"I was rocking Crocs and I busted three human beings' assholes at the game 21!" Action Bronson says over drinks and mozzarella sticks, bragging about his prowess on the basketball court while sitting in a bar on 106th Street and Amsterdam in Manhattan. His fondness for the comfortable, spongy rubber footwear comes from his past life holding down duties as a chef; he appreciates the much-maligned, Mario Batali-adored footwear for its many uses, asshole-busting aside: "You can go from the kitchen to the street to the dance-floor in Crocs."
With Bronson, the Croc mention is apt: It was only 2008 when the Flushing Queens-raised rapper seriously considered trading in his knife for a mic. To date, he's likely the only rapper to have ever uploaded an instructional video to YouTube about how to sear an Ahi tuna steak. Now, after dropping his Dr. Lecter debut album earlier in the year, Bronson has released Well-Done. It's a full-length project entirely produced by Statik Selektah and was largely written while Bronson was holed up at home with a broken ankle he suffered as he slipped while working in his father's Mediterranean restaurant (no word on what shoes he was wearing at the time). Bronson has now taken himself from the kitchen to the street to the dancefloor.
Bronson's continued love of grub is no gimmick. His raps might be peppered with references to Chesapeake Bay soft-shell crabs, heirloom tomatoes, Italian Grana Padano cheese and "slow roasted animals smothered in gravy," but he also raps like a beast. The oft-quoted lazy comparison is that he sometimes sounds a little like Ghostface and spits in the lineage of Big Pun, but Bronson exudes a fresh personality of his own -- not least when coining catchphrases about his feral facial hair. So as he picked over a plate of mozzarella sticks, we got Bronson to open up about the best music to play in the kitchen, illegal rap raves in Queens, and the intricacies of Rick Ross' bushy beard.
The first song on the new album is titled "Respect The Mustache." Is facial hair something you feel strongly about?
Yeah, respect the mustache, because people have problems with their facial hair these days, like they grow Fu-Manchus and funny facial hair. I'm proud of my luxurious full length beard -- you've got to respect that. I mean, I just let it go, I don't even sculpt it. So I coined that phrase -- respect the mustache -- because facial hair is a sign of being a man; respect my man-hood.
Is your mustache like Samson's hair when it comes to your rapping?
I'd think so. I'm actually keeping it as a goal so if I lose 50 pounds then I'll shave it. But that's not happening any time soon -- I mean we're eating mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers and drinking ginger ale right now!
Who else in hip-hop has decent facial hair?
Sean P has a pretty nice beard and Freeway obviously. I'd give Sean P's beard about a seven.
What could Sean P do to improve his beard?
It's the miscellaneous hairs he has some places. He needs to get the line sculpted right.
Is Freeway's beard the gold standard?
Freeway's is more Islamic. Rick Ross has a pretty impressive beard but he has mad berries and juices in his -- you can tell 'cause it's always shiny and shit. Everyone always asks me if I dye this shit. I'm like, 'What, are you crazy?' I tell 'em I'm like an old fuckin' Bangladeshi man with an orange beard!
You mentioned that you wrote most of the new album while you were at home with a broken ankle. Did being cooped up that way affect the lyrics you were writing?
It 100% changed my whole perspective on things. I mean, I've done all the loopy songs and just the straight hardcore rhyming and shit, and we wanted to try and make actual songs with this one. I had a lot of time to sit with it because I was off my feet for a time. I was laid up, then one night when it was pouring with rain I took the cane, took the car out and knocked a couple of songs out.
Which tracks on the album do you think show this progress?
I'd say songs like "The Rainmaker," and even "Miss Fordham Road '86, '87, '88." I mean, the title of that one is just being from New York and knowing street stuff you know that when I say Miss Fordham Road you know that I'm talking about a fiend in the Bronx. She was the queen of the neighborhood but she's ruined now. She was hot in the '80s, but now she's just out in front of Pathmark wiggin' out. She had the back-to-back-to-back titles -- she three-peated those years and then fell off.
Everywhere I go I get baked goods from girls. The night after in Montreal I got Snickerdoodle cookies; in California some girl made me weed baklava.
What does Miss Fordham Road look like now?
She's beyond being saved. She looks like Tales From The Crypt. Actually, we just saw her [on the way to the bar]. She was in front of Pathmark on 125th Street, the craziest fiend ever, no teeth, doped out. I'm gonna offer her $50 to do whatever for a video for the song. You know what would be funny? If we pampered her, paid for her to get made up and then like Trading Places take everything away from her at the end! Ah, man!
What's Miss Fordham Road's name?
Before you switched to making music, how far did you go with your career as a chef?
I went deep into it. I worked at some upscale places; I worked for the Mets, cooking for them after they finished their games. I was working my way up to being an executive chef somewhere but I was always more comfortable working with my father in his restaurant. It was more convenient: I wore my shorts, listened to my music in the kitchen, it was all in my control. I had this entire kitchen at my disposal so I'd just create, create, create.
What sort of dishes did you come up with?
We'd experiment with all kinds of things. One of my favorite things in the world is a fried Camembert with a nicoise salad and grapes. You got the cheese with the Herbs de Provence and you slice it up and it spills out all over the salad ... I know no rappers are usually talking about Herbs de Provence!
What sort of music did you play in the kitchen?
Salsa, Spanish music all the way in the kitchen -- that or some good good jazz, that always gets the mind working right. Rap is too much to grasp while cooking. You want to hear music and elements and I don't want to hear motherfuckers talking crazy.
So what prompted to switch from cooking to rapping?
It was just being in the studio with my buddies -- they kinda forced me into it. I'd say I've been rapping since about 2008, when I really started. [The rapper] Meyhem Lauren is my best friend in the world and I grew up with him. and he's been rapping since junior high school, so he'd inspired me. I remember going to the Fun Factory in Queens -- it was a graffiti place and it's called Five Pointz now -- and they would hold raves and little shows and MC battle these. This was back in the day, like 2002 maybe.
Were these illegal raves?
Yeah, Fun Factory was definitely illegal at the time. It was raves, people doing drugs and shit. It was fun though. That was my first real exposure; I didn't know about that sort of shit. It was hip-hop music but also ravey. Meyhem was rhyming at the rave. They'd stop the ravey shit and he'd just take the mic and start rapping, hype the crowd up.
What did the Fun Factory look like?
Very industrial, graffiti all over the world, with filthy, grimy people skating and riding bikes.
Can you remember the first song you recorded then?
The first rap I ever wrote was a down south rap over "Like A Boss" by Slim Thug. It was called "White Sauce" and I rapped with a southern accent and everything. I did it as a joke. I'm gonna release that one day.
Your songs are full of references to food. Do you worry that you might end up being typecast as something like "the rapping chef"?
People already ask me too much about food, but then it's me so I can't be cliched by that because that's what I am. I embrace it, and I feel that I get further because of that. You know, I get a lot of girls at this point at my show -- I think they gravitate towards this cooking thing. Everywhere I go I get baked goods from girls. In Toronto a girl ran out after the show while I was getting into a cab and gave me a bag of home-made honey almonds. She made candied almonds, with some spices in them, and gave me a big bag of them. They were amazing. She had written her number on the bag. When I got to the hotel room I fuckin' ate the whole bag, called her and let her know this was the best shit ever! The night after in Montreal I got Snickerdoodle cookies; in California some girl made me weed baklava.
What would be the ultimate food a girl could give to you as a present after a show?
A steak. If a girl brought a steak for me, I would marry her right there. Bring the grill and just grill it for me right there!
When you first started releasing music, you were put in the category of being an underground New York rapper. But since then it seems you're getting attention in different scenes, including working with Party Supplies, who produces stuff for the Fool's Gold label.
Party Supplies is an extremely talented producer, an electronic producer and DJ, who's signed to Fool's Gold, A-Trak's label. He's just one of a kind that kid, man. We just had instant chemistry -- within the first five minutes of meeting him we made a song. Fool's Gold are good people. A-Trak has showed me a lot of love in the past. They've been on me for a long time -- I really appreciate those dudes. Everyone keeps their ears to the street at this point, and everyone's on the Internet so things go around quickly, but I appreciate A-Trak's support.
Are you surprised at the extra exposure you're getting these days?
Yes and no. That's what I expect from myself anyway. I belong in that type of realm -- I don't belong in the underground even though that's my roots. I'm just me, not an underground artist. I make my music, I'm a chef, I can talk about anything. I lived all these things I talk about; it's just me. When I rap, I take things from different parts of life. Like when I say [on "Imported Goods"], "Orlando Magic warm-up suits and black Shaqs," that's from '93 and '94 what I was wearing. I was going to Champs in Roosevelt Field Mall getting the full Orlando Magic warm-up suit and the black Shaq pumps.
So what's been the worst fashion mistake you've made in the name of hip-hop?
Well it wasn't a mistake, but I ended up getting paid $5,000 for my first car when I crashed it and I bought 50 throwback jerseys! That was around the throwback era. That was the worst investment I made in my life! I gave a lot away. I remember I got some drugs and I messed them up 'cause I smoked them all and I had to pay a friend back in throwback jerseys.
Well-Done is out now via DCide Records.