While in New York earlier this year I was presented with a rare opportunity. I was to accompany Arian Asllani AKA Queens rapper Action Bronson, on a rare day off before his upcoming gauntlet of local and international tour dates. Bronsolini’s legendary status truly befits his Henry VII-like stature. And while Action is certainly not someone you’d describe as reserved in character, paradoxically the artist is notoriously shy when it comes to the media. So, naturally I jumped at the chance to get some face time with the former chef, whom has staked a name for himself off the back of his blistering raps that cover everything from the overfishing of snapper, to his fondness for prostitutes.
Action Bronson’s critically acclaimed debut album Dr. Lecter dropped early 2011, and had everyone rushing to figure out exactly who this red-headed Albanian was. His sample heavy beats blended perfectly together with an urgent delivery to create sounds that were reminiscent of the golden era of New York rugged rap music. But to label Action as just another throwback rapper would be doing him a disservice. His hilarious eccentricities, stoner humour and vivid storytelling (which often pushes the boundaries of good taste), put him above and beyond any trend or movement, and mark him as a truly unique rapper. He twists disgusting imagery with clever wordplay and executes it with a perfect delivery that makes you laugh out loud, while simultaneously looking around to make sure no one else is listening. The line “Straight Fleischmanns/In the private part of her pussy pocket/Randomly pussy farting/sold at the hookers auction” which Bronson spits on his track Thug Love Story, immediately springs to mind.
We spent the day hanging out at his house in Flushing, Queens, talking about cars, clothes and music, all through a haze of pot smoke. His spot was across the street from an elementary school and when I arrived the neighbourhood was still buzzing with children. Far from concerned, Bronson actually seemed amused by the situation despite his prodigious drug habit.
“I’m literally in a school zone every time when I do drugs. I only do drugs in a school zone (laughs). Today’s kind of an off day for me because tomorrow we’re leaving really early for a show in Ohio. We gotta catch an early flight and shit, so I’m just laying low. This is an everyday occurrence. You want real shit, right? You’re lucky I’m not in straight underwears right now. That’s how I sit around, that’s how I write raps – in underwear. Think about that. Every time you hear me rap, just know I wrote that in my underwear.”
Meeting the rapper in his own home, in his own neighbourhood was a unique insight as to the man behind the bravado, but Bronson wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m Queens born and bred. Growing up here was cool man. It’s like playing Double Dragon; it’s the same thing. My life is like a Double Dragon video game. You know, me and my man walking the streets having to beat up goons and shit.”
We began by smoking some strong weed and some tar-like marijuana product that didn’t seem to phase Action and his manager, Dro, but had me in a minute long coughing fit. “I mean, I don’t know the scientifics behind it,” he muses, holding the sticky tar, “but it’s just like pure fuckin’ extract of weed. You know how you get vanilla extract in the little jar, but it comes from fuckin’ hundreds of vanilla beans? That’s exactly what it is. It’s just a really, really, really intense hit of THC.”
By the time Bronson dropped his Blue Chips mixtape with frequent collaborator Party Supplies in 2012, he already had the attention of several record labels, and in August he announced over Twitter that he inked a deal with Vice/Warner Bros. The partnership is something Bronson is refreshingly positive about, “I wouldn’t go to a record label trying to get a deal, they came to us and uh, they’re just great fucking people.” But surely there were offers from other labels after the success of his mixtapes? “Let’s put it this way,” he reflects, “they made me feel the best out of everybody. There was other things on the table, but you know, at the end of the day I gotta go with my gut, where I think I’m gonna feel most comfortable.”
Twitter and Instagram have become mainstays in the daily PR rituals of the modern celebrity and Bronson isn’t one to be left behind, despite his self professed technological illiteracy. Twitter users who follow Action Bronson know that the punchlines and toilet humour doesn’t end when the music stops, he’s constantly cracking smutty jokes and shooting off topic. “It’s fun, it’s cute you know. You get to fuckin’ say things that are cool and people respond to them. You know I just do what I do, if I’m on it, I’m definitely goin’ in. There’s no rhyme or reason. My daughter is a little fucking genius with the computer. Not like daddy. I’m not good at the computer. I know how to work Twitter. I know how to work fuckin’ Porn Hub, fuckin’ X Videos. I know how to Google the porn bitch that I wanna fuckin’ jack off too. I don’t know how to use Facebook. I don’t know how to…uhh…what don’t I know how to do? I don’t know how to do launch codes and shit.”
Bronson’s speech patterns and topics are erratic, which no doubt is part of his success as a rapper. Something verging on sentimental and warm, will be immediately followed by something shocking. Or sometimes an offhand comment will be a bizarre hybrid of both. However, he always has two conversational mainstays; his cars and his kids, especially his five-year-old son who he likes to personify into a pimp in his raps.
“Yeah, he’s into it… me and my son been getting our dicks sucked together on the tracks (laughs). I’ve had his dick sucked about 15 times in a song before. He’s five now so it ain’t a thing, he’s use to it. He knows what’s going on. When he sees a girl, he just drops his pants… but he leaves his boxers on. If he needs to pull up quick he’s out. If he needs to hop in the whip and jet he’s out. (Laughs) He stole the 850 the other day.” And with that we’ve segued into cars…
“My dream car that I’ve finally purchased is a 1996 BMW 850, that is my baby. I also got a 5-Series wagon and a 635CSI from ‘87. I like cars because my father always had a nice car. Beamers are just my style, they’re classy, they’re shapely, just perfect you know? I even got this BMW tattooed on my arm, that’s my first rap music car. It’s the first car I bought with rap money.”
Warming to the subject, Bronson insisted that we take a quick trip to the car shop to check on some restorations he’s getting done on his wagon, persistently blasting oriental funk and rock music the whole drive there and back. One track catches my attention, an old Thai song titled Ha Fang Kheng Kan by Teun-Jai Boon Praraksa, that Action sampled for his Blue Chips track Ron Simmons. Even though his production is considered conventional boom-bap, it’s this penchant for obscure musical nods that keep the critics from dismissing Bronson as simply pastiche.
“My father’s a musician and he was born in Yugoslavia. He was in those types of rock bands and he would always play me those tapes. I always keep a look out for all that type of music. I would take samples to Party Supplies and he’ll flip the shit out of it. A friend of mine who drums with TV On The Radio put me onto (this track) it and a bunch of other ‘70s South-East Asian soul and funk.”
Bronson also consistently differentiates himself from other rappers via his choice of collaborators and co-conspirators. Aside from his regular partners in crime Meyhem Lauren and Roc Marciano, he’s also aligned himself with controversial rapper, Riff Raff, on a number of tracks already. A polarizing odd couple, the two seem to work well together despite their differences. Perhaps this is a testament to just how self aware Bronson actually is. To align himself with a kindred white rapper whose persona and style teeters on the brink of performance art is to draw a fairly definitive line in the sand. Are we witnessing the birth of the rap game Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?
“I just like Riff Raff as a person. Who would (have) ever thought that I would say that? (The) fucking guy is a good guy. I was told that he was like the white Raekwon by somebody, and I kinda agree with that. The man is next level. Sometimes I take material from him. I won’t even lie – I get ideas from Riff Raff. He’s one of the best ever. I also fuck with Meyhem Lauren because that’s my brother; he pretty much put me on. He’s just an amazing wordsmith and a talented human being. I like all the Odd Future kids (as well). I don’t really give a fuck about anyone else, I just like my friends.”
As the day drew to a close, Action suggested that we get some food from his favourite Halal spot in Queens before we parted ways. The guy used to be a sous chef before his rap career took off and seems to talk about food in every verse, so I felt it was a safe bet to go with his suggestion. “We’re gonna go to fuckin’ 74th and Broadway in Jackson Heights to go get some Halal food, some lamb and rice. This one is just the one you know, there’s hundreds of these fuckin’ spots. But this spot has the sauce. The green sauce. It’s like herb sauce, mint, parsley, as well as the white and the hot sauce. It’s the shit.”
Conversation soon turns to his past in the kitchen. There’s a sense that food is a key to Bronson’s identity. A way of figuring out the mystery of his personality, and I question whether he’d consider going back. “I would love to but not in the same capacity I did. I worked slave labour, you know. I worked a lot of hours for not a lot of money. For one that doesn’t work on the books and for one that chooses to work with family, there just wasn’t any money. Chefs here, they start like corporate eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-five dollars an hour. That’s fuckin’ nothing, compared to a rap. Come on son… I’ll fuckin’ rather rap any single day of the week.”
So what does the future hold for Action Bronson? It seems like all eyes are on the bearded Albanian from Queens. Now with a record deal under his belt, he’s finally got the backing that will allow him to support his family and grow as an artist. But as to where it’s all heading? It seems like Bronson might be as unsure about that as the rest of us. Or if he does know, he’s not slipping in front of the media. With a guarded weariness he tells me, “It was hard doing things independently, when it’s just you and a couple people. But now being on Vice/Warner I’m confident I can do me, and focus on improving that rather than deal with other shit, you know?”
This story first appeared in ACCLAIM Magazine issue 28 – The En Route Issue.