Action Bronson's major label debut brings everything you'd want from the Queens rapper
Action Bronson’s new album is a bid to be considered the funniest man in hip hop. A week after Kendrick Lamar’s album has the entire culture debating race, politics, and society, Mr. Wonderful reminds us that sometimes rap can also be about wicked-funny punch lines and ridiculous one-liners as much as it can attempt to impact culture itself. It’s that joke your friend makes to lighten the mood while your other two buddies are about to come to fisticuffs.
Bronson, whose real name is Arian Arslani, has built the ultimate name for himself. Through a Vice-produced web series, ludicrous lyrics, and notorious on-stage antics, Bronsolino is like a modern legend. If we were living pre-internet, he would have that Chuck Norris kind of vibe, where everyone talked about the insane stunts he’s pulled and exaggerated them with each telling.
The crazy part is that it seems like Bronson isn’t doing this as an attempt to build some sort of character; it’s who he really is. Through interviews, his web series, and his music, you can tell that you’re getting Arian Arslani: a man who loves the camera, loves to smoke weed, loves to rap, loves to cook and eat, loves to perform, and loves life. He might not change the way you think about our government, or gangbanging, or teen pregnancy, but he’s guaranteed to make you laugh if you just embrace his brand of comedic stoner-rap.
The bulk of the album is made of the character we know and love in Bronson. From the warm-up track “Brand New Car,” our artist jokes about being the most athletic man on the planet before failing to end the song, as he’s done on “Dreamer” and “Cirque Du Soleil.” It’s okay, because he jumps right in to the Statik Selektah-produced “The Rising.”
The beat is led by piano and organ backs up Bronson, who lays down two verses of Queens-bred hip hop before his buddy Big Body Bes talks some shit on the outro. From the opening bars, “Laid by the pool, my legs gettin' massaged by a professional / Strictly business, nothin' sexual / Seasonal vegetables lookin' exceptional / You ain't think I was hot then, now you wanna hum on my testicles” to Bes’ shit-talking outro, it’s the money-driven, comedy-ridden fantasy Bronson usually lives out on his music.
“Terry” borrows some melody from Bill Withers as The Alchemist lays down a luxurious beat for Bronson’s raps. The parallel to Rick Ross’ luxury raps can be drawn, but Bronson isn’t trying to peddle dope or create gangster credibility with his rhymes. Instead, he keeps it lighthearted:
“Virtuoso on a keyboard/ I rep the eastern seaboard, jeez Lord/ Please leave the Z3 keys before you leave/ Don't sneeze on my shit, cause for shiz I'mma flip ya/ Pedicured foot slide in the slipper/ Tryna do the remix with Pitbull"
Occasionally, Bronson will get absolutely absurd on the beat, boasting the same level of impossibilities that most rappers talk about. However, Bronson does it in a way that you can’t help but to laugh at. On “Terry”, it’s “All I do is eat oysters/And speak six languages in three voices.” On “Falconry,” it’s “I know you see me on the TV, lookin' like a hunk of beef/When I smile your baby mama shit her dungarees.”
On “Baby Blue,” he’s getting head in the opera. On “Galactic Love,” he’s winning spelling bees, walking under ladders, and building impossible bottles. The list goes on and on with the ridiculousness. Lyrically, it may not be super serious, but musically, it’s actually pretty good.
The entire album boasts a certain psychedelic edge that Bronson was cooking up for Mr. Wonderful. He’s been hyping up the trippiness of the album before its release, and it certainly delivered on that front. The last minute of “Terry” plays out like an alien abduction, or an interlude on some obscure Japanese psych-rock record from 1972. “City Boy Blues” doesn’t sound too far off from Sly & The Family Stone or other Woodstock acts that flourished throughout the ‘70s. And of course, “The Passage – Live From Prague” is a heady freak-out that acts as a prelude for the album-closing “Easy Rider,” and we all know how far-out that one is.
The production team did a killer job of creating a vibe throughout the album. The Alchemist, who has proven to be an elite beat-maker of our time, offers three incredible canvas’ for Bronson’s tongue-in-cheek art. Party Supplies, who played a variety of live instruments on the record, is on four of the tracks. Mark Ronson’s on two poppy and bouncy tracks, “Brand New Car” and “Baby Blue.” Oh No, 88-Keys, Statik Selektah, and Drake’s homie Noah “40” Shebib round out the stellar cast of producers who contributed.
Chance The Rapper and Meyhem Lauren are the only two guests who deliver actual verses to the album. Chance shines super-bright with his verse on “Baby Blue,” and as he curses an ex-lover we’re reminded of just how creative that man is on the mic. Mayhem Lauren, a childhood friend of Bronson, does his thing on “Falconry,” too.
Overall, Action Bronson has delivered a very nice album to his string of collaborative mixtapes, one-offs, and EPs. It’s probably his finest work yet, as the cohesive and psychedelic effort jumps around the funny-guy’s zany ideas, food preferences, and half-serious compliments to himself. Complete with great production, strong musicianship, and witty verses, Mr. Wonderful will pass 50 minutes like it’s one big bong rip.