Action Bronson is known for many things — lyrical chops, biblical facial hair, the expansive waistline of a dedicated gourmand — but the things you notice sitting across from him are his eyes: piercing baby blues. “My eyes are always closed,” he says, squinting in the afternoon sun. “I have sensitivity because they’re so blue. I have very blond eyelashes.” Contrasted with his ruddy beard and mountainous frame, they lend him a doll-like quality.
We’re seated outside of Lilia restaurant in Williamsburg. Head chef and owner Missy Robbins brings out a selection of panini: prosciutto with balsamic mustard, and turkey porchetta with hot peppers and aioli. With those baby blues, the rapper, who is also a former chef, eyes a buttery burrata.
The 33-year-old Queens native (born Arian Asllani) is having a busy summer. Blue Chips 7000 (Vice/Atlantic), the final installment of his acclaimed rap trilogy, is due out August 25. (“It’s a culmination of my career,” he says.) Fuck, That’s Delicious, the cookbook based on his Viceland food-porn travelogue show of the same name, is due out September 12. And later in the evening, Bronson will be headlining “The End of an Era,” the final concert at Webster Hall before it closes for renovations and new ownership. Until now, Bronson had never even been to the legendary venue, let alone taken its stage. “I’ve never played, never been,” he admits. “I didn’t go to concerts before I started rapping. The only concert I had ever been to was [1997’s] Puff Daddy and the Family at Nassau Coliseum.”
Bronson’s a late bloomer. His earnest foray into hip-hop began after a leg injury in his father’s kitchen in 2011. The following year he signed with Vice, at the time partnered with Warner Bros. Records; this signing later led to his Viceland show, which debuted in 2016. Bronson’s star quality is undeniable: On Fuck, That’s Delicious, he bonds with Daniel Boulud over the finer points of French gastronomy as naturally as he makes baklava in his Albanian aunt’s kitchen. He is at once esoteric and accessible, and the ease with which he rubs elbows with Michelin-starred chefs could give him a nice, Bourdain-ian transition out of music. But rap remains Bronson’s first love, as his new album demonstrates. “I was making too much television shit,” he says. “I had to really know I could go in and fucking spit that heat.”
Throughout Blue Chips 7000, Bronson raps with confidence and swagger. “Yo, these sixteen bars cost sixteen cars/Kiss these balls, bitch, we stars,” he boasts on “The Chairman’s Intent.” On “La Luna,” he raps over car-service hold music. On “Bonzai,” he puts his own spin on New Jack swing, rapping, “I’m laying in the bed naked/My bitch says I look like Kevin Bacon/I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not/But I’ll take it.”
With Harry Fraud, the Alchemist, and Party Supplies on production duty, the album is an audiophile’s wet dream of classic and obscure samples. “We just wanted to top our last shit,” says Alchemist. The recording process took a year and a half, with each producer taking a different approach to flesh out Bronson’s sound. Still, sampling has drawbacks: Clearances delayed the album’s release, and not everything made the final cut; the Alchemist track “Dimitri” had to be shelved because of a sample.
“It was devastating,” laments Bronson. “This man went to Brazil, dug that record up. He played it for me on the tour bus and I literally blacked out. Rhymed for three minutes. Some of the craziest shit I’ve ever said.”
“We kinda stacked the shit against us by the things we used, but it makes it authentic and original,” says Alchemist. “Nobody else has that sound.”
Authenticity remains paramount to the rapper: Despite his new visibility as a rising TV star, Action Bronson has the heart of an indie MC. “I’m a fucking underground rapper,” he says. “I am not made for the pop charts.”