Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful
Queens MC goes major label with third LP
By Kahron Spearman,
8:26AM, Tue. Apr. 7, 2015
“Opportunity be knockin,’ you gotta let a motherfucker in.”
The bearded Queens rapper/chef/force of nature Action Bronson claims all breaks he’s received, paving unusual new roads for what’s possible within rap. At first look a clever thug, the MC pontificates about the finer things, while holding torches for questionable women on his previous indie releases Dr. Lecter, the Party Supplies-produced Blue Chips series, and his work with Statik Selectah and Harry Fraud. Eschewing solidification of his Golden Era sound, Bronsoliño chooses experimentalism, using his new major label budget to wade into the deep. Mr. Wonderful is less an album, and more comparable to being let into a secret food rave with an unknown menu.
Mark Ronson-produced “Brand New Car” features the brash Bronson in his high-pitched prime, immediately stuffing the new, instrument-driven sound down your face. Alchemist samples Asha Puthli’s cover of Bill Withers’ “Let Me In Your Life” for the jazzy “Terry.” The album’s true commencement, however, occurs on the back end of the track: a psychedelic transition leading into “Actin Crazy,” a 40/Omen production originally made for Drake. Truth be told, the Toronto/OVO Sound fits Bronson to a tee. Future collaborations should continue.
“Thug Story 2017 The Musical” starts a loosely themed suite of tracks. Action uses corner crooner Ezra for stripped down, but similar effect as Ghostface Killah’s use of the Force MDs in “Daytona 500.” “Let me tell you something about that song.” explains the street vocalist. “It could go two ways. It could be about drugs, and it could be about a woman.” The polarizing and powerful “City Boy Blues” works within the shoddy framework, adding to the just-added angle of addiction.
The suite’s excellent Mark Ronson-led finale, “Baby Blue,” underlines Bronson’s issues with a woman that he can’t quite understand or shake. Rap wunderkind Chance the Rapper spits petty all-universe hater verses: “I hope every soda you drink already shaken up. I hope your dreams dry like raisins in the baking sun.” Palette cleanser “Galactic Love” smoothes the bumpy ride.
Psychedelic arena rock interlude “The Passage” feels out of place on first listen, but bridges perfectly into “Easy Rider,” his very best work to date and the signifier of Bronson's future. It’s the most quotable track on the album; the metaphors are killer: “The Magic Johnson of the game, these lames don't want to play with me. Smile on your face, but I really know you hatin' me. I know you mad, cause I'm sick, and it's plain to see, it's me.”
Mr. Wonderful maintains some issues with sequencing, track selection, and mastering. Though not without merit, the completely inexplicable mini suite in the middle of the album starts and ends with zero context. The Mayhem Lauren-assisted “Falconry” feels like a throwaway. The corny sample flip in “Only In America” (from German band Artishcock’s “Es Liegt Was In Den Luft”), and bad accompanying piano solo, is only topped by questionable (at best) sound mixing.
Overall, the chances Bronson takes will prove worth the effort. While nothing close to perfection, there isn’t an album remotely similar to it – today or any day prior. Using “Easy Rider” as a closer provides the album a proper send-off, a notion that he’s retiring from something. There’s likely some truth to the impression, because the old Bronson isn’t coming back. The old Bronson was never going to be the superstar this forward-thinking version might.
Action Bronson hits ACL Live at the Moody Theater May 30.