When Action Bronson, for all intents and purposes, debuted two years ago with Dr. Lecter, he presented rappers of these days and times with the perfect template to instantly attract the eyes and ears of hip-hop addicts young and old alike. The former chef appeared fully formed from the jump, equal parts Ghostface Killah and Big Punisher (to my ears, mostly the latter) and entirely absurd. He was spitting comedy bars with all the seriousness of a Wu-Tang weed carrier – which is to say, a lot of seriousness. This quickly aligned Bronson with the more absurd traditions of New York rap, where wordplay and imagery takes an extreme front seat to plausibility.
In this form, Bronson could do as Pun did and play the role of player despite his extreme weight, and he could do as is every rapper’s desire and play at stick-up man without any evidence to suggest he knew what he was talking about. It’s a realm most rappers don’t dare to enter – “Bird on a Wire” collaborator Riff Raff probably comes closest – where goofiness trumps talent, or realness. To Bronson’s great credit, free release Rare Chandeliers confirms that Bronson may still lack the latter but he’s in considerable possession of the former. Bronson’s not necessarily the storyteller GFK is, but he sure knows how to collage words the way this album’s cover does images.
It helps that this free LP/mixtape is entirely helmed by Los Angeles’ the Alchemist, who may have made his name on early-2000s boom bap but has really come into his own in the last couple of years by embracing the weed rap circle and becoming one of hip-hop’s most straight forwardly psychedelic producers. His increasing friendship with Madlib’s brother Oh No appears to have rubbed off with him in all the right ways, as he creates a cinematic environment throughout Rare Chandeliers that doesn’t feel too far from classic ‘70s blaxploitation – an irony that’s not easily lost on either he nor Bronson, both white and apparent fetishists of a culture twice removed from themselves.
Album closer “Mike Vick”, for example, lays out a template that would have felt right at home backing a driving montage from TNT Jackson while Bronson claims “Tandoori half-moons [are] in my haircut.” It’s a totally meaningless piece of imagery, given the Tandoor is a clay oven used to cook Indian dishes and has little to do with half-moons other than a restaurant in Half Moon Bay, California. And this is one of Bronson’s tamer images. Lead single “The Symbol” will find the 300-plus pound rapper “handspring, half-twistin’ to the Buick”. This is not the only gymnastic move Bronson will bust out before the album’s done.
Bronson – and, for the moment, Alchemist – approach rap like a Mr. Show or The State sketch. Throw ridiculous shit at the wall, and don’t hope it sticks – make sure it does. Plenty of the lines Bronson proposes on Rare Chandeliers could one day be looked at by this generation the way Reggie Noble’s “Switchin’ speeds like Bruce Lee on a Fuji in a movie” has been revered for decades now. And if there’s any question in your mind that Rare Chandeliers is a love letter to hip-hop, try to argue against the final third of “Eggs on the Floor”, where Bronson impersonates mainstream Fat Joe atop a beat that’s inarguably old school, Diggin’ in the Crates Joe of the mid-‘90s.
The overall effect of Rare Chandeliers is probably the most enjoyable straight up rap exhibition since Curren$y’s Pilot Talk. Which, if you may have been turned off by due to Curren$y’s laconic weed head drawl, Action Bronson is well prepared to smack you with a much more traditionally accepted delivery. Just getting an album that one could comfortably compare to Pilot Talk on a technical level is enough for me, but add often gut-bustingly hilarious punchlines and the cinematic flair of Alchemist’s beats and you’ve got, for my money, the most immediately entertaining rap album that’s dropped all year.
And it’s completely free, because it’s 2012 and the rap industry is insane.
// Notes from the Road
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