Action Bronson’s hip-hop is akin to riding the fringes—with a down-for-anything tour guide.
If you recognize Barry Horowitz’s name, all you need is one word to summarize what he’s best known for: losing. While working for the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling through the 1980s and 1990s, Horowitz—a well-mulleted, profoundly cheesy dude who played up his Jewish heritage—earned his pay by constantly “jobbing,” i.e., being pinned. Presumably because no one else cared to do so, Horowitz made it part of his character to pat himself on the back. With his time on national television long past, he’s a Kansas mile from anyone in his profession worth idolizing.
But in Action Bronson’s “Barry Horowitz,” a track off the rapper’s 2011 debut Dr. Lecter, the anti-hero isn’t invoked as a boring jobber. Over a smoky, soulful, blaxploitation-flick-ready beat, Bronson dishes, “Heavyweight primate with a Harvard mind/Blunt filled with a citrus mixture, orange lime/Pussy drip when the thought of Action come to mind.” After reaching the track’s midpoint, the Queens native kicks off its second half by reminding civilization of the aforementioned wrestler’s defining detail: “It’s Barry Horowitz rap/I’ll pat myself on the back.” Somehow, Bronsolini did the unthinkable: He made ol’ Barry sound like a bad ass.
“Everyone tries to mention wrestlers and tries to talk about that stuff in their rap, [mentioning] the major-type players. If you’re a real wrestling fan, you know about people like Barry Horowitz or fuckin’ Bastion Booger—not just Ultimate Warrior, who everyone knows,” says the 28-year-old Bronson, who is open, soft-spoken, taciturn and cranky at different points during our conversation. “I just thought it was funny. Whatever I think is funny, I rap about.”
Horowitz is one of several obscure wrestlers referenced in Bronson tunes, and it’s partially become the rapper’s thing to use tracks to pay homage to off-the-beaten-path subjects. Sure, he references well-known names like Shaq or Muhammad Ali—just as tons of other MCs do—but he’s just as likely to mention someone niche, like ‘70s Miami Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka or blues guitarist Buddy Guy. Other recurring topics in his discography include hanging out with prostitutes (“Hookers at the Point” is inspired by the HBO documentary series of the same name), smoking marijuana and eating very well. The latter detail is most crucial to the Bronson character. He’s a former chef at Citi Field, the New York Mets’ stadium, and liberally applies his love for and knowledge of dishes to his rap. Lyrics often resemble the scraps of a cookbook’s index section, with nods to “oysters for breakfast,” barbecued venison, burgers (which he eats with his drug dealer), roasted rack of lamb and other culinary treats. Action Bronson’s hip-hop grabs onto and masters the art of food references with same brilliance and gusto that the Wu-Tang Clan used for kung-fu allusions.
Starting to rap for fun around 2008, Bronson (who has never revealed his real name; “Action” stems from his tagging handle) experienced his big break thanks to actually breaking something. After hurting his leg in early 2011 and being forced to sit around, he decided to go all-in on his rap career. During that period, he finished Dr. Lecter and started writing part of Well-Done, his collaboration with Statik Selectah, and then decided to quit his job. Hype built. Fast-forward to March, and he’s collaborating with producer Party Supplies for the freewheeling Blue Chips, a mixtape commissioned by Reebok. In August, Bronson signed to Vice Records, an imprint of Warner Bros.
With no hyperbole, he has all the instruments needed to succeed in a massive way: the skills, the story, the personality, the connections. It’s tempting to think of Bronson as the sum of his quirks—and for new listeners, such touches of characterization are compelling gateways—but he’s much more nuanced than that. Dr. Lecter’s “Ronnie Coleman,” for example, is an awfully funny story of how he keeps trying to lose weight, but can’t resist the temptation of food. Bronsolini is quick with a memorable line or six, self-aware enough to poke fun at himself and others, and unflaggingly confident, even when situations aren’t in his favor—such as when he tweeted a seemingly transphobic comment and caused a small kerfuffle. “I’m kinda sick in the fuckin’ head,” he quips. “I’m surprised about everything. There’s still a lot of people who have no idea who the fuck I am, so I don’t feel like I’ve done my job yet.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Nov. 2 Cypress Hill show at The Trocadero, for which Action Bronson was scheduled to open, as been postponed until Nov. 27. Because of scheduling conflicts, Bronson will not be on the bill that night.