Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful
Atlantic Records/Vice: 2015
Due to the remarkable consistency of projects in Action Bronson’s early catalogue, the idea of the Queens-bred rapper going all “major-label” on us and putting his expanding network to use was worrisome. Each of Bronson’s past five releases have been produced entirely by one musician: Tommy Mas on Dr. Lecter, Statik Selektah on Well-Done, The Alchemist on Rare Chandeliers, Harry Fraud on Saab Stories, and Party Supplies on Blue Chips 2. So, while each release found Bronson’s rugged raps over a uniquely crafted backdrop, the songs themselves within each work, all felt like they were part of the same dedicated sound.
Action Bronson’s interests don’t veer far on any of these projects, and he isn’t the kind of rapper who’s eager to explore new themes or aesthetics. But, as the album approached, we heard there’d be more than nine different producers over thirteen tracks. Major-label debuts are almost always less cohesive than an artist’s earlier fare. Budgets rise and the opportunity to work beyond one’s prior reach is appealing—but what often results is an album that plays like an unorganized resume, with more attention spent on one’s range of abilities rather than one they excel at the most.
Mr. Wonderful, thankfully, is not that album. Even with beats from big name producers like 40 (Drake’s in-house and executive producer), and Mark Ronson—in addition to the return of Selektah, Alchemist, and Party Supplies—Action Bronson is consistent in his approach to his craft; his brand of husky and often humorous rap is all that is allotted here, whether the beats fade out into down-tempo synth displays, or even singing the hook over big-beat piano rock, see the Bill Joel sampled “Brand New Car” produced by Mark Ronson.
Mr. Wonderful lacks depth, for sure, which audiences will be more readily attentive to on the heels of releases like those from J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, which are significantly more engaged in sociocultural themes and album-spanning concepts. There’s still the often-crisp lyricism with Bronson, but about as personal as you’ll ever find the 31-year-old is on “Actin Crazy,” where he offers: “You ain’t gotta worry ‘bout a ting I got it covered/Why you think I’m out here actin’ crazy/Ma, you know I’m still your little baby.” Another song that comes to mind is “Baby Blue” featuring Chance the Rapper, where Bronson discusses past relationships.
As the album fluctuates from the more energetic and playful early cuts to its funk-inspired core, it’s difficult not to buy into Bronson and the caricature he develops throughout. Much of his raps sound as if he’s performing them live, with his inflection consistently as loud and emphatic as his voice will allow. His non-sequitur’s can, at times, make his trains of thought tricky to follow, but yet there’s also an appreciation to be felt for the sportiness of rhymes like, “Ma, we did it/I love you, you lucky slut/Since I was young I had the husky gut.”
Mr. Wonderful will not measure up to March’s other major rap release, To Pimp a Butterfly in concept or ideas, but it is still just as remarkably devoted to its vision, and remains an impressive effort for how it is at once so recreational, and yet the work of a deft, incredibly capable emcee. One of the hardest talents that a rapper may learn or not learn over the course of their career is to stick to what you’re good at, and Bronson—just one album in—seems to have already mastered this lesson.4 out of 5
You can purchase Action Bronson’s Mr. Wonderful on iTunes.