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
After the song ends, the camera keeps rolling. Bronson gets the woman’s phone number and she tells him that he’s going to be a star. She also confides that she hasn’t had sex in 21 years, but she’d do him now. Then he hoists her off the ground and police sirens squawk. It ends with him flashing an impish Dennis the Menace glance at the camera.
Action Bronson’s formal debut was 2011’s Dr. Lecter, which felt a little like a formal debut. There are plenty of inspired moments. But the appeal is heaviest to rap purists and anyone else entertaining by nimble politically incorrect rhymes about being “twisted off Manischewitz” and eating barbequed venison.
The big creative leap happened on last year’s Blue Chips, a pawn-shop collage of samples lifted from the Neville Brothers, Frank Zappa, The Flamingos, and other flotsam scrounged while stoned-surfing YouTube. Bronson became a writer as colorful and carnal as Henry Miller and as chimerical as Rick Ross. He’s “eating tacos in the Galapagos, higher than a opera note,” smoking out of Thanksgiving turkey bags, eating out Yugoslavian women with “baby bushes,” and buying prime rib from premium NYC “meat purveyor,” Pat LaFrieda. “Hookers at the Point” riffs on the 2002 documentary of the same time, with Bronson inhabiting the character of a cracked-out prostitute “suck[ing] a Jewish lawyer, or an African cabby,” a Puerto Rican john, and a pinky-ringed pimp named Montel (one “L”). But “9-24-11” might be the moment when he became one of the best rappers out. He fucks up his verses three times, coughs, and hacks up his worries, anxieties, and his family’s immigrant saga. It’s as confidently improvised, tough, and honest as rap gets.
The star turn was the video for “The Symbol,” from late 2012’s Rare Chandeliers, his collaboration with the similarly Semitic Alchemist. The result being the greatest Hebrew hip-hop contribution since “So What’cha Want.” Wearing a blond Brian Jones mop-top wig and a denim vest, Bronson is a ’70s crime boss, seducing harlots, buying delicious cocaine, and dispatching enemies with sadistic glee. He is the symbol, staring at himself in the mirror and only seeing exquisite features. He is the fat pretty boy who will dismantle you and cook pasta, a lost character from Jackie Brown.
Released as his first official project since signing to Vice/Warner Bros, Rare Chandeliers elicited raves. It’s weirder, heavier, and more psychedelic than its predecessors. It also features “Eggs on the Third Floor,” his most playful and possibly best moment as an artist. The beat switches to an old-school chant and he toggles back and forth between Jamaican toaster and block party Queens MC, who you can catch out in SoCal, spending five weeks in the grow house.
To use an analogy that my grandfather would understand, when Ornette Coleman first came up in the jazz world, he couldn’t escape the Charlie Parker comparisons until one day, he became Ornette Coleman. “Eggs on the Floor” is when it becomes obvious that there can only be one Action Bronson, a blunt and blunted Queens representative, hand-springing into the Buick, having wild nights with your wife, and always smoking spices. He feels like family.
Listen to Rare Chandeliers (explicit lyrics):
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Jews flocked to retreats like Marienbad, but what couldn’t be healed was Europe’s anti-Semitism