When it comes to preference in rappers, I’m a sucker for energy. As my friend Cameron and I were lauding the alternative hip-hop group Death Grips, he cited their minimalist production as the allure. Me? I chose their lyricist’s high-octane flow.
Such energy is what first drew me to Action Bronson, a Queens-based rapper whose talent has so far been undersold on mixtapes and indie albums. My first exposure to Bronson came in the form of “Strictly for my Jeeps,” a single from his most recent mixtape, Saaab Stories. The track functions much like the East Coast hip-hop albums of old, with the simple, repetitive beat and hook serving as the reference point for the seemingly irrelevant yet virtuoso verses. In particular, it reminds me of a typical Wu Tang track, or Odd Future’s more recent “Oldie.” The goal is less to tell a story as it is to showcase the artists’ craft. Yet in Bronson’s case, there’s only one artist in question. Thankfully, he delivers, and is akin to the greats in more ways than one.
For it’s fitting that his song’s structure is reminiscent of the Wu Tang. Various critics have heralded the rapper’s flow as very similar to Ghostface Killah’s. The high-pitched nature of his voice is the most noticeable similarity, but I’m more impressed by the near stream-of-consciousness release of words depicting nonsensical boasts of material excess. Such bragging is nothing new, but Action Bronson does something I’ve rarely seen in a hip-hop song. He gloats; he insults, but he directs it all towards an unidentified “you.” In the initial verse, as Bronson establishes himself as “tan, hopping out the van,” sarcastically lamenting that “you wasn’t there, now you trying to show face.” He then threatens with future violence, promising to turn you into a “cold case.” Bronson follows this semi-narrative with succinct, yet nonsensical phrases which seem to have found their way into this song solely for the sake of a quick rhyme.
For me, that’s where Action Bronson’s raw talent begins to break down. A relative newcomer to hip-hop (he was a successful chef before turning to music in 2011), his chops seem fairly uncultivated. But there’s no doubt he’s got some serious skill to work with, just ask XXL. If something’s to come of Action Bronson’s unbridled talent, he’s got to to maintain that energy throughout a song in a somewhat focused way. His stylistic forebear, Ghostface Killah, could do so while holding onto his artistic integrity. He relentlessly poured out surreal lyrics while never sliding into cheap rhyming. Action Bronson should take note.
Another drawback to consider is his gimmicky persona. The “Jeeps” video consists of Action Bronson doing cartwheels and making gestures towards a scantily clad, heavyset woman. The former is an attempt at light humor; the latter seems mean-spirited. An appearance by Riff Raff doesn’t help Bronson’s case either.
Action Bronson reminds me an awful lot like the early Eminem: an exceptional talent held back by elementary jokes and an affinity for the cheap and obscene. If he can develop that natural gift and scrap the gimmicks, Bronson will cross the threshold into the realm of his East Coast predecessors. Does he do so in Saaab Stories? Jonathan’s review has the answer.