Action Bronson has a limitless appetite when it comes to food, sex, weed, money, exploitation movies, ’90s sitcoms, professional wrestling and dick jokes. Over the last year, particularly on his brilliant, gut-busting mixtape Blue Chips, he’s gotten increasingly better at finding inventive and absurd ways to describe his own compulsive behavior, using his gruff (and, yes, Ghostface-like) flow to bum rush beats with lovingly chosen cultural references, gross-out punchlines and the occasional bit of poignant self-reflection. His work is less biography or reportage, and more like a catalog of desires, fantasies and obsessions. The cover of his latest tape, Rare Chandeliers, places him in the center of a pulp explosion, turning the gregarious New York rapper into a cartoon. “Kush is by prescription/Prolific in the kitchen,” he raps at one point. “People on my dick because I’m vicious with the diction.” Yep, sounds about right.
In the same way that this spring’s Blue Chips saw Bronson teaming up with Party Supplies for a full-length collaboration that found the rapper adapting to the producer’s ramshackle, free-associative, YouTube-sample-heavy style, Rare Chandeliers pairs the Queens chef with hip-hop legend the Alchemist and finds the emcee stretching out amidst sweeping, cinematic beats. Here the producer’s increasingly bleary-eyed affinity for byzantine piles of warped, cackling psych-rap gets replaced with a soulful, luxurious combination of opulent strings (the menacing title track), pulverizing guitar heroics (“The Symbol”) and head-knocking drums (“Blood Of The Goat”). It’s equal parts gritty Mobb Deep/Wu-Tang ’90s revivalism and patient, movie-score vamping with overwhelmingly tasteful production.
To match the classier trappings, Bronson puts on a slightly more professional showing—gone are the botched lines, the charming flubs and the repetitive stalling of Chips—and, for the most part, he pulls it off with style and grace. On the dizzying “Randy The Musical” he wavers all the eccentric shifts in the beat, telling us all about getting rubbed with sponges, betting on dogs and jet-setting around the globe; this being an Action Bronson song, it still ends with some coughing and mumbling, but for a couple of minutes he has you convinced he’s a smooth Burt Reynolds type and not a Dennis Franz-style schlub. At various points he imagines himself as a hungry challenger (“Modern Day Revelations”), a green-M&M-demanding diva (“Demolition Man”) and a vicious shark-killer (“Blood Of The Goat”). He’s not always convincing in all of these roles, but that sense of grandiose play-acting is part of the fun.
There’s still squirm-inducing material to be found in the lyrics, especially in Bronson’s increasingly nasty reflections on women. This is a guy whose idea of sentimentality is a song called “Bitch I Deserve You,” and lines like “I need some mouth from a woman/I couldn’t get it so I took it,” coupled with his recent real-life boorish exploits, can bring the tape to a screeching halt. Where Blue Chips cuts like “Thug Love Story 2012″ and “Hookers At The Point” had an oddly warm humanism to them and a vivid, empathetic eye for detail, Rare Chandeliers is a far more goon-y affair, packed with guest verses from like-minded tough guys (Meyhem Lauren, Ag Da Coroner and Schoolboy Q), ugly asides (“Flick chives in the soup/Stick knives where you poop”) and groan-inducing jokes (“Call it statutory rape ’cause the steak wasn’t mature”). If you have to call the last song on your mixtape “Mike Vick,” you might be trying too hard to come off like an asshole.
By peeling away the tossed-off mistakes and the stray bits of penetrating self-analysis from Blue Chips, Bronson has crafted a mixtape that zeroes in on some of his more repugnant qualities while at the same time flattening out his contradictions. Like a meandering action movie or a (wildly inappropriate) Saturday morning cartoon, the pleasure comes from examining the details. All the tape really lacks is a sense of urgency, but given Bronson’s voracious appetite, he’ll be hungry again soon.