Queens rapper Action Bronson has quickly become a cult figure who transcends hip hop. His food-inspired web series, Fuck, That’s Delicious, is solid gold and does a fine job of illustrating how food is still at the crux of the former chef’s life. Bronson’s rap career came to prominence with a slew of polished mixtapes that boasted the balance between production and rapping that complemented each other through and through. But on his full-length debut, Mr. Wonderful, the production is the strength, and Bronson struggles with recreating the symbiosis of elements that flowed so effortlessly on previous projects.
Action Bronson is a likable, larger-than-life figure—a real bon-vivant, if you will—and his persona will keep him relevant for years. His music must be taken with that as its central thesis. Where at one moment on “Terry,” he touts his love of sports and food with “Chuck Knoblauch/ spicy coconut curry from the Thai spot,” it’s endearing and induces nostalgic smiles from Yankee fans and haters alike. But it’s merely a set-up that allows the listener to later look past weak transitions like “First time I whacked off was a Penthouse/Roses in the bath at the penthouse.” Huh?
Mr. Wonderful features production from heavyweights like The Alchemist, 88 Keys, Oh No and even Mark Ronson. It’s unclear what Ronson is doing on this project, and his appearances just add to an often-disjointed flow of the record. But some of the finer production on the record merits praise. The album’s closing track, “Easy Rider,” produced by Party Supplies, is Bronson at his best, where he comes across comfortably, like he’s back up on a mixtape: “I heard your bitch still wears Ecko/Hide the drugs behind the box of De Cecco.” It’s impossible to not love that imagery, cause it’s real. That’s the life of a chef/rapper.
The album’s best track is the second single, “Actin Crazy,” produced by Drake’s right-hand man, Noah “40” Shebib. It’s a banger of a single, and it’s Bronson at his most emotional, talking to his immigrant mother on the hook and reppin’ his game. Shebib’s beat is perfectly paced for Bronson’s cadence, and the track works on every level (even if the beat is eerily similar to Clipse’s “Momma I’m So Sorry,” produced by The Neptunes.)
This is a give-and-take album. We forgive Bronson’s nasal hook on “Baby Blue,” while we wait for Chance the Rapper to flex on the Ronson beat. We forgive the scattered “Only in America” until Bronson and Party Supplies’ redeeming “A Light In The Addict” and the big jazzy sound that 88 Keys produces with Supplies on “City Boy Blues.” In the end, the charismatic Bronson is trying to find himself beyond the mixtapes, just as he did in the kitchen. And any capable chef knows that timeless recipes come with a certain degree of haphazard experimentation and funky flavors before you find a formula that sticks.