Rapper-chef Action Bronson brings beats to Austin, will be back for SXSW
"I'd rather be a chef than a rapper. But it's easier to rap at this point. It kind of just happened, you know?"
It's the kind of statement that will surely infuriate many career backpackers, but Action Bronson, speaking from his home in New York City, is serious. The 28-year-old Queens native grew up in his family's restaurant, learning to cook Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food alongside his Albanian father. Out of high school he went into culinary arts training and was an internship away from his chef's coat when he quit the program. He went on to do stints in a variety of restaurants across the city, honing his kitchen skills. The rap thing was a lark. He's been messing around with rhymes for only a couple years.
"My friends have always been rappers, and I've always been a humongous rap fan," Bronson says. "Everyone was trying to get their rap game up so they were in the studio recording. I would hang out in studios with them and I just started rapping and took a liking to it as a hobby."
He showed up on a few mixtapes, threw a handful of videos on YouTube and even snagged an invite to South by Southwest 2011. He began to build a slow-burn buzz on the hip-hop underground. Then last January he broke his leg.
"I was making food for my children and out of nowhere I just slipped. It was a bad break, just a freak accident," he says. The cast became a catalyst. Suddenly sidelined from the SXSW trip and unable to pull eight- to 10-hour kitchen shifts, he became serious about rapping. He went into production overdrive.
"January last year I put out my first first first mixtape ever. Period," he says. In March he dropped his debut studio album "Dr.Lecter." Then later in the year he followed up with a solid sophomore effort, "Well Done," a collaboration with Boston-area DJ/producer Static Selecktah. Both albums have been well-received. Beyond the rap blog shoutouts, Rolling Stone named him an Artist to Watch in August and a week ago XXL Magazine referred to him as part of NYC's "new breed."
Bronson raps over beats reminiscent of hip-hop's golden ‘90s and his rhyme style tends to be gritty with ample hip-hop bravado and heavily blunted street scenes.
"I wouldn't say there's a lot of gangsta stuff," he says. "I just write what I live. Growing up in Queens you see all kinds of different things and you're involved in all kinds of different things. So what I talk about is what I've done."
Some of it gets pretty rugged. Female hip-hop fans feeling fatigued after the overblown 2011 hype of the rape-happy rhymes of Tyler the Creator would be advised not to watch the video for "Brunch" off "Dr. Lecter." In the video, defended by Bronson as nothing but acting, art, "a twisted fantasy, fictional weirdo type deal," Bronson pounds meat in his kitchen in front of his girlfriend's presumably freshly expired corpse. He then rolls said corpse in a rug, shoves it in the back of an SUV and drives off to drop it in the river, but not before stopping to brutally stab it with a box cutter.
"It's all in good fun," Bronson says (with no trace of irony). "I would never do that to any woman. I'm a very respectful human being of everybody, especially women. I'm a big teddy bear. That's my real personality, Teddy Bear Bronson."
All things considered, that's totally believable, but still ...
Much has been made of Bronson's unmistakable resemblance to Ghostface Killah (the men have similar voices and Bronson makes no secret of his love of Wu-Tang) but the food connection is Bronson's more interesting angle. His training as a chef provides a seemingly endless supply of metaphors and he deftly carves culinary terms into verbal jabs. He also has a hilarious YouTube cooking video series "Action in the Kitchen." Filmed in the kitchen of his father's restaurant, streetwise yet charming Bronson breaks down everything from seared ahi tuna to the "Bronson burger" in a manner that's both informative and highly entertaining. The fact that he also manages to pad the videos with his beats and rhymes is sly marketing genius. The mainstream breakthrough potential is clear. A few months back GQ tapped him for a guide to NYC dining and Bronson lets it slide that he's in talks to develop a show for cable. He won't name a network, but does mention that he'll be playing Rachael Ray's party at SXSW this year.
This leads to an obvious observation. The combination of Bronson's kitchen skills and steadily building rap buzz seems to provide the perfect formula for a killer SXSW day party.
"It's true, you know," Bronson says, adding that he's been toying with the idea of catered events for a minute, and is planning a few barbecues in New York this summer.
"If someone comes up with some funds to throw at me, let's do it. But Daddy needs new shoes, man. I don't work for free."
You heard that promoters? Now someone please get on that.