Music News

NYC's Action Bronson Plays It Tough and Cool

In Brian De Palma's 1983 film Scarface — a touchstone film in the rap world — the title character, played by Al Pacino, lays out a simple path to domination as a ladies man: First you get the money, then you get the power, and then you get the women.

If you were to make an updated version of that film today (and you know some Hollywood flunky is currently finishing a hasty script during breaks from shooting Hungry Hungry Hippos or Monopoly: The Movie), Tony Montana might forgo the inevitably violent path of a drug lord, taking to the studio to become a rapper instead of snorting mountains of cocaine (okay, maybe in addition to snorting a mountain of cocaine). The rules have changed a bit, but there's still a formula: First you upload the YouTube video, then you get the blog buzz, then you get the money.

It's simple, and for many of hip-hop's up-and-comers, it's been a blueprint for success, one followed by Action Bronson, the New York-based chef turned rapper who could very well be the genre's next breakout star.

Bronson, who hails from Flushing, Queens, burst onto the scene when a pair of videos he uploaded to YouTube, "Shiraz" and "Imported Goods," earned him a healthy dose of coveted blog buzz. The videos showcase Bronson in his neighborhood and are street-level slices of laid-back funk-laced hip-hop, name-checking choice cuts of deli meat as often as weed and Street Fighter 2. The clips raised his profile, and he capitalized on it with this year's outstanding mixtape, Blue Chips.

And now he's big-time — big enough to get called out by Pitchfork for a Twitter post about how his friend dumped water on a "drunk Mexican tranny." One doesn't accomplish all this by simply uploading a video to YouTube and waiting by the phone for someone to tell you that you're the next big thing. Bronson's got talent, the kind of raw but cool intensity you'd expected from an artist named for fictional mob enforcer William "Action" Jackson and legendary badass Charles Bronson.

That's not to say that Action Bronson is without parallels: It's hard not to listen to his choppy flow and not immediately hear Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah. It's a comparison that Bronson has grown tired of discussing. On "Ron Simmons," from Blue Chips, he spells it out crystal clear: "Don't ever fucking say my music sound like Ghost's shit."

By the way, he's white.

That fact shouldn't really make a difference in this day and age, but it wasn't that long ago that his authenticity would have been called into question simply because of his race. After all, in the days before a white kid from Detroit who called himself Eminem crashed onto the scene piggybacking on Dre's shoulders, the term "white rapper" brought to mind Vanilla Ice. Not a paragon of street toughness, right?

Of course, it's not fair to say that any rapper whose skin color was white, pre-Marshall Mathers, was bad. One of the bestselling rap albums of all time was the work of three Jewish kids from New York called the Beastie Boys, a group that was also largely responsible for introducing the genre to middle America.

When you think of guys like Snow and Brian Austin Green (the 90210 guy), they seem right, and somewhat tolerable acts such as House of Pain and 3rd Bass don't do much to help out.

But so much has changed. Hip-hop largely is becoming color-blind, open to banging beats and rhymes from people of all colors. It remains to be seen whether Bronson's buzz will translate to album sales, but it seems like anything is possible — just don't tell the guy he sounds like Ghost's shit.

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Mike Escoto