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A raunchy, cylinder-shaped ginger of Eastern European ancestry might not be the first dude you'd peg for rap stardom, but that's exactly the mantle Action Bronson is on the verge of possessing. Over the last few years, the 28-year old Queens native has become one of hip-hop's most charismatic and colorful new characters, thanks to his wicked sense of humor, a buffet of impressive releases and the rare knack for updating cherished East Coast aesthetics into indisputably modern music.
In 2011, The New York Times hailed Bronson as “one of the most promising prospects in New York hip-hop.” That formidable potential is now being realized. When Bronson gleefully tossed slabs of meat from Peter Luger’s famed steakhouse into a wild-ass crowd at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the mosh pit of skaters, knuckleheads, rap purists and young women was evidence of his ever-widening appeal.
Born Ariyan Arslani, Bronson grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, the son of an Albanian immigrant father and a Jewish mother from Brooklyn. He was an only child, but the population of the two-bedroom apartment swelled to as many as 13 inhabitants due to cousins, aunts, uncles and refuges from ethnic strife in Kosovo.
It was in the family restaurant that Bronson developed his enduring fascination with quality eating. After studying in the Art Institute of New York’s culinary program, he took jobs ranging from busboy to sous chef. Consequently, songs in his discography often read like menu items: “Roasted Bone Marrow,” “Pouches of Tuna,” “Jerk Chicken,” “Ceviche.” Rolling Stone, appreciating the theme, described Bronson’s music as “the ultimate in comfort food, with a contemporary twist.”
While Bronson was a ravenous musical connoisseur who grew up admiring artists like Kool G. Rap, Cam’ron and Mobb Deep, he never contemplated rapping himself. But a few years back, he penned a satirical song over a Southern beat CD and the results were improbably impressive. With an oversized personality, intricate wordplay and the cagy charm of an outer-borough striver, he was a natural. And after a broken leg forced him out of the kitchen, Bronson began writing seriously. In 2007, joined with Mayhem Lauren and Jay Steele to release the Last of a Dyin’ Breed: Volume 1 mixtape under the collective name “The Outdoorsmen.”
Bronson’s insistent delivery and penchant for flamboyant phraseology initially drew some comparisons to other rappers, but he has long since matured beyond such superficialities. In 2011 alone, he released Bon Appetit....Bitch!, The Program EP, Dr. Lecter and Well Done. 2012 introduced collaborations with artists like Earl Sweatshirt, Riff Raff and SpaceGhostPurp, as well as Blue Chips, the brilliant street album produced by Party Supplies. In awarding the effort a lofty 8.1, Pitchfork called Bronson “one of the most hilarious and creative writers in rap” who savagely captured the essence of New York’s seedy soul: “It is what a Weegee photograph would look like now.”
In August of 2012, Bronson signed with Vice/Warner Bros Records. With the leading youth media company's multi-platform power now backing him, forthcoming projects like Rare Chandeliers with Alchemist, Saab Story with Harry Fraud and Blue Chips 2 will find countless new listeners. His debut LP on Vice/Warner Bros. Music is scheduled for 2013. For Action Bronson, this accelerating rise to greatness may just persuade him to put off “laying back, eating poutine” for a little while longer.
After extensive national and international touring in 2014, Bronson released his debut studio album Mr. Wonderful in March 2015. The work received critical acclaim from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and more, debuting at #7 on the Billboard 200. To date, the four album singles racked up a cool 45m plays on Soundcloud alone. Mr. Wonderful boasts an all-star cast, from features by Chance The Rapper to production by greats like Mark Ronson, 40, Statik Selektah, and The Alchemist. Living up to the hype, SPIN says of the project, “It's the rare rap album that actually rewards its mixtape following.”
In March 2016, Bronson powerfully continued his meteoric rise with the cable television premiere of F*ck, That’s Delicious. As host of the series, Bronson plays the rap game’s Anthony Bourdain, marrying his passion for food and music. Each episode is nothing short of an immersive culinary adventure documenting Bronson’s globe-trotting lifestyle and exquisite palette. F*ck, That’s Delicious debuted on Munchies, Vice’s food online food channel in May 2014. Driven by Bronson’s unparalleled wit, charisma, and authenticity, the series quickly became a fan favorite, generating tens of millions of YouTube views. The explosive popularity of F*ck, That’s Delicious was undeniable and it was ordered to series on Viceland, Vice Media’s new cable network, as a premier flagship network program in early 2016. Since the series premier this spring, F*ck, That’s Delicious keeps on trucking – its continued popularity and draw has it renewed for a second season to air later this fall.
Since proving his chops as a host and entertainer, Bronson is set to take the reins and add a new twist to the massively popular, cult favorite TV show Ancient Aliens. With a nod to the classic Mystery Science Theater 3000, the new series entitled Travelling the Stars: Ancient Aliens with Action Bronson was also adopted by Viceland. On the show, Bronson combines two of his favorite things: watching Ancient Aliens and smoking weed along with insightful and often ridiculous commentary. Bronson will host the first season along with special guest friends such as Tyler, The Creator, Schoolboy Q, Too Short, Earl Sweatshirt, and Eric Andre to name a few.
In March 2016, Bronson announced that he would be releasing his own cookbook, titled Fuck, That's Delicious: An Annotated Guide to Eating Well with Abrams Publishing, stirring excitement throughout the hip-hop and culinary worlds. The book is currently being written and is schedule for release in fall 2017.
While the name Action Bronson might be new to some, he’s been shaking up the worlds of food and music, two massively powerful New York City institutions, for years. But this is just the beginning for the Bronsoliño. Whether he’s grilling octopus with Seth Meyers, hanging out with his celebrity chef friends like Mario Batali, or performing at music festivals around the world, Bronson is determined to make his mark.
What becomes of the child prodigy? Historically the answer lies somewhere between Bobby Fischer and Lil Wayne, but for Earl Sweatshirt, the Los Angeles-based MC who at 16 released an album that helped spearhead a movement in contemporary rap, simply continuing to exist in that space is something of a victory. “In terms of the lineage of all the shit that I've done, niggas have really really grown up with me,” Earl says. “I'm a surviving child star.”
It’s an amusing if not wholly accurate categorization. The world has watched and listened to a boy become the man, each phase of his development marked by a daring and original musical document. The MC’s fourth solo project, Some Rap Songs, comes three years after the highly acclaimed I Dont Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, an album that came two years after his debut, Doris, which was the successor to his tide-changing debut mixtape, Earl.
Some Rap Songs serves as another installment of the MC’s continuously evolving worldview and a chronicle of his evolution as an artist and a human being. “My childhood and the beginning stages of my adulthood have all been in the public light,” Earl says. “I can grow as much as I want by myself but I'm a public figure. In order for my growth to be complete, the work has to reflect it.”
Correspondingly, Some Rap Songs references one of the most severe growing pains of life as we know it, the passing of a parent. Earl’s father, South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile passed in January of 2018. Earl’s parents split when he was young and for the majority of his life, communication with his father had been sparse. When he passed, the rapper was roughly a month out from from a reunion that would facilitate a long-anticipated conversation.
“Me and my dad had a relationship that’s not uncommon for people to have with their fathers, which is a non-perfect one,” Earl says. “Talking to him is symbolic and non-symbolic, but it’s literally closure for my childhood. Not getting to have that moment left me to figure out a lot with my damn self.”
Between the last album and Some Rap Songs Earl would also change how he lived. He moved back in with his mother for a brief period (“That’ll change your shit up real quick and make you figure out at least where you want to go.”) and then to New York City (“I was fake transitioning into being some New York nigga”), before finally returning to LA. “I gotta change my life every time I want to change my music,” he says. “I didn't want to settle into the music that comes from being too comfortable.”
Some Rap Songs is hardly an uncomfortable listen, but it is a project that rewards engagement. Not unlike I Don’t Like Shit, it is both bar-heavy and concise, eschewing wisdom or platitudes for cold honesty and perspective. It's an album from an MC who began raising the bar in his adolescence, and who at age 24 can reflect on his existence and what his art has wrought in a way he couldn’t possibly have before. “I take this shit seriously,” Earl says. “And I take myself improvement seriously because I know that I have a platform. I’m trying to be a better person through real action and not just talking about it. My karma comes to me in people: in who I'm speaking to and who I'm speaking for."
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