It’s easy to like Action Bronson. His grassroots rise to fame was like the ascendance of a popular food truck or even the notoriety of Jay Fai’s restaurant in Bangkok. He’s funny and braggadocious with a non-sequitur game unrivaled by contemporary rappers. Throw in his shorts-in-all-seasons penchant and it’s no wonder that he’s earned himself spots on multiple television shows and even a role in an upcoming Scorcese film. His ninth and newest album White Bronco, however, lacks much of the depth and zest that gave rise to his fame and success.
The album opens with “Dr. Kimble,” a track that features a sleazy, guitar-wrestling beat from one of Bronson’s longtime collaborators, Harry Fraud. Bronson’s flow is silky and laid-back but contains little pizzazz. “I cop cars and crash ’em/Next day the same thing/Next day Beijing.” Sure Bronson is a world traveler at this point, but the details of his itinerary are less evocative than his daily shopping at neighborhood delis and dropping indigenous lines like, “Straight from Flushing/Where the birds are hanging dead in the window.”
Much of Bronson’s strongest work has come from pairing with one producer for the majority of an album. Tommy Mas worked extensively on Dr. Lecter, and Party Supplies cohorted on Blue Chips. White Bronco, as it turns out, has more of a potluck feel that leaves the entirety a little uneven. The Daringer-produced the slinky title track—which also features Bronson’s in-house band, the Special Victims Unit—jars against Samiyam’s psyche-rock on “Telemundo.” Knxwledge’s string-infused “Picasso’s Ear” seems like it should belong on an entirely different album than the synthy “Swerve on Em,” produced by Fraud (which includes a throwaway verse from A$AP Rocky). This hodgepodge does little to elicit instant-vintage Bronson rhymes. On “Telemundo,” for example, Bronson does just enough to tread water with lines like, “About to get this paper like Judge Judy/Told my baby, ‘Come do me’/All these drugs just run through me.” Many of the bars lack the humor and flair of a guy who once rapped “Twisted off the jenkem, watching ‘Iron Chef’/The secret ingredient was lion’s neck.”
White Bronco’s punchiest moment comes when Bronson is reunited with Party Supplies, a producer who has said that they have searched YouTube for phrases like “a 100-acre burgundy carpet” until they unearthed something quirky to turn into a sample. Party Supplies’ beats give listeners the feeling that he is enthralled by that feeling of discovery. Based around a spunky take on “Tramp,” the short “Irishman Freestyle” has Bronson rapping lines like, “Don’t drink gin and tonic/Only natural wine, to be honest.” A few lines later he is “butt naked with the Uzi on Broadway,” telling the oglers, “My haircut is like Dominican folk art.” Those lines are the absurd, laugh-out-loud stuff that take one back to the essence of Bronson. Unfortunately, they also serve as a reminder that such flavor is largely missing from the rest of White Bronco.