Why Action Bronson Is the 'Mr. Wonderful' Hip Hop Needs
Know thyself. Everyone’s heard the ancient Delphic aphorism, but in the world of hip-hop it might as well be the gold standard for success and longevity. Action Bronson knows himself. Bronson, 31, released his major label debut album, entitled Mr. Wonderful, on March 23rd to generally positive reviews. But regardless of their opinions on the album, critics are in agreement over one thing: this project is Bronson’s.
That’s an important point that can’t be underscored enough. Because as the son of Albanian and Jewish immigrants, Bronson (whose real name is Arian Aslani) doesn’t look like the prototypical rapper. Still, he is part of a legacy that traces its origins back to the humblest beginnings of the genre. Bronson grew up in Flushing, Queens, the borough from which A Tribe Called Quest, Run-DMC, Mobb Deep, Kool G Rap, and so many others were born. So while Bronson might not look the part, his neighborhood grants him legitimacy in his own right. “If he were from Portland, he might be perceived differently,” as Rembert Browne explains.
Rapping was originally little more than a hobby for Bronson, as he first garnered attention and acclaim throughout New York City as a gourmet chef. But a broken leg from a cooking accident enabled the then full-time chef to commit himself to his music more seriously. From 2011 to 2013, Bronson released a handful of mixtapes and secured a major record deal, first with Warner Bros., then on Vice’s label through Atlantic Records. However, as his hip-hop star was on the rise, Bronson didn’t forget his first passion: food. On May 6th, 2014, Bronson premiered Fuck, That’s Delicious, a food-oriented web series through Vice Media’s food blog, Munchies, chronicling the chef-turned-rapper’s culinary exploits, as he toured across the country.
It’s not uncommon for Bronson to play with his food. His lyrics are brimming with food metaphors, imbuing every song with an ingenuity and cleverness unlike anyone else’s. The secret behind the success of Bronson’s inventive use of language? Sticking to what he knows. "Conscious rappers are cool and all that but I can only take so much of it. You need to stick to what you are all about and that is what I do. If you are a conscious rapper then you do that, but I am just here to have fun some and throw some old school things that you may not have heard in Rap before – like throw some metaphors about food in there because of my culinary background. I just have fun with it, whatever flows. I am not one of these rappers that talk about being good because I am not good. I can’t talk about being righteous if I am not righteous so I would rather not," Bronson explained to Hip Hop DX in 2011.
But Bronson is known for playing with more than his food. The music video for “Baby Blue”, featuring Chance the Rapper recreates some of the most iconic scenes from Eddie Murphy’s 1988 comedy, Coming to America. Bronson is able to put himself in the roles originally played by Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and others not because he’s from Zamunda, but because he’s from Queens. He can devote an entire music video to homage a cult film, because Bronson knows who he is and where he comes from, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously either.
“Know thyself” is both a proverb and a warning. It was said to those who might overestimate what they are and to those who might pay too much attention to the opinion of the multitude. Action Bronson knows himself. He’s Flushing born and raised. He’s the son of Albanian-Jewish Immigrants. He’s jonesing for some Texas style Poutine. He may still be a newcomer– but he’s Mr. Wonderful.
Images courtesy of Atlantic Records