What makes an album the album of the year? How do we fit a subjective peg into an objective hole?
I wish I had the formula. The truth is no matter how hard we try to come up with one for the sake of hotly debated articles and bar debates with fellow hip-hop heads, there is no formula.
Album sales, accolades and the court of public opinion all play some role, but what good are any of those without replayability? There’s so much good music coming out at such an alarming rate it’s impossible to listen to every worthy new release. Our 1-listen reviews capture that excitement perfectly. In the moment, that album might be your favorite, it might be the most exciting, it might be all you want to talk about with your friends, but it's what happens months later that's the most important. We always make a promise to revisit albums after a 1-listen review, but the truth is, sometimes, I have no idea what to say. Recent album releases from Wale and Lupe are high quality and enjoyable, but sometimes I struggle with what more to write about them. Honestly, sometimes I struggle with even listening to them again. The pull of those six new projects that just dropped, complete with the potential thrill of discovering a new artist, is too strong. At the same time, albums you never anticipated you'd be coming back to time and time again become regulars in your headphones, constant companions, old friends. A new project is a new wave, but as the waves beat against the bow, it becomes clear which ships are made to last and which will sink into the depths of the abyss. Mr. Wonderful has Noah retire his tools.
I had a whole trip across country to go back and dig into albums. Shit, I even has a schedule planned of albums I'd listen to but on the first day, not 15 minutes into my first leg, I had a hankerin’ for some “Terry.” I wasn't really sure why, I just felt...compelled. The rest of the trip was the same. Sure, I changed it up here and there, but for the most part Mr. Wonderful was my soundtrack. Driving into the Badlands with "Easy Rider" playing was too perfect. When I was feeling sleepy while driving “The Rising” gave me new life. I spent the day walking around L.A., the perfect setting for me to be listening to Kendrick or The Chronic, with that brash New Yorker in my ear. Though I was in a different city every four hours, my soundtrack was the same. Really, this has been the case since March. There hasn’t been an album I’ve listened to or depended on more than Mr. Wonderful. It's replayability has been infinite. It’s why Mr. Wonderful is the album of the year.
Did, he just…
Yes, I did just call Mr. Wonderful the album of the year and no, I’m not trolling. I realize this might be an unpopular opinion, I spent plenty of time second guessing myself, making sure I really meant it, but the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became. Why can’t it be? How come it’s that crazy of a statement?
Everybody loves a good comedy flick; hell most of my favorite movies are comedies. Still, though everyone loves The Hangover, Superbad or classics like Dumb & Dumber, nobody expects them to win big awards. It just makes people feel so much smarter and important to say they loved Boyhood, but really, they only watched it once while they quote Anchorman every day. It’s the same thing with Mr. Wonderful. Ultimately, Bronson’s strength, his ability to reflect his often funny and always larger-than-life personality in his music, is also his greatest weakness when it comes to being taken seriously.
The true test of an artist is putting themselves into the music, taking their personality and converting it into song form. Albums can look good, smell good, have all the fixins, but if the heart isn’t there, if it doesn’t reflect the soul of the person making it, the album will wilt. If we don’t don’t know who you are on a deep, honest level by the end of the album you have failed, period. I fell in love with Action Bronson the man before I did the music, but until Mr. Wonderful, he hadn't truly put all of his cartwheeling, smoking and eating into musical form. This album is a perfect reflection of who he is and what he is all about. Sure it’s brash, unapologetic, and offensive, so is he, but it’s also colorful, diverse and just plain fun.
It’s hard to truly appreciate the diverse instrumentals, the way the album progresses and flows despite a rich collection of flavors, because he’s making you laugh or hitting you with an absurd one-liner. To those who overlook his artistry, take another listen to the sample on “Easy Rider,” he manages to invoke a biker gang feeling using a Turkish guitar sample. How about “A Light In The Addict,” which has a minute long introduction leading to a piano driven number. It can be hard to hear the depth and richness when he raps “My Rambo knife is eatin' nuggets with my Smith & Wesson,” a line I just came to appreciate recently (a great album gives you new experiences no matter how many times you’ve listened), and sometimes he’s not even rapping at all, like on “The Passage.” At his core, Action is what his music reflects. He’s perfectly and unapologetically imperfect. He’s loud, unique, aggressive and funny. Whether you think his method of delivery is on par with albums like the illustriousTPAB is a matter of opinion, but the fact that he excels at his ability to translate his large personality into the music, should speak volumes to his artistry.
Reading over what I've written so far, I'm realizing I've spent a good chunk of this review trying to fit that subjective peg into an objective hole, trying to fit Action into that mythical formula. In truth, I know I'm actin crazy. I have to believe I'm the only one reading this who took a road trip with this album, I’m probably the only person who can quite literally identify with taking hallucinogens in the mountains (granted it wasn’t for 10 days straight). I was going to write that I'm too close to this album, but doesn't that speak volumes? I'm closer to this album than any other this year, I've listened to it more than any album this year, what more do I need to call it the best album of the year? Album sales statistics? Your agreement? No matter how many end of the year lists say otherwise, no matter how many "expert" panels don't even mention it, Mr. Wonderful is my album of the year. If I've learned anything from Action it's to do what's in your heart and ignore what anyone else says without apologizing, so I'm ignoring everything without apology except the fact that I love this album, that I've listened to and enjoyed it more than any other.
Six months later, I'm still rocking very loose pants. That has to count for something.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]