Since his debut in 2011, Action Bronson has attracted fans of all demographics thanks to his boisterous personality, oddball lyrics and his tendency to create ’90s-influenced hip-hop without sounding outdated. With multiple successful mixtapes, a web series sponsored by Vice and public appearances ranging from ESPN’s “Highly Questionable” to rapping live from a nursing home, Bronson is arguably at the peak of his popularity. It’s appropriate, then, that “Mr. Wonderful,” his major label debut, is a testament to his desire to remain in the limelight.
“Mr. Wonderful” is much more diverse than the previous Action Bronson album or even the average hip-hop album. Instead of focusing on his usual brand of traditional New York hip-hop, “Mr. Wonderful” moves away from familiar territory in songs like the warped, slightly creepy “Actin’ Crazy” to psychedelic, stoner rock with “Only In America” and “City Boy Blues.” While sonic diversity is incredibly important to an artist’s integrity, it might have been better to wait until Bronson’s next album to fully explore his creative leanings.
That is not to say that “Mr. Wonderful” deviates too much from Bronson’s musical persona — is lyrics are still far-reaching and hilarious. Most of the tracks give the impression that everything is coming straight from Bronson’s mind into one’s headphones without feeling scripted. The line that separates listener and artist is wiped away with this record, and Bronson sounds like the funny, overweight kid from high school who embraced his weight and owned his image.
The production throughout the album is mostly handled by big name producers, including Mark Ronson of “Uptown Funk” and “Valerie” fame, Party Supplies, The Alchemist and Noah “40” Shebib, Drake’s in-house producer. The musical influences on the album are extensive and infectiously varied, from the Billy Joel sample in opening track “Brand New Car” to the ragtime piano solo featured on “Only In America.” Jazzy bass lines float throughout the album, most notably on “Galactic Love” and “Terry.” A Curt Chambers guitar solo closes the final song, “Easy Rider,” as a Harley revs in the background. You can almost see the metaphorical ride into the sunset as the album ends.
Bronson’s idiosyncratic personality shines through in lines like “I was made like the beginning to Jurassic Park/When they took the fucking blood from the mosquito with a dope needle” from “Falconry” and “Since I was young I had the husky gut/But I’m gorgeous, got money in the pouch just like a tourist” from “The Rising.” The most intriguing aspect of Bronson’s music is the way he interprets and tells a story. Everything he says paints a vivid picture, drawing the listener into his surreal worldview. When Bronson raps about “Playing Frisbee in the West Indies,” it’s hard not to imagine him doing exactly that. The wonder of Bronson’s music, and this record in particular, is that when it finally clicks, it works extremely well.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 25 print edition. Email Logan Baker at [email protected]