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"Two weeks ago, Action Bronson showed up at my crib in Williamsburg with a 1995 BMW 5 Series wagon tattooed on his forearm," says Party Supplies, a producer signed to the clued-in Fool's Gold label. It's a midweek morning, and Party Supplies (real name: Justin Nealis) has been up all night posing for the cover artwork for Blue Chips, his '80s-inspired mixtape with Bronson. Sitting in the Blue Roost Café in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, he stops stirring his coffee, pulls out his iPhone, and searches for a photo of Bronson's tat. "He has that car," he adds, "and as soon as I saw him pull up in the champagne 5 Series wagon, I knew that in a car, that is Bronson." With that, he cracks a wry smile.
Party Supplies has good reason to beam: Action Bronson is New York City's secret hip-hop hope. A Flushing lifer and former chef, Bronson's buzz began after he uploaded videos of two songs, "Shiraz" and "Imported Goods," to YouTube back in 2010. The lo-fi clips were shot on location around New York (the latter flick is rendered as a street-level tourist's guide to Flushing), and they struck a note with those in thrall with the traditions of hometown hip-hop but looking for something fresh and updated. It helped Bronson's cause that he cultivates a distinctive look. He sports full-length leather jackets with shorts and maintains a bushy, ginger beard that he has boasted has him "heavy-bearded like I'm Jesus." His raps are characterized by a colorful and quirky phrasing—say, imploring that someone "tailor me a leather suit on some Jodeci shit."
In person and in verse, Bronson radiates a force of personality that's undeniable. With Blue Chips, and its association with a label that in the past has helped boost the careers of acts with hip appeal like Kid Cudi, Danny Brown, and Kid Sister, those in Bronson's corner are hoping he can shimmy along from being seen as an excellent player on the underground hip-hop circuit to something of a star in the making.
Holed up at home later that evening, Bronson is in the middle of a weed-smoking session that has him coughing uproariously as he talks about his hopes for Blue Chips. "I feel like Fool's Gold's people already always fuck with me," he says when asked if his team-up with Party Supplies will endear him to a new crowd. "Every day, I get some sort of message from new people saying they found out about me. I think this project is going to reach a bigger audience because it's free, though." (Blue Chips is facilitated by Reebok's pockets and named after the 1994 Nick Nolte–starring flick that, handily, also has the Reebok-sponsored Shaquille O'Neal in its cast—although Party Supplies says they chose the title because the movie "is about the NCAA and paying players to lose and win, and a lot of payola is going on in rap.")
"When we're in Williamsburg, everyone knows him," Party Supplies agrees. "They come up to the table while we're eating; they want a picture with him. I mean, inside, Bronson is, like, the original hipster. When all these hipsters say, 'Let me get the Carhartt tattoo,' he actually does it. He's got the Jason Giambi sunglasses [tattooed] on his arm. He is what he talks about."
This parallel between Bronson's rhymes and his personality is striking. He says the recording process for Blue Chips involved sitting down with Party Supplies in front of a computer and having "a YouTube party." The duo came up with ridiculous phrases—"a 100-acre burgundy carpet"—and searched for them on the streaming-video site, then clicked until they unearthed something like "an old Indian pop song with 45-year-old Indian men doing funny dances." Once they struck gold, Party Supplies would plug his MPC sampler directly into the headphone port of his computer and loop the found footage while Bronson wrote his raps. Listening to Blue Chips, the vibe of spontaneity and creative playfulness is made plain. (The Indian song is used in the project's title track.)
Although Blue Chips charms with its series of skewed and preposterous references—at one point, Bronson becomes "Randy Quaid with the turtleneck"; he also raps about a $17,000 pen—at its heart is a specifically New York City take on the '80s where, as Party Supplies puts it, "things can go dark very quickly, so there's all these characters who have been snorting heroin for 30 years." Bronson adds, "It's songs about shifty backstreet walkers and runaways." It's an astute layering: The ostentatiousness and consumption catch the ear, but after a few listens, the frayed threads emerge. It's that thoroughly New York experience where a situation flips at the turn of a corner.
Swilling down the last of his now-tepid coffee, Party Supplies sums up Bronson's appeal: "A lot of people are bullshitting and just go home at the end of the day 'cause it's an act, but every now and then, you get people who really live like that." Bronson, he says, is the genuine artifact. "Not to say he's living all of the exotic references in his lyrics," he adds, "but he's a rap guy." And rap guys are built for New York.