Aussie promoters may not exactly consider the Queens, New York street rapper Action Bronson (AKA Ariyan Arslani) Mr Wonderful after he cancelled two tours in the space of a year – the last, over summer, due to “recording commitments”. But Bronson’s long-awaited third album, also his major label debut, is his most epic yet, led by 2014’s rock-edged Easy Rider.
As with Joey Bada$$, the former chef (but eternal foodie) revels in ’90s boom-bap nostalgia, combining samples and live instrumentation. But Bronson’s throwbacks have greater character, with quirky, endearingly reverent, retro jazz and rock twists.
For the first time, the Ghostface Killah soundalike (really, it is uncanny) has worked with an array of producers, not just one, and they include some impressive names: Mark Ronson, Noah “40” Shebib and The Alchemist. Dude got game.
And, while Mr Wonderful clocks in at under 50 minutes, it feels expansive. There are indulgent moments, such as a “musical” suite midway. Bronson even occasionally sings (City Boy Blues). Alas, Drake, he ain’t.
One of the most immediate tracks is the jaunty, suitably bombastic opener Brand New Car. Steered by Ronson, it borrows from Billy Joel’s ’70s jazz-rock Zanzibar, of which Bronson’s a fan.
It’s Ronson again on Baby Blue, this time with a bit of Piano Man and mellotron (!). Bronson and Chance The Rapper gripe about girlfriends – Chance a bit mean (home) boy. It’s the album’s latest single.
Bronson’s old producer Statik Selektah, from Well-Done, conjures The Rising (featuring Big Body Bes) – gospeldelic funk. The Alchemist, responsible for ScHoolboy Q’s stellar Wu-Tang Clan-inspired Break The Bank, comes with several more RZA-y beatscapes, Terry having an ambient coda.
Bronson doesn’t have much to say, but his wordplay is always engaging. On A Light In The Addict, another piano-ey bar number, this time courtesy of Brooklyn duo Party Supplies, he goes emo-rap, druggily ruminating on mortality and perhaps career longevity.
Ostensibly recorded “live in Prague”, The Passage is psychedelic interval music, setting up the album’s killer – that loopy narrative Easy Rider. It samples an ancient Turkish rock group, but sounds like the Wu’s tour bus colliding with ZZ Top’s. Wonderful.
‘Mr. Wonderful’ is out now via Atlantic Records.
Watch: Action Bronson – Baby Blue (ft Chance The Rapper)