As rapper-slash-chef Action Bronson's name has popped up several times in the comments section of many of the posts on HHID, it's only fair that I try to explore his catalog a bit further. And, being as lazy as I am, I choose to continue my AcBro write-ups with another one of his EPs, the goofily-titled Saaab Stories, instead of a full-length album or mixtape. Which definitely sounds like something I would do.
Continuing his assault on hip hop blogs the world over, Ariyan "Action Bronson" Arslani released Saaab Stories, an EP recorded exclusively with producer Harry Fraud, in June of this year. According to Fraud, this project, the first of many he has planned with our host, was originally called the less-ridiculous Saab Stories, but was probably changed because of copyright infringement (I'm just guessing here).
The short project features seven tracks built to showcase Bronson as a rapper worth giving a shit about, his Ghostface Killah-esque flow serving as a mere gateway into his world of sex, drugs, crime, food, and everything else that makes life worth living, I guess. Saaab Stories was signed off upon by a major label: Atlantic Records, who picked up Bronson's contract after his record label, Vice, switched their distribution deal from Warner Bros. to its current home.
Saaab Stories has already made a sizable impact on the Interweb, mostly due to the A-list guest stars Bronson managed to strong-arm into participating. However, his sense of humor shines through on the tracks themselves, and having everything produced by the same dude gives the EP a sense of continuity that is flat-out missing from hip hop these days.
You can tell I obviously didn't have much to write about for these opening paragraphs. Let's go!
1. 2 VIRGINS (FEAT. BIG BODY BES)
Half actual song, half shit-talking interlude. Over Fraud's weirdly hypnotic instrumental, one that envelops your mind until you're somewhat cognizant that there are hardly any drums and you don't really mind, Bronson spits a quick verse about having to take out a peer whose loyalty has been compromised (a topic which every artist who specializes in crime tales gets to pretty early in their careers), but before long he hands the track over to Big Body Bes, whose boasts reach hilarious new heights and really deserve to be experienced for yourself. A weird way to kick things off, but at least it's short and to the goddamn point.
2. TRIPLE BACKFLIP
As with nearly every Bronson song I've heard thus far, "Triple Double" isn't about much of anything, but two things our host excels at are shit-talking and goofy pop culture references, so it was enjoyable anyway. Fraud's instrumental is more relaxed than I would have liked, but AcBro sounded so at home that I was left halfway hoping that Harry Fraud can eventually connect with Ghostface Killah for at least a single song. Because Bronson and Pretty Toney sound alike, you see. However, I'm ready to concede that, now that I'm a bit more familiar with the dude's work, there are obvious differences between the two that help Bronson stand out on his own.
3. NO TIME
Although he throws you off the scent at the very beginning, Fraud turns in a very 1990s-sounding instrumental, complete with the type of pounding drums that I tend to gravitate toward. Ariyan runs through his verses like a hot knife through most things (hey, a hot knife can potentially cause a lot of damage, don't sleep), delivering his bars with the confidence of a rapper with twice as long of a career. Runs a bit too lengthy for my taste, and the skit at the end is beyond useless (is it truly necessary to include a skit on an EP? Discuss), but this was still pretty enjoyable.
4. THE ROCKERS (FEAT. WIZ KHALIFA)
The first guest of Saaab Stories isn't one of the artists bubbling in the underground that our host tends to frequently work with or any of those guys on A$AP Rocky's "1 Train" (that song turned into shorthand for "an underground posse cut that features a bunch of people you should be paying attention to, and also Yelawolf" really quickly, huh?): instead, it's major label stoner darling Wiz Khalifa, who hasn't managed to replicate the success of his breakthrough "Black and Yellow", although he certainly hasn't stopped trying. Wiz and Bronson unleash unconvincing threats underscored with an annoying-as-shit hook, which would make "The Rockers" the first slip-up on here, except that the verses themselves sound alright otherwise over Fraud's melodic backdrop. Not bad, but most certainly not good.
5. STRICTLY 4 MY JEEPS
The single, inspired by EPMD's LL Cool J-featured "Rampage", and it bangs, even though the hook threatens to destroy the momentum. We get it, dude: you like sex. You don't need to talk about it all the goddamn time: it'll sound like your overcompensating for something. Anyway, Fraud runs the sample at a slower speed than Erick and Parrish did, which allows Bronson to spit at his regular tempo, instead of forcing him into something absurd such as speed-rapping. This shit works for me: it's simple, it's catchy, and it's entertaining as fuck. The video (which, admittedly, was my actual introduction to this song: I don't spend as much time on other rap blogs as I used to) is also silly as shit. It's obvious that Action Bronson is confident enough in his own abilities that he can take hip hop seriously while not taking himself seriously, which is goddamn refreshing.
Nothing about "Alligator" worked for me, until it suddenly did. Allow me to extrapolate: at first, I hated this shit. Fraud's instrumental sounded like everything I cannot stand about modern hip hop, and Bronson's bars seemed crafted merely to fit the mold, which was frustrating as fuck. So I stopped giving a shit and drifted off. This means that I sort-of missed the point where Fraud shifts everything into dim lighting, and a much calmer, sober, and downright somber Action Bronson adopts a reflective tone that I've never heard from him before, which brought me back completely. "Alligator" ultimately adds layers and depth to the Action Bronson story, helping him add to his potential shelf life. A very chill ending to what started off as the worst song on the EP. It's weird that there hasn't been a song on here that I can dismiss outright, huh?
7. SEVEN SERIES TRIPLETS (FEAT. PRODIGY & RAEKWON)
The only other guests on Saaab Stories just so happen to be New York heavyweights Raekwon (of the Wu-Tang Clan, duh) and Prodigy (of Mobb Deep), two guys who almost certainly inspired Bronson to rhyme at least a little bit, so their presence here is a pretty fucking huge co-sign. Cellblock P is far removed from his Mobb Deep prime, but his verse actually wasn't horrible (it wasn't very good at first, especially with all that "he was so scared he took a shit" garbage, but it got better), and having the Chef on here may be as close as we get to a true Ghost and Rae collaboration in 2013 (aside from anything on the upcoming Wu group album, anyway, and by the way, I'm still pissed that Raekwon couldn't carve out time to contribute at least one verse to Twelve Reasons To Die). But the true stars on this otherwise disconnected effort (as none of the rappers acknowledge one another, it's clear that this was recorded on several different planes of existence) are Bronson and Fraud, both of whom turn in good work to close things out.
THE LAST WORD: As I mentioned above, there aren't any songs on Saaab Stories that I can dismiss outright. Action Bronson's lyrics hardly ever approach anything beyond shit-talking, but this is hip hop, and hip hop essentially is shit-talking, except set to a beat, so that's usually okay. His flow has continued to evolve; considering that the only other AcBro project I've listened to-slash-written about was his EP The Program, there's an obvious difference in his confidence level, although he probably wouldn't admit it. Everything on Saaab Stories is worth listening to, some less so than others, but Fraud's production is a perfect vehicle for Bronson's tales. Had he mixed in just a tiny bit more depth, such as from the second half of "Alligator", this could have been a beast; as it is, it's merely an enjoyable EP that won't take up too much of your day. Worth the six bucks.
B-SIDE TO CHECK OUT: "STRICTLY 4 MY JEEPS (REMIX)" (FEAT. LL COOL J & LLOYD BANKS)
This non-EP remix plays exactly as it reads: Action Bronson managed to snag Queens natives Lloyd Banks (really? There's tons of other artists in QB that could have filled this role) and NCIS: Los Angeles's LL Cool J (admittedly, this is a bit of a coup) for the official remix to a song which was inspired by Cool James's performance on EPMD's "Rampage" in the first place. AcBro even graciously hands the opening verse to Mr. Smith (because you wouldn't?), who, to his credit, sounds refreshed and not so much like a guy who recorded "Accidental Racist" with country star Brad Paisley. Bronson and Banks also sell the shit out of their performances, too. Fraud retains his original (relatively speaking) instrumental, but mixes in elements of Mtume's "Juicy Fruit" to clearly remind the listener of The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy", which was an interesting choice. Worth looking for.
(NOTE: An earlier version of this post erroneously listed this EP as a free download. If this were a major publication, I would say that I regret the error. As it is not, I'll simply edit the post and move on.)
There's a bit more Action Bronson to be found by clicking here.