Since the day it popped up on my Twitter timeline, Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly hasn’t left my ears. I’ve been unraveling the layers, getting lost in the groove, and filling my soul with the funk. I forgot all about the madness that the end of March is bringing. Earl has an album coming, Wale is a week away from releasing his most anticipated project since Ambition, and Action Bronson is finally releasing his debut opus. Three days before its official release, the internet has gotten their thieving hands on the Queens rapper's latest, and hopefully greatest. I can’t think of an album more worthy to interrupt my bonding with Kendrick’s sophomore than Mr. Wonderful. From the kitchen to Atlantic Records, Action Bronson is one of the most entertaining rappers emerging from the underground. He has character, charisma, and swan dives like an angelic dolphin. I’m regretting my decision to skip breakfast, the chef-turned-rapper is known for bridging the two worlds, and my stomach isn’t ready.
If you’re new to the rodeo, the 1 Listen Album Review is something special. The goal is to capture the magic of listening to an album for the first time and documenting the gut reaction. It’s not about a deep analysis, first thought, only thought. It’s like the Jack Kerouac approach to album reviews. I’m not allowed to stop, rewind, or skip a single song. I’m excited, I’m hungry, lets go!
"Brand New Car"
Action starts off singing about jazz guitars and thanking his audience. Did he just stop the song to get his voice right? This guy's humor is something else. His flow is fluid, the beat is fun, this is a nice introduction. He literally messed up, admits his shame, and moves on to the next song. He's far from a perfectionist, this is going to be a fun listen.
"The Rising" (ft. Big Body Bes)
This thunderstorm effect takes me back to Dark Side Paradise. Wonder what Big Sean is doing? Another incredible beat, this is hot, scorching, Action is grinding across this like he's going for the high score in Tony Hawk Underground 2. Lyricsm from this top tier has me falling from my chair, I'll need Rap Genius assistance to catch every line. Did he just say, "I'm shooting guns without putting my son down," that’s a Grand Theft Auto mini-game waiting to happen. Ha, Big Body Bes is talking that talking. Great, simply great. Action is two for two so far.
Action slows things down, his voice really does resemble Ghostface, it's undeniable when he breaks out the slow flow. He has some of the best imagery in the game. How do Nathan and Lucas do this? My mind and my fingers aren't synced. Such a smooth beat, the instrumental is beautiful, Alchemist is truly a magical being. This sounds like what it feels like to look at Marilyn Monroe in Playboy. Something is happening, we went from Marilyn Monroe on the Playboy cover into the Twilight Zone. Wasn’t expecting the transition, there’s some weird chanting that sounds like “run away from the fall.” I hear bird sounds…
Wasn't ready for the abrupt ending. I'm still wondering about the birds. This bassline is crazy. Bronson hasn’t spit a dull verse, it’s easy to get lost in his wordplay. This might be my favorite hook so far, simple, but effective. I can see this record, already released as a single, being a great during live performances. Ha, Action is taking credit for bringing chubby back, Biggie would be proud. Production has been good, diverse, but captivating.
"Falconry" (ft. Meyhem Lauren & Big Body Bes)
Oh man, this sounds cartoonish, something you would hear during Saturday mornings. Don’t know how I feel, sonically there’s a lot going on. The first rap feature, Mayhem Lauren, turns in a solid performance. Big Body Bes returns to end the song with a hilarious closing.
"Thug Love (Interlude)"
We have Bronson conversing with someone, I don’t know what’s going on. He just burst out singing, this has to be somewhere in NYC. I can hear the cars in the background. This is an oddly-placed interlude, doesn't really connect with the previous tracks. This guy is painfully singing his soul out. Did Action Bronson find America’s next Idol??? Oh shit!
"City Boy Blues" (ft. Chauncy Sherod)
WOOOOO!! This beat is nasty. The instrumentation sounds live, hard hitting and jazzy, just woke me all the way up. Chauncy Sherod is doing the damn thing. Bronson is singing the blues, this was the most unexpected plot twist. There isn’t any rapping, it feels like a filler, but a damn good filler. The electric guitar just made its grand appearance. Whoever this woman is, she is amazing.
"A Light In The Addict" (ft. Party Supplies & Black Atlass)
Light rain drops, a sensual bassline, some piano keys, and a soulful voice mumbles. This is sounding like a jam session in an attic, or garage. A minute into the song, and the drums finally drop. Action finally kicks things off, he sounds serious, the first time all album he hasn’t been humorous. He’s singing, eh, no thanks Bron Bron. Black Atlass sounds good, now that is a nice voice. I like this song, but the album is starting to feel a bit unfocused. Great ideas but it’s departed from the foundation of the first few songs. Man, this jams. I feel like I’m in a bar, sipping gin, listening to the Jazz my uncle adores. Move over Social Experiment. An incredible closing, bravo, bravo. Now where’s the raps?
"Baby Blue" (ft. Chance the Rapper)
Baby Blue is the only single that I took the time to peep, hard to resist a Chance The Rapper feature. I’m not fond of Bronson singing, but it works here. It’s more silly than serious, fitting of his personality. The versus are strong, classic Bonson. Mark Ronson kills it on the boards. Chance is in rare form, I don't know what ex inspired this spiteful performance, but I will be using these lyrics one day when the heartbreak and liqour gives me confidence to send a petty text. The horns from heaven close out the song, thank god for the trumpet.
"Only In America" (ft. Party Supplies)
Action said he’s focused, he’s the golden child, finally getting back into the groove that was set when the album started. The production sounds like a theme song for a WWE wrestler. I’m enjoying the up-tempo, guitar driven boardwork. That reference makes sense, Action is body slamming this. This hook is pretty horrid, would’ve accepted letting the beat breath. When he raps like this, Bronson is flawless. I appreciate his desire to bring some musicality to this album, the live instrumentals are nice on the ears, but he feels too focused on bringing a different sonic experiences and not enough on cohesion.
FUNKY, the horn is blowing with soul. Slow flow, the gentle production has no drums, he’s literally rapping over what I assume is a trombone. He still sees Freddy Kruger in his dreams, not something a grown man should brag about. My favorite line, “I'm classically train in drug dealing,” that’s like saying I have a PHD in street pharmacy.
"The Passage (Live from Prague)"
Placing live performances on an album can be a dangerous move. Kendrick took the same risk by placing a performance of “I” on his album. I like this so far, Action hasn’t started rapping, just the sound of his band and the crowd. It’s pretty intoxicating. The vocals aren’t clear, I can barely hear him. Whatever he did on stage, the crowd is chanting his name. It must've been impressive. I’m more intrigued by the band, which is bad when I am listening to a rap album. This is beautiful, like the grand finale.
Closing the album with Easy Rider, not a bad choice. Riding the Harley into the sunset. Not a fan of the production, the bassline is sitting in the forefront, instead of his voice. It’s another strong performance, but I’m irritated by the beat. The ending is crazy, the guitar is electrifying.
Finished! A 1 Listen Review is mentally exhausting, it’s like trying to carry a serious conversation while watching porn. This isn’t mixtape Bronson, those looking for Rare Chandeliers or Blue Chips are in for a surprise. Action said this album is, "happy, funny, rugged, rough rap," and to an extent, it's exactly that. I knew he would bring the lyrical acrobatics, but I wasn’t prepared for the production direction. The instrumentation shows that his artistry is deeper than a Ghostface replication, witty banter and pop culture references, but it lacked fluency. It’s ambitious, daring, but unfocused and disorganized. I’m leaving the album feeling a bit letdown, but eager to give it another spin.
[By Yoh, aka Yohlo Ho, aka @Yoh31.]