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Action Bronson - White Bronco (Album Review)

Friday, 23 November 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

This might sound absurd, at least at first, but Action Bronson could quite easily lay claim to being the perfect rap emcee. The New York heavyweight has strong projection, an addictive old-school flow, buckets full of charisma and wordplay on tap. The reason he's frequently compared to Ghostface Killah isn't just his cadence and vocal delivery–his verses often hark back to the Wu-Tang Clan legend in his pomp.

Being the perfect rap emcee doesn't necessarily translate to being the perfect songwriter, though. Bronson probably knows that given the fact he litters all his projects with incongruous ad libs, absurd references and samples seemingly hand picked from the dark side of YouTube. These elements don't necessarily add up to a minus, but there's a sense they're needlessly superficial when placed alongside the actual content. And 'White Bronco', unfortunately, is very light on that.

Too much of this snappy 26-minute LP feel undercooked–which is, yes, ironic due to his reputation as a master chef. The majority of tracks here are composed of expendable verses which, even for Bronson, appear to bear no conceptual significance at any point.

On the outlandish guitar-backed cut Telemundo, for example, he jumps from “'Bout to get this paper like Judge Judy...all these drugs just run through me” to “Now I'm shredding the guitar on a mountain, God damn, something groovy”. It's the sort of wild freestyle you throw out in an associative flurry, as any rapper who's jumped in a cypher will verify.

Fans may argue that's kind of the point. Bronson plays, for all intents and purposes, the character of a drug-addled chef with a death-defying swagger and a taste for indulgence. But the hilariously descriptive verses he dropped on 'Rare Chandeliers' or his 'Blue Chips' series are frustratingly sporadic here. Sure, he might strut with an “alligator pimp cane” (Picasso's Ear) and produce albums that are “only for dolphins” (Mt Etna), but these are generally snapshots into his psyche that appear on brief one-verse cuts that don't go anywhere.

It's a shame because aesthetically there's much to enjoy here. The production, courtesy of Harry Fraud, Party Supplies, Knxwledge and Daringer, is remarkably unified, honing in on ‘70s funk and soul ala Madlib's 'Pinata' beats. Bronson's Irishman Freestyle, a theme for the upcoming Martin Scorsese film he's been cast in, is bursting with character and the perfect palette for his irreverent imagery (“I'm butt naked with the Uzi on Broadway”). The only major departure is the dreamy synth-led closer Swerve On Em, which sounds like a cut by guest star A$AP Rocky that Bronson has drunkenly wandered in on.

No Action Bronson album could ever be described as dull, especially when he's spitting on retro production. He's a gifted natural rhymer and has a commanding presence to rival any of golden age hip-hop's finest. And any criticism towards Bronson's approach will probably just bounce off him–after all, he's got bigger fish to fry with his TV shows and film appearances. But those distractions don't make 'White Bronco' any less underwhelming. Whisper it, but just maybe Bronson is beginning to lose his hunger.

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