Futuristic Nostalgia: Action Bronson Embraces His Destiny

Queens rapper on going global...
Action Bronson

Clash is behind Parklife Festival’s ‘HudMo Presents…’ stage, beside an olive green Portakabin. A “No Smoking” sign adorns its open window; the same window that’s bellowing smoke as if a volcanic eruption is imminent.

We're waiting to catch up with Action Bronson – catching odd glimpses of Joey Bada$$ and Bronson-collaborator Statik Selektah through the haze – when we're approached by his day-to-day manager Dro Greindstein, who requests that we do him a favour by avoiding any obvious questions.

“No, ‘What’s your favourite dish?’,” he offers as an example. And with some corners of the press clinging to the fact that the Queens rapper, born Ariyan Arslani, used to be a chef, we can't blame him.

Clash is late meeting Bronson – or, rather, Bronson is late meeting Clash. He apologies for the incident that’s set our time together back in the schedule: the loss, and subsequent recovery and return by a fan, of his iPhone.

“This is invaluable to me,” he says. “It has all of my music on there, and a whole list of numbers with full names. I don’t know what would have happened if I didn't get it back. I usually put it on the DJ table before I go into the crowd, but I must have forgotten.”

Venturing into his audience has become a staple of Bronson’s live sets. His fans douse him in beer as he wades in, dissecting the throng, reaching out to everyone without missing a bar. Greindstein explains that the MC doesn’t want to miss anyone out: “There could be a kid at the back, who can’t reach the front, and he wants to connect with them. He wants to show that he appreciates everybody.”

Says Bronson: “Going out into the crowd makes people happy. I don’t give a f*ck, I’m a New Yorker, and I'm going to go out there and do my thing regardless, for the people that are there for me.” Greindstein’s facial expression betrays concern, though, and he admits that Bronson’s audience adventures can scare him.

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‘Steve Wynn’, from ‘Blue Chips’

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Having began his rap career proper with 2011’s ‘Dr. Lecter’ – described by Bronson as his “first real project” – he immediately won over the underground hip-hop audience. But it was the following year's ‘Blue Chips’ mixtape that expanded his profile to embrace the considerable audience he has today.

Having crafted the set with friend and fellow musician Party Supplies, using samples taken from YouTube, ‘Blue Chips’ is very DIY and experimental in its approach – even leaving in double takes and errors that give it a real organic quality.

When asked about the impact of the ‘Blue Chips’, Bronson responds: “After I put it out, a whole ‘nother crowd of human beings started f*cking with me. The hipster scene or whatever you wanna call it, the alternative world. Not just hip-hop fans. And I love everybody so I don't just want hip-hop fans standing there against the wall, like the quintessential rap show. That's not what I do. I like to see people moving!”

The fact that he is still constantly described as “90s” or “retro” seems frustrating to him, as he explains that, particularly with ‘Blue Chips’, his methods of music-making are actually very contemporary.

“Maybe it's the way I deliver, or my approach,” he muses. “It’s a New York thing. My music is futuristic nostalgia!” While he is an open-minded hip-hop fan himself – our half-hour discussion brings up mentions of everyone from EPMD to Wiz Khalifa and French Montana to Cam’Ron – yet his initial audience seemed intent on holding him back.

“I have that 35-year-old man fanbase,” he explains, “and they want me to be so '90s with it. Like, ‘How did you programme those drums and that snare?’ Nah, dawg!” He shakes his head. “Now, my audience is different every night I do a show. You get the hipsters; you get the thugs. It’s a great mix – it’s exactly what I aim for.”

His diverse taste has caused genuine upset amongst some of his fans, who normally get themselves a retweet when complaining about his recent collaborations with mainstream acts like Wiz Khalifa or French Montana, or when he once Tweeted respect for Drake.

“I don't give a f*ck, man. Drake is ill; he can rhyme! Wiz and I did that song a year ago and he murdered that shit, it sounded great. And I love what French does – I’m not just a lyricist, I like ignorant shit that I can just act stupid to. It’s not really that different. We’re all musicians and we all love music.”

The criticism has never left an impression on Bronson, though. And nor do the constant comparisons to Ghostface Killah get him down, even after several successful projects of his own. He accepts that listeners will always draw parallels between artists, and he’s content to be put on a level beside such a hip-hop legend.

“You keep your eye on the prize, and you know that what you're doing, mother*ckers will buy into,” he says. “And it’s easy for me because I’m genuine. You know some people rap with a ‘rap voice’? I rap with my voice. I haven’t put on a ‘rap outfit’, ever. I wear a tank top and swim shorts and f*cking socks.”

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‘The Symbol’, from ‘Rare Chandeliers’

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As well as his authenticity, Bronson’s likeability is another advantage in connecting with a wider audience. Whereas the past has witnessed the rise of many rappers presenting a dangerous and unapproachable attitude, today’s rap crowd prefers someone they can relate to somewhat – and Bronson comes across as someone you'd like to be friends with.

“I'm just myself,” he says. “Everyone wants to be themselves, and people envy those who can be themselves and still be liked.”

A strong contributing factor to this likeable nature is undoubtedly the fun that Bronson injects into everything he does – whether clowning ScHoolboy Q on Vine, causing the blogs to go wild when he jokingly Tweeted he’d signed with Top Dawg Entertainment, or through his hilarious music videos and cover artwork.

“These guys joke around too much,” Dro says of the TDE situation. Bronson, naturally, disagrees: “You can never joke too much. I’m a jokester. I take my craft very seriously, but I know how to play around and make people laugh. It’s all about having a good time, otherwise what are you f*cking doing it for?” 

Following up his adventure into the world of ‘70s movies with ‘The Symbol’, his new video for ‘Strictly 4 My Jeeps’ takes things to the next level.

“I had no intentions. I just knew I had to go there and put on a performance. Do all kinds of shit people like, and that’s that!" The Jason Goldwatch-directed video shows him dancing with a gold-bikini-clad overweight woman, weightlifting, shooting hoops and performing a cartwheel that turned into a viral animated gif. “Now they ask me to cartwheel on live fucking MTV!” he exclaims.

The track, which comes from his new Harry Fraud-produced EP ‘Saaab Stories’, seems set to become his first breakthrough hit. After radio play and support on Hot 97, Bronson recently premiered the track’s remix, which unexpectedly saw him joined by LL Cool J and Lloyd Banks.

“Actually, LL’s son is a fan,” says Bronson. “I've met him before, so I’m sure he was like, ‘Yo, you gotta do this’.”

With the track sharing a sample of Lowell Fulsom’s ‘Tramp’, also used in EPMD and LL’s classic ‘Rampage’, an appearance from The Ripper made perfect sense.

“He f*cking killed it – it’s old-school LL. The man is iconic, a pioneer and a legend,” exclaims Bronson enthusiastically. “And Banks, oh my God! I met him at Alchemist’s house [when we were working on ‘Rare Chandeliers’] and we’re fans of each other, so I had to get him for the Queens remix.”

After our conversation, Bronson is due to head to London for some studio time with Mark Ronson. In Dro’s words, this is “to play around” – but an album is planned for October. This will be Bronson’s first project incorporating multiple producers, although he plans mostly to stick with those he’s worked with previously.

Before then, fans can look forward to the sequel to ‘Blue Chips’, again recorded alongside Party Supplies, which is already in the can.

The future seems set for Bronson who, behind all of the jokes, clearly has things under control: “My goal is just to make the best music possible, keep things moving with the right visuals and maintain hold of my own career. Take control of your own destiny, that's what I'm about.

“I will tell you this, though. I made ‘Strictly 4 My Jeeps’ with hopes that Funkmaster Flex would play it – and that happened!”

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‘Strictly 4 My Jeeps’, from ‘Saaab Stories’

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‘Saaab Stories’ is out now on Vice/Atlantic. Find Action Bronson online here.

Words: Grant Brydon

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