featuring frequent collaborator Meyhem Lauren, is an absolute delight: "I was made like the beginning of Jurassic Park/ When they took the fucking blood from the mosquito with a dope needle/ Then they shot it in a wild lion, 1983/ I popped out holdin' an iron with a visor on."
Mr. Wonderful is at its best when it combines these two sides of Action Bronson's personality: "Galactic Love" features Action's own mom, who is awesome. The song is a declaration of his motivation rapping, to provide for his family -- especially his mother (dude's a model son).
That's a theme that's present in a ton of different spots on the album, from the hook of "Actin' Crazy" to bars on "The Rising" like "my mother said I better win or else she'll fuck me up/ Ma we did it, I love you, you lucky slut."
SOURCE: Acclaim Magazine
The album, though, isn't without its "what is this wax doing to us?" moments: interlude "THUG LOVE STORY 2017 THE MUSICAL," which features a random (and possibly homeless/crack-addicted) guy singing a song that -- in his words -- could be about drugs or it could be about a woman. The track adds nothing to the record but a trip for your thumb to the skip button. Similarly, the next song, "City Boy Blues" is the manifestation of my biggest fear leading up to the album's release: that Action Bronson would get high enough to sing an entire song.
The one track I've yet to make my mind up on is the Party Supplies-helmed "Only In America." While my favorite past Action Bronson work is his Blue Chips series with Party Supplies, the beat to this song might be a step too far in the 80s rock direction the collaborators often display, such as Blue Chips 2's "Contemporary Man". The beat feels at best, overly forced, and at worst, like a B-Side to the Team America soundtrack. But if nothing else, the track is further proof that Action Bronson can rap over anything and do so acrobatically. Bars like "Big bearded Buddha bangin' bitches in Bermuda/ Barry Bonds, barracuda, Chattanooga/ Back alley shooter, black Balley booter" mesh incredibly well with the backing track. Like I said, I'm on the fence here.
The best track by far and away is lead single and album closer "Easy Rider," which I've noted was (in my opinion) the best rap song of 2014. "Easy Rider" sounds fucking victorious. This is a song you can only record after having the mammoth 2014 that Action Bronson had--it's a perfect way to cap off a great year, and the perfect way to cap off a great record.
The beat selection on Mr. Wonderful is incredible, equally as vivid and outlandish as Bronson himself. As I mentioned earlier, Bronson can rap over beats that other rappers wouldn't touch and destroy them. "Terry" (produced by The Alchemist) and "Actin' Crazy" (produced by frequent Drake collaborator 40) are perfect examples. I thought album opener "Brand New Car" (produced by recent friend Mark Ronson) sounded a lot like it sampled Billy Joel's "Zanzibar" and, well, I was right.
The biggest criticism to be made for Mr. Wonderful is its short length. With two completely skippable tracks (mentioned above) and one instrumental track, "The Passage," which (while awesome) serves only as an intro to "Easy Rider," the album has only six new songs, less the singles. I'm not sure how much of an indictment that is, though: it'd be like criticising, say, Wylie Dufresne or Ferran Adrià for serving small portions. While Action Bronson certainly leaves you wanting more, his career to date proves that he'll be back with even more soon enough. He won't be going anywhere for awhile, and this record is a bold testament to that fact.
If you're already an Action Bronson fan -- and I'll be seriously disappointed if you're not -- this album is exactly what you've been hoping for, despite the short length. If you're not, this is a fantastic introduction. Mr. Wonderful is another invitation to Action Bronson's world. It feels weird describing something with this many references to drugs and weapons as "whimsical," but that's the best adjective there is.
It's possible to write Action Bronson off as being a single-dimensional, one-trick pony -- but that would be entirely wrong. Rap is filled with "one-trick ponies" -- Pusha T and cocaine, DMX and aggression, A$AP Rocky and fashion, the RZA and kung fu, Drake and feelings, Kanye and Kanye. Action Bronson's one trick happens to be being a caricature of himself. "I'm in a humvee, looking like a young me." He's simultaneously an action hero, a drug kingpin, a renowned gourmand, a seasoned traveller, and the world's most hilariously improbable gymnast. If you're going to dismiss him on that basis, it's because he's in a lane of his own. His "schtick" -- a word I use here to mean "personality"-- only seems limiting or formulaic because it's so unique, because he's the only one doing it.
And even in the worst case, Action Bronson's one trick is incredible.
Here are my top 10 lines from the record, presented in all caps because it's the only way that makes sense:
10: "BIG BEARED BUDDHA BANGIN' BITCHES IN BERMUDA/ BARRY BONDS, BARRACUDA, CHATTANOOGA/ BACK ALLEY SHOOTER, BALLEY BOOTER" - "Only in America"
9: "LAID BY THE POOL, MY LEGS GETTIN' MASSAGED BY A PROFESSIONAL/ STRICTLY BUSINESS, NOTHIN' SEXUAL/ SEASONAL VEGETABLES LOOKIN' EXCEPTIONAL" - "The Rising"
8: "SPILLED DRESSING ON THE VEST AT THE FESTIVAL, THE BEST OF ALL/ HAD A MIDGET PUERTO RICAN AT MY BECK AND CALL" - "Easy Rider"
7: "I'M NOT EXACTLY FLAWLESS, BUT I'M GORGEOUS JUST LIKE A HORSE IS/ I KNOW THE THOUGHT OF ME SUCCEEDING MAKES A LOT OF PEOPLE NAUSEOUS/ STILL I'M ON THE BACK OF THE BOAT TAKING PICTURES WITH THE SWORDFISH" - "Baby Blue"
6: "I'M BY THE BAR LOOKIN' SWEDISH IN THE TRENCHCOAT, STUPID/ THE ONLY ONE DRINKIN' MANGO LASSI IN THE BULLPEN" - "Brand New Car"
5: "YOU AND YOUR FATHER NEVER PLAYED CATCH, HE TAUGHT YOU HOW TO TWERK" - "Only In America"
4: "FUCK AROUND AND WIN A SPELLING BEE/ I COULD WALK UNDER LADDERS, STILL WON THE LOTTO/ TEN MINUTES FLAT BUILT A BOAT IN A BOTTLE" - "Galactic Love"
3: "ALL I DO IS EAT OYSTERS/ AND SPEAK SIX LANGUAGES IN THREE VOICES" - "Actin' Crazy"
2: "TWISTED OFF THE JENKEM, WATCHING IRON CHEF/ THE SECRET INGREDIENT WAS LION'S NECK" - "Terry"
1: "I WAS MADE LIKE THE BEGINNING OF JURASSIC PARK/ WHEN THEY TOOK THE FUCKIN' BLOOD FROM THE MOSQUITO WITH A DOPE NEEDLE/ THEN THEY SHOT IT IN A WILD LION, 1983/ I POPPED OUT HOLDIN' AN IRON WITH THE VISOR ON" - "Falconry"
With only a few swings-and-misses detracting from absolutely staggering highs, I'll give Mr. Wonderful 8.8 out of 10 confit duck legs.