He is a morbidly obese white Albanian dude covered in tattoos, rapping about his years as a professional chef with vulgar, quasi-horrocore lyrics. Something about Action Bronson just makes you feel uncomfortable. Nothing about him makes any sense when compared to more conventional rap. The only thing that harkens back to common ground is a slight stylistic similarity to Ghostface Killah. Action Bronson built his appeal simply by being unexpected.
Over the past year and a half, Bronson exploded into the rap game as a promising up-and-comer. Why did we enjoy listening to a fat Albanian chef rap? He had no discernable street cred or monumental struggle – the conventional hip-hop narrative did not apply. We kept listening because we had no idea what he might say or do next. It was obvious that his tales were fictional – he wasn’t pulling girls or firing guns at the absurd rate his rhymes often declared. But his lyrics still didn’t seem disingenuous – though his stories were fictional, they were interspersed with personal nuggets – lines about repping Queens as well as lines simply about food, from his life as a chef. “Smokin’ heavy / artichokes spread over spaghetti / I flow for the green, snow and confetti”
Action Bronson’s most recent mixtape released last week, Rare Chandeliers, superficially promised the same shock value as his previous work. The album art told us it would have everything we loved about Bronsolino – graphic violence, gratuitous sexual descriptions, weed, and a general sense of “What the fuck is going on here?” But the tape itself comes up woefully short. Rather than expanding his palate to include more flavorful, unique ways of making his audience squirm, Action Bronson regresses, exposing his artistic shortcomings and de-emphasizing what he does best – the unexpected.
On Rare Chandeliers, Bronson pairs with acclaimed producer The Alchemist. The pairing seems like it should work. Alc has the ability to make beats for any style, and Bronson’s style is one of the strangest. But rather than working together to achieve a cohesive sound, the balance of power is tilted heavily towards Action Bronson. In nearly every song, the beat switches for every verse, trying to match the stylistic and lyrical changes Bronson is making. The Alchemist is seemingly trying to keep up with Action Bronson – the two seem neither cohesive nor compatible. The Alchemist’s beats are too complex, too dope, for Bronson’s jumpy style. This isn’t a knock on his skill. He would simply benefit from working with stripped-down shittier beats that let him shine more – think Big L.
Action Bronson broke down his mixtape in an interview with Complex Magazine. Describing both the tape and its namesake song he says, “At the end of the day, I’m just a fucking one of a kind, and so is Al. We’re just some rare chandeliers.” He pinpoints the problem with the tape. Action Bronson is too individualistic – he lacks the ability to develop cohesive, linear structure with anybody. He is too accustomed to being the center of attention to allow The Alchemist to shine. The dialectic between the two is non-existent.
While discussing the next song, “The Symbol,” Bronson states, “I’m trying to go with a theme here. I’m rap’s vigilante. I’m out for justice.” In doing so, he reveals his main downfall as an artist: a complete lack of narrative ability. If his narrative goal on Rare Chandeliers was to portray himself as a vigilante, it was an utter failure. There’s nothing to suggest he is anything but a nutjob. And there is nothing wrong with that – it was being a nutjob that made him successful in the first place. Why deny the truth?
On “Eggs on the Floor,” the beat changes for each individual verse Action Bronson spits. This song, and every other on the mixtape, could easily be subdivided into two or three different songs, each roughly 0:45 in length. Neither and inter- or intra-song connection exists on this tape, exemplifying a lack of storytelling ability. His stories are one-line, fictional tales – “Spin out the Beamer at the arena / bitches spot me like a Cheetah.” The cleverness is there, but what does he say about himself in the process? Gucci Mane’s storytelling style is similar, but the sum of his one-liners is a tale about Southern trap culture. The sum of Bronson’s individual stories is a garbled mess. We have already heard him tell stories like this on previous tapes – this isn’t new or exciting anymore.
Even his style seems stale and replicable. On “Modern Day Revelations” the Alchemist tries to direct him towards perhaps his closest hip-hop match: early Eminem. The non-stop drug, violence, and sex references tie them together. The beat drops, and it has the same basic melody and rhythm as “Guilty Conscience” from The Slim Shady LP. But Bronson is simply not as talented as Eminem. “Guilty Conscience” has three mini-stories tied together within a larger story. “Modern Day Revelations” just has a series of clever lines tied together with no larger structure. At the end of Bronson’s verse, Roc Marciano drops a verse in the exact style of Action Bronson, full of food, drugs, and uncomfortable imagery, and he does it better than Bronson. He tells an actual story while still talking about “cracking crustaceans” and “crab dipped in the garlic.” Roc’s verse was dope because we didn’t expect it from him – but we do already expect it from Action Bronson.
Perhaps if Rare Chandeliers was a listener’s first exposure to Action Bronson, they might derive the same uncomfortable pleasure the rest of us did when we first heard him on Bon Appetit ….. Bitch!!!!! or Dr. Lecter. But having become accustomed to his appearance, his culinary past, and his vulgarity already, we have become desensitized to what makes Bronson unique. The image of a morbidly obese redhead having violent sex being forced into our heads by his lyrics no longer hold the same disturbing value they once did – we have already been forced to imagine this in his previous works. For Action Bronson to continue his ascent in the rap game, he needs to find a way to develop a compelling narrative or make his music as unexpected as it once was to us. Otherwise, it seems that he has peaked.