Review: Action Bronson kicks the door in with ‘Mr. Wonderful’

It is damn near impossible not to love Action Bronson. Even if you don’t love his off-kilter, food-referencing brand of East Coast hip-hop, the way he lives his life alone is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

This is a man who worked as a chef until (somehow) breaking his leg in the kitchen and deciding to become a rapper while he recovered. Action Bronson may be the most wonderfully indulgent person alive. He looks at the common man’s notion of ‘excess’ the way Godzilla observes a tiny Japanese village underfoot. This is a man who will eat your house, your family and everything you cherish if it strikes his fancy, he loves food so much that he has his own culinary web series entitled Fuck, That’s Delicious, because of course.

A man whose beard could successfully lobby to become the 51st State of the USA. A man who has probably inhaled more vaporised cannabis in the last week than I’ve breathed legitimate oxygen in my entire life. A man who once left the stage in the middle of a festival to urinate, not missing a single lyric on the mic the entire time. A man who is simply not in the business of giving fucks. Everything about him is beyond endearing, which is why it’s so satisfying to watch him continue to emerge as one of the creative forerunners in modern hip hop.

Today marks the Queens native’s major label debut with the release of Mr. Wonderful, his second studio album and his first new material since 2013’s BET award-nominated mixtape Blue Chips 2. Pleasingly, the influence of a major label hasn’t diluted or interfered with the offbeat Action Bronson sound and gleefully irreverent lyricism that won him so many fans on cuts like Strictly For My Jeeps.

There are even a few unexpected twists and turns along the way. Album opener and Mark Ronson-produced Brand New Car features a quirky loop of Billy Joel’s Zanzibar that’s a little bit sickly but is ultimately offset by a monstrous pair of verses from Bronson. City Boy Blues even has the big guy trying on some mournful blues vocals for size, although it’s far from his best. There’s a little bit of something different in places here, some of it unexpected and awkward, but thankfully Mr. Wonderful doesn’t deviate from the recipe too much.

The semi-autobiographical Actin’ Crazy is a particular highlight, icy keys layered under the lyrical contradiction of Bronson reassuring his mother that he’s still her little baby while simultaneously flowing about Adriatic Summers and eating oysters with hoes. The Alchemist-produced Terry is sublime and smoky, a piped-in bar crowd responding to each lyrical punchline Bronson drops almost giving the track a stand up comedy vibe.

Debut single Easy Rider features a 70s B-movie backtrack peppered with wailing guitars (‘Feelin’ like Slash in front of the chapel/Leaning back with the Les Paul’) and the sound of a motorcycle as Bronson ‘rides the Harley into the sunset’ on the hook. The rain-drenched A Light In The Addict is sobering and atmospheric as hell and a close second for track of the album, with the soulful singing this time left thankfully to Canadian crooner Black Atlass. The song is Bronson’s journey into the depths of success, lamenting ‘Fuck that I want the crown off anybody head/I wouldn’t care if everybody’s dead’.

The highlight though is Bronson lobbing the alley up for Chance The Rapper to oop on Baby Blue, a satisfyingly petty, jaunty piano-driven, thumb-in-nose ‘fuck you’ to ex-girlfriends the world over. Bronson reading the specials menu of ‘white snake with underwear sauce’ and claiming to have received fellatio in the front row of an Andrea Bocelli opera made me spit out my cup of tea, but it’s Chance’s deadpan list of minor inconveniences he hopes to befall his lost lover, including ‘I hope every soda you drink already shaken up’ and ‘I hope you never get off Fridays and you work at a Friday’s that’s always busy Fridays’ that steals the show.

While Kendrick might be contemporary hip hop’s prophet, flowing from a higher astral plane, Action Bronson is its Seth Rogen, accessible, no-frills and rapping right down here in the muck with the rest of us while we all root for him. He is absolutely living a life most everymen can only dream of and this only looks to be the foot of the mountain for him. He opens Actin’ Crazy with ‘Opportunity be knockin; let a motherfucker in’, but with a major label debut as bitingly funny, deliciously clever and honest as this one, Action Bronson isn’t so much waiting to be let in as he has Spartan-kicked the door down.

Mr. Wonderful is out now via Atlantic Records and Vice Records