I’ve heard his name thrown around the hip-hop forums a lot in this past year. He’s been described as many things: witty, dynamic, breathless, food-crazed, and explosive, among many others. But the one thing I notice most frequently when someone attempts to describe the sound of Action Bronson? Ghostface. A cadre of hip-hop bloggers and reviewers all note the vocal similarity between Bronson and Ghostface Killah, the stream-of-consciousness storyteller of Wu-Tang Clan fame. And you know what? I can’t doubt them on it. The two sound remarkably alike in voice, but that’s where the similarities end. That said, let’s get to the actual review.
Like his previous two efforts (Dr. Lecter with Tommy Mas and Well-Done with Statik Selectah), Blue Chips was conceived as an album dedicated entirely to the beats of one producer. In this case, the beats come from the Brooklyn-based Party Supplies, who dredged YouTube for samples with which to make beats on the fly. Much of the album’s nature is improvisatory, with Bronson recording almost all of it in Party Supplies’ apartment, presumably through a thick cloud of weed smoke. The tracks are often short and contain no chorus, with the longest one clocking in at a little under 4 minutes 30 seconds. The beats range from funky and soul-based to light, ethereal, and bizarre (there’s even a Dean Martin vocal sample!), so for aficionados of varied production, this is definitely an album to keep on the radar.
Now it’s time for the meat of the review itself, and what differentiates my regular album reviews from the Favorite Albums posts (where I just ramble about how awesome the music is): the track-by-track breakdown.
1. Pouches of Tuna (feat. Roc Marciano) – The song starts off with a big string sample and Bronson fucking up his first take almost immediately. He quickly rebounds though, and lays down 16 strong bars before giving way to Roc Marciano, he of the 2010 effort Marcberg that many hip-hop bloggers creamed their pants over. His verse nearly saps all the momentum that the song had built up to that point, simply because of how different his style is compared to Bronson. It’s a slow, less-is-more kind of delivery, which doesn’t mesh all that well with the balls-out spitfire of Bronson’s typical verses. The song is still good overall, but I feel as though the guest spot was somewhat misplaced.
2. Steve Wynn – Ah, now this is more like it. Just two and a half minutes of Bronson dropping awesome lines like “Twistin’ joints like a contortionist” over a beat sampled from Aaron Neville’s “Hercules”. Not really much more to be said other than that the rhymes are funny, the delivery and flow are spot-on, and the beat is chill. Overall a very solid track.
3. Tan Leather – Over a piano-based groove, Bronson opens the track with “Fuck the light at the end of the tunnel, cause I’m livin’ for today and trying not to drown in a bottle”, a strangely serious opening line compared to the rest of the song, which is more or less his typical style of big boasts and food references (“Bone marrow roasted, spread it on the rosemary bread, lightly toasted,” “The antipasti is a cold dish,” and more). It’s enough to make a man hungry.
4. Double Breasted – The lyrics did not immediately jump out at me from the start with this one. Instead the beat really grabbed me all the way through. It sounds grimy, aggressive, and has a synth-heavy inflection reminiscent of early 90s NYC beats. Very good overall, but it runs just a little long in my opinion.
5. Thug Love Story 2012 – Here’s where the production skills of Party Supplies really get their chance to shine. The first half of the song features Bronson rapping about a strange girl he had a fling with in high school over a sparse vocal sample with large amounts of silence in between the percussion. Then the beat suddenly changes into a different vocal sample, and faster drums and piano start to come in. As the beat changes, so does the subject matter of the song. Bronson spends the second half of the song detailing all the ways that relationship fell apart, culminating in him winning a domestic abuse case and the woman “throwing diapers out the window at me”. It’s humorous and bizarrely touching all at once. Easily one of the standout tracks on the album.
6. Hookers at the Point – Bronson makes things interesting here. He uses three different flows to portray the Miami sex trade from the point of view of three different characters, at the same time bolstered by a crooning vocal sample and dialogue from the film of the same name. Strange, but fun.
7. Dreamer – It’s 50 seconds long, but the beat is loud and boisterous as hell. Our main man Bronson details a recipe at the end of it (“Cuttlefish, cut up on the beach, out the sea/Mix it with the lime juice, smidgen of its own ink”). Yum.
8. Ron Simmons – A deep, horn-based beat accompanies even more food references and…cocaine puns? Either way, the album has settled into a pretty comfortable groove at this point.
9. Expensive Pens (feat. Meyhem Lauren) – This is the second song out of nine to feature a guest star, Meyhem Lauren, who has appeared on at least five previous Action Bronson tracks. Unlike the first guest spot, however, Meyhem Lauren matches Bronson’s flow and intensity over the beat pretty damn well.
10. 9-24-11 (feat. Big Body Best) – The longest track on the album, and probably the best, for what it’s worth. The beat is taken from Dean Martin’s Return To Me, and it sounds phenomenal. After a brief intro over Martin’s lyrics, the percussion kicks in and the beat changes to an airy female chorus, and Bronson wastes no time getting to work on it despite fucking up three times on the verses and descending into gibberish afterwards. Doesn’t matter though, cause he’s right back in it on the top of the beat. He spends the duration of the song itself waxing philosophical about his development as a rapper and a person (“Well naturally I’m jealous, because I’m lonely/At times my only friends in life are drugs and a cannoli,” “That was years ago, Ma, look how your son has bloomed/I hum a tune and then I’m hotter than the sun in June”), turning insecurities into boasts of accomplishment. The beat winds down and Action Bronson’s buddy Big Body Best does a few quick shout-outs over another Dean Martin vocal track, but suddenly it picks right back up again! The beat change is so subtle, it’s barely even noticeable until after the song has ended, and Bronson lays out a few more bars before letting the beat ride. One of the best songs I’ve heard all year.
11. Arts & Leisure (feat. Kool A.D.) – This is the third straight track with a guest star, and like the previous two, it doesn’t disappoint. Kool A.D., one-third of the Queens rap group Das Racist jumps in on this track and just lets it fly from the dome, rapping about…nothing in particular in his trademark “look at how many fucks I give” flow. Bronson chimes in at the end, but the song really belongs to Kool A.D. when it’s done. If you’re not a fan of Das Racist, skip this one. Otherwise, prepare to be serenaded by this man’s weed-filled mind.
12. Intercontinental Champion – It’s a little over a minute, and the piano on the beat sounds like something from an Old West saloon. Typical Bronson at this point, he’s still in a very comfortable groove at this point in the album.
13. 5 Minute Beats 1 Take Raps – Another very short song at just under two minutes, the title was what the album was founded on, according to Bronson and Party Supplies. Make a beat in five minutes, lay down a track in one take (as evidenced by the 9-24-11 fuckups). I like the song, I just wish there was more of it.
14. Blue Chips – The title track takes almost 40 seconds to start up after a dialogue segment, but boy does it pack a punch. A very intense guitar sample gives way to a more subdued synth line, but it quickly builds right back up again. After the previous two short tracks, this was a much-needed momentum boost to the album as a whole.
15. 103 and Roosy – Honestly, this track isn’t all that much for me. It’s a lot like several other tracks on the album, but the beat isn’t interesting enough to really elevate it above them in any capacity.
16. Tapas – Yeah, that’s an Apollo Kids sample about a minute and a half in there. Along with Ante Up by MOP. I’m willing to bet that Bronson is well aware of his reputation as sounding like Ghostface judging by the inclusion of that sample. But besides those samples, this song isn’t really much of a standout either. It’s good fun, but it’s not much of an album closer.
Overall, Blue Chips is one of my favorite releases this year, hip-hop or otherwise. The beats are interesting, and Bronson has more or less perfected his style on this album compared to his previous two. The first half of the album is undeniably the stronger side, with the only real weak spot being in Roc Marciano’s guest verse. The second side suffers from slightly less memorable beats and shorter, less complete songs overall, but it’s still very good on the whole. Action Bronson has three more albums in the “one rapper/one producer” vein due out later this year, “Rare Chandliers” with The Alchemist, “Saab Stories” with Harry Fraud, and another album with Tommy Mas, “Mr. Wonderful”. I can’t wait.
Standout Tracks: Steve Wynn, Tan Leather, Thug Love Story 2012, Expensive Pens, 9-24-11
VERDICT: I’d say for you to buy this album, but you can’t. Because it’s actually a mixtape. You can download it for free here. And even if it was an actual album, I’d tell you to go buy it anyway. It’s just that good.