2018 has been monumental for hip-hop. While the year winds down we are being treated to an onslaught of high-profile releases, as artists seemingly try to get in on the action. Somewhere between Metro Boomin’s Halloween release and Vince Staples’ new album, “White Bronco” came into the world. While Action Bronson’s contemporaries opt for concept albums loaded with features, “White Bronco” is powered almost entirely by Bronson’s formulae of decadent imagery over luxurious retro samples. Save an airtight feature from ASAP Rocky, and his longtime pal/Viceland co-host Meyhem Lauren, this is nonstop Bronson, a cohesive painting of his hedonistic world and humour that has so quickly made him a cultural force.
Since his last full length, Bronson has been busy at his day job, as resident chef and food enthusiast for Viceland. Whether because he’s distancing himself from Vice (this will be his last record on the label) or he’s brushing off the food gimmick, “White Bronco” is low on food raps. What we do get, in spades, is his trademark imagery of ludicrous luxury, plastered against cultural references so creatively specific it’s impossible not to replay. In eleven short tracks (not one reaches three minutes) Bronson compares himself to actor Don Cheadle, footballer Dion Sanders and rising NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo, while shouting out largely forgotten 80’s flick “Johnny Handsome”, Obi-Wan Kenobi and, amazingly, Genesis’ 90’s single “I Can’t Dance”. That’s the beauty of this brand of rap; you can move between decades of references without anyone batting an eyelid.
Bronson did the artwork himself, and he uses the same vivid colours in his rhymes. His discography is essentially mounting attempts to one-up himself with wild similes, and at this he’s a prodigious talent. Consider the pleasure he would have gotten in writing “I’m built like pyramids in Egypt / ever since a fetus, I had visions of a leader / Purple X6 truck driven by a cheetah” (from “Live From the Moon”). Also consider the type of mind it takes to come up with something like “Why oh why do I feel like I’m starving in Lionheart? / And sniffled every drug that’s on the science chart?” (off “Ring Ring”). At one point he comes off like a stoned Victorian poet, conjuring up “who could it be? Running down Brick Lane, with a visible limp and an alligator pimp cane” (“Picasso’s Ear”).
He briefly steers offtrack to talk about love, paranoia and stress in the smooth “Prince Charming”, though he follows this with “enough of that soft shit”, and in the same track you get lines like “I crash more benzes than they practice with the dummies.” If you’ve been a fan of this in the past, Bronson’s offering up a smorgasbord. If you’re looking for anything more substantial lyrically, I’m surprised you’ve read this far. Like most hip-hop, you can believe as much of the lyrics as you’d like, though you can probably put as much stock in “twenty alligators died for this shit I put my foot in” (“White Bronco”) as you do “I jump naked out of planes” (“Swerve On Em”) or “all these women calling me Taye Diggs” (“White Bronco” again). Each is more improbable than the last, but of course that’s not the point – he’s talking shit and having a good time. It’s hard not to join him.
Even before the lyrics have time to land, you’re hit with perhaps the albums biggest strength; the sampling and production work by Bronson’s crate digging collaborators. Harry Fraud and Party Supplies have long since figured out how to best suit Bronson’s hedonism, and Knxwledge, Samiyam and Daringer all dust off beautifully smooth samples. The beats on this are perfect, from the funk of “Ring Ring” (Harry Fraud) to the 60’s psych of Brutal (Party Supplies), soul of “Picasso’s Ear” and the lounge jazz of “Live from the Moon” (both from Knxwledge, who is particularly on point, easily one of the most consistent producers in the game).
Bronson’s at his best when he’s rambling through verses, while hooks and choruses are easily his weak spot, something he seems aware of. When they do appear, (“Swerve on Em”, “Picasso’s Ear”) it seems like a formality, and you’re waiting for them to wrap up so we can get back to lines about drugs and comfortable lounges. It’s a minor problem, and the fact that you can get this much Bronson and not tire of his superficial raps is thanks to his power of imagery and the cult of his personality.