Considering that a mere five years ago he was making his living working as a chef in New York City, Action Bronson’s rise to rap prominence has been impressive, to say the least. Between albums like Dr. Lecter and Well Done, mixtapes including the well-received Blue Chips series and other one-offs and features, Bronson has established himself as one of the best in the game thanks to the unique blend of skill, style, charisma and color that is slowly becoming his trademark. While the beginning of his career was marked by endless Ghostface Killah comparisons, they became fewer and further between over the years as people began to see that Bronson was the real deal, and while his voice might share similarities with that of Tony Starks he definitely has a swag all his own. That personality is on full display on the 13-track Mr. Wonderful, his major label debut and a cementation of everything we’ve come to know and love about the Queens-bred rapper — humorous banter, witty wordplay and some familiar production credits to tie it all together.
While one might expect this offering to be more refined than his mixtapes, Mr. Wonderful favors the gritty, disjointed nature of that medium versus that of a classic studio album. It seems like a deliberate choice as if Bronson is assuring us that while this might be his major label debut, we’ll still get him in all his unfiltered and unpolished glory. The tone is set early on the opening track, “Brand New Car,” which sees Bronson continuing his tradition of leaving mistakes on the final cuts of songs, something he previously did on tracks like “9-24-11,” “Dreamer,” “Pouches of Tuna,” and “Cirque Du Soleil.” While the first part of the album clips along nicely, it comes to a halt with the “Thug Love (Interlude).”
At this point, it becomes apparent why the randomness of a mixtape only works in certain scenarios and is probably better left in the mixtape setting. The interlude feels out of place, like an unwanted guest who has dropped by unannounced right when you’re getting comfortable, and it really derails the whole album from the strong, guns-ablaze starting pace. While the subsequent songs — “City Boy Blues” and “The Light in the Addict” — both have stellar beats care of 88 Keys and Party Supplies respectively, they don’t provide much of a reprieve from the awkward interlude: both songs feature Bronson singing, not rapping, and while it’s a bold and gutsy move it feels a bit forced, especially for a rapper as strong as Bam Bam. The album’s denouement is strong, including the Chance the Rapper collab “Baby Blue” and the single “Easy Rider,” but the detour in the middle is certainly distracting.
While Bronson barely spits a bad verse on the entire album, the production is the real star of Mr. Wonderful. Frequent Bronson collaborators Party Supplies, Statik Selektah and The Alchemist providing the bulk of the beats, with Mark Ronson and Drake right-hand Noah “40” Shebib rounding out the all-star cast of beatmakers. These producers deserve credit for crafting a real hip-hop album devoid of any electronic, trap or future influences that are becoming more pervasive in the rap genre these days. Sonically, the complex and layered instrumentation is light years ahead of the club-oriented, more rudimentary style that the likes of DJ Mustard and Sonny Digital are pioneering.
While the raps and production are both extremely strong, Mr. Wonderful really does fall down on its composition, especially comparative to other major releases as of late such as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly which was almost perfectly structured around a concept and in support of a story. Mr. Wonderful is missing that cohesiveness foundation on which to stand to make it really strong, and that’s not to say that the disjointedness should have been thrown out, but perhaps just flushed out. There are ways to make an album that twists and turns and avoids traditional arrangement — just look at Drake’s Nothing Was The Same or many of Eminem’s offerings — but it seems Action Bronson hasn’t quite figured out how to do that yet. This is understandable for a first major label offering, but it’s also disappointing. It’s also hard not to feel cheated when almost a third of the album was already released as singles, the oldest of which is “Easy Rider” which came out eight months ago.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable listen from an artist who, despite having his rap recipe down pat, is still experimenting when it comes to cooking up a full-length, major label-backed studio album. While Mr. Wonderful might falter a bit in terms of construction, it’s a fun and upbeat 50-minute ride of good old-fashioned raps against quality production. If Action Bronson sticks to that formula, people will surely happily eat up whatever he’s serving.