Action Bronson Is My Grandfather
Meet the genius Jewish rapper from Queens who isn’t up for a Grammy, but should be, and will be
Action Bronson is a 29-year-old chef-turned-rapper of Albanian and Jewish extraction from Queens, who is internationally known for his love of THC, epicurean feasts, and whip gymnastics.
He reminds me of my grandfather.
My tough Jewish grandfather died four years ago at 88. He worked in the garment industry, stayed unhappily married, and unsuccessfully faithful for a half century. He never listened to a complete rap song in his life—even though his early adult years were spent in Hollis, Queens, cradle of Run-DMC. Andrew Weiss preferred jazz and swing. He attended innumerable shows at the Savoy and Apollo, bequeathing several thousand CDs that still sit adjacent to my desk, waiting to be uploaded: Duke Ellington, Studio Sessions, 1957-62, Miles and Quincy Live at Montreaux, Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio, and others.
Anecdotes about my grandfather that suggest that, as Action Bronson put it in a lyric, he “was wild since the Rabbi snipped it”:
♦ On the occasion of his 80th birthday party, my recently widowed grandpa brought a black 50-year old woman named Janice to the Pico Blvd. branch of Delmonico’s. She was a church-going woman in a floral-print dress and pearl necklace. Everything was all good until my uncle congratulated him on hitting “the big 8-0,” and my grandfather suddenly scowled and whispered, “Shh … she thinks I’m 65.”
♦ At 83, he was rushed to the hospital after suffering a very minor stroke. His first words to the nurse upon regaining consciousness were: “Hey baby, can you get me a little grass?”
♦ His long-term advice to me was “marry” a rich woman. “The first thing we got to do is stretch our your tongue.” I was 11.
♦ When asked what he did during World War II, he responded, “Try not to get shot and try not to get the clap. One out of two ain’t bad.”
Grandpa was raw. Howard Stern raw. Action Bronson raw.
Bronson represents the off-grid New York that you would think had disappeared if you only went no further south or east than the Barclays Center—the cab drivers rambling at micro-machine speed, the freaks and fishmongers of Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel. The old fuck you-pay me New York City. Sure, there are “kreplach soups, and sable” and shouts out to Shaevitz & Shaevitz, a law firm in Jamaica, Queens, but the sensibility isn’t Jewish so much as it is old-world immigrant. “Barry Horowitz,” named after the WWF jobber who once entered the ring to “Hava Nagila” cohabits with “Larry Csonka,” named after the ’70s Miami Dolphin fullback.
Bam Bam, born Arian Asllani, first back-flipped into the whip 30 months ago with a YouTube video called “Imported Goods.” Over a Diana Ross loop, he pushes a Beamer around in a New York Knicks Jersey. There’s a blunt behind his ear, tattoos, baby fat, and a ginger beard. His syllables slash in homage to fellow Queens native, Kool G Rap. There was no hype bubble or big name co-sign. Just a no-frills Flushing native rapping and running into Peking ducks and turbaned men on his daily errands—while happening to sound uncannily like Ghostface Killah, a vocal resemblance that was initially both the main selling point and chief strike against.
You started to see all sides of the rapper’s character in the video for “Shiraz,” where Bronson goofs with an Italian deli owner and purchases prosciutto, back-slapping like he was a young Ed Koch. He cracks open Philly blunts in the park and flirts and freaks like Jodeci with a woman who looks like a wilder version of my grandpa’s ex-girlfriend Janice.
Jews flocked to retreats like Marienbad, but what couldn’t be healed was Europe’s anti-Semitism