Big Body Bes, Action’s cousin-cum-hypeman, summed up Saaab Stories in a recent tweet: “FORGET ABOUT BUYIN UR BABY DAT SIMILAC , GO GET @ActionBronson SAAAB STORIES..” This is not as much of an exaggeration as you might think, owing to the fact that Saaab Stories is the most crucial 25 minutes of rap music to come out so far this year. Producer Harry Fraud and Action Bronson (and Big Body, of course) have elevated their crafts to a new standard across this EP; Harry Fraud is producing like nobody else, and Action Bronson is rapping with unbelievable talent. The two men are no strangers to full-length collaborations (Harry Fraud’s Rugby Thompson with Smoke DZA, Action’s entire discography) but this is something special; you can tell they were both saving their best for this one.
Saaab Stories is high-concept rap. Every song does something different, and excels at every quirky conceit Fraud and Bronson attempt. “No Time”, one of the album’s highlights, is Harry Fraud’s best beat yet. The producer laces an entire jazz band underneath Bronson’s rhythmic flow, conducting more than simply programming a track. The synthesis of the horns and drums evokes Q-Tip’s better beats as much as it does a ’70s movie soundtrack. The track also sports Big Body boasting “I need a bitch that’s nice with knives” in a skit that evokes classic Raekwon/Ghostface bits. This is no coincidence: Action’s lyrics seem very Raekwon-like throughout the EP, with his obligatory food obsession and obtuse references to sports figures (if nothing else, Action taught me about Marty Janetty and Shawn Kemp on the same track). It’s hardly a coincidence: Cuban Linx came out two years after 36 Chambers, the same amount of time between Saaab Stories and Dr. Lecter. Action is maturing as a rapper in the classic vein, releasing a possible magnum opus at the perfect time.
Looking at Stories as a cohesive piece is difficult. The songs take after Action’s lyrics- that is, they don’t connect with each other, each one acting as a ridiculous idea that deserves to be expanded upon but isn’t. They’re all theme songs to larger and more outlandish events. “Seven Series Triplets”, for example, jumped out to me from the moment I saw the tracklist. The phrase “ft. Raekwon and Prodigy” does nothing near disappointing, but it’s over before it really gets a chance to begin. Action delivers an opening verse recycling the Shawn Kemp punchline and then surrenders the track to Prodigy’s wizened voice and Raekwon’s clean-up batting. The song seems like just another introduction on a track full of ideas just barely explored.
Skill is not a question for these artists right now: Fraud and Bronson are both at the top of their fields. Bronson brings out his classic flow along with some newer, darker variants. Regardless of delivery, his lyrics are better than ever. A burst of storytelling on “Alligator” is navigated with Slick Rickian dexterity, and I’m baffled as to how “Strictly 4 My Jeeps” isn’t on every radio station countrywide considering what a perfect summer anthem it is. Harry Fraud has always been a chameleon, adrift between the poles of the Coke Boys and the indie rap scene, but he may have found his spiritual match in Bronson, a man who loves Jon Caramanica and Kool G Rap equally. They aren’t making street music any more than they’re making “hipster-hop,” they’re simply making amazing rap music. Saaab Stories is like nothing before, taking dozens of ideas from two of rap’s most creative artists and melding them into seven artisanal tracks. We can only hope that Action and Harry are planning another album, a main course for this sensational appetizer.