Stay True
After working his way through the underground hip-hop scene, Action Bronson is now ready for the big leagues.
Interview Ernest Baker
Images Andrew Link
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of XXL Magazine. Don't miss our cover stories on Meek Mill and Rick Ross right here.

New York rap has been mildly quiet over the past few years, but thanks to the help of creative artists like Action Bronson, the East Coast is on the rise again. The Flushing, Queens native has been rapping for six years but his career really took off in 2012 with mixtapes including Blue Chips with Party Supplies and Rare Chandeliers with Alchemist. That same year, Bronson locked down management with Paul Rosenberg’s Goliath Artist Management and also signed a deal with Vice Records. Since then, Bronsolino has steadily climbed his way up the ladder with the help of his energized live performances, the release of Blue Chips 2 and his EP Saaab Stories with Harry Fraud and his Vice food show Fuck, That’s Delicious.

Gearing up for the release of his debut album Mr. Wonderful (Vice/Atlantic), 31 year-old Action spent the day with XXL to talk success and fears, doing it for the fans and what to expect from his first album.

Photo Credit: Andrew Link

XXL: What was it like growing up?
Action Bronson: My childhood was great, honestly. I have all these incredible memories of my childhood. I was an only child, I always had all my cousins around, I had my grandparents around, I had my parents around, I had my uncles around, whatever. My father would work, come home late at night. My grandparents would be taking care of me during the day. My mother would be working as well. Then, my father opened up a restaurant, and he was there all the time, so a lot of the times it would just be my grandparents and my mother with me. And my mother would take me to the fuckin’ beach every single day. We would go to Florida to visit my other grandparents. Constantly getting bought things and toys from my other grandparents. Wonderful childhood, man, I can’t really complain about anything. It was actually a great heaven. All I did was eat and you realize this now, you have all these personalities and influences around you, and you just think back. I can see myself in each one of them.

What’s your relationship with your family like now?
It’s not like we got everything, you know what I mean? We still got everyday struggles like everyone else. I don’t have enough money to stop problems. When I’m saying stuff like that, I’m just like, my mother doesn’t have to work anymore but she does just because that’s my mother. That’s how we were raised, that’s how I was raised. You probably work harder to work for what you have. So that specific meaning of all that is, I made something of myself, and I know a lot of people were worried because I wasn’t so fuckin’ ambitious before. I was an incredible chef, and doing this, but I was stuck working with my father. There was no progression, and it was kind’ve a little bit tentative to go out from over there because of my comfort level. I had zero, nothing after I broke my leg in January 2011. So I started over and made this from scratch. That’s really what that meant.

You ever catch yourself thinking about or wanting things from the past? What you have now is what a lot of people want.
The level of success is not gonna cheer you. This is just the beginning, I’m just putting my first album out. All that other shit was just practice. Now, let’s go. Wanting to have things from your childhood brings incredible memories. So of course you’re always gonna want to go back to that because now your brain is so developed into thinking about so many different things. A lot of things weigh on you in a position like this. You’re gonna have to act sometimes. You think a lot and you drive yourself crazy. You can be your own worst enemy. You just gotta be cool and just keep your composure and you’re supposed to be there, so what the fuck.

What do you overthink?
Everything. I pick and choose my battles, but I overthink everything because I have to think about everything. This is my career. I have to be overly thorough and overly anal, always. That’s just what it is. You have to take control of your own life, your own destiny and your own careers. You can’t leave everything up to someone else, ’cause then you can look at them and blame them. But you wanna only be able to look at yourself and blame yourself. You don’t wanna have that burden on somebody else.

You talk about people who are invested in your career. You have some diehard fans. How does it feel that you connect with people on a deep level? Do things you write and perform come to you knowing it will impact people?
Man, I speak to the approach. I came in without trying, talk as crazy as possible, say things that other people aren’t saying and talk about things other people aren’t talking about in ways they never thought I could speak about it. I say things that hit home with people, I make people laugh. And I know rappers that make me laugh, I love them. Everyone likes to laugh. I don’t wanna always hear some nonsense shit, I like that. Music for me is something to be enjoyed. I don’t wanna be fuckin’ scolded. I don’t wanna be preached to. Unless it’s in a beautiful voice, I don’t want that. I wouldn’t bring that if I don’t want that. You wanna feel like a part of it, like you’re equal. Like, “Yeah, he knows exactly—I did that just before.”

Photo Credit: Andrew Link

What’s the magic with Mr. Wonderful? You know you have the magic, how does that affect the creative process?
You gotta push the muthafuckin’ envelope. You can’t keep doing the same shit over and over. I’ll break down my album for you. The beginning is like the raw, mixtape, fire songs that you wanna hear. Then in the middle of the album comes a musical of love and pain. After that comes the latter section, with a song called “Only In America,” which is pretty much my story because only in A-muthafuckin’-merica can this happen. Then we wind it down giving you a live performance feel. It’s a next level concept, trying things, beautiful segments and shit like that. It’s not like anything you’ve heard before.

How did you arrive at this beautiful concept and story?
It told itself. There were certain songs that we just had to keep. I went out of my way to make an intro song. I did a lot of envelope pushing with instruments and vocals and shit like that. When you listen to this entire piece, it’s a piece of art. It’s a musical. It’s like watching a show.

You’ve said you wanted this to be a classic project.
Everyone wants a classic. We want a timeless project. We want a project that will stand the test of time forever. There are certain songs that we listen to and we know to this day that we will listen to ’til the day we die. Muthafuckas like my kids will listen to these songs.

How do you balance that with not reaching for mainstream/radio success? You don’t have an MTV hit video to be number one on any more, but you have kids who will Instagram it. How do you balance your passionate fans with rappers who had chart success?
Where are those people now? There are only a few people who stand the test of time. It shows itself. No one is gonna give a fuck about a lot of these people two years from now, one year from now. Songs come and go now, it’s not like back in the day when you had to live with the shit. You cherished your tape, you cherished your CD. It’s not the same. So you have to create through your music, yourself and your legend, you have to do things and be overwhelming so people will naturally attract to you. Making music, you can’t go with the times because things change every four months. Look at Mark Ronson, just put out that song with Bruno Mars. That’s a disco-y, funky song, that ’70s shit. It’s 2015 and it’s the number one song in the world.

I like music that’s untapped. I like foreign music that no one’s heard before. I like discovering new shit. There’s endless and endless and endless amounts of music that nobody’s heard. Why are we stuck on this monotony? The same shit over and over. I’m good on that. I stand out because I’m different and I’ve realized that my mind doesn’t work like everyone else’s. My mind is on—I don’t know about the club because I don’t go to the club. I’m more the smoker, funky type of guy. I can make every type of record, it’s just what’s in me at the time. That’s really how I make music, it’s however I feel. You go through all these beautiful records from back in the day, and some fuckin’, “I wanna rap on that, I wanna rap on that.” It’s just gotta hit you.

Photo Credit: Andrew Link

Is there a distinction from you as a man from New York with your kids and then Action Bronson?
Doesn’t matter if you have kids or not, you’re the same muthafucka. I’ve been doing this my entire life. I always liked to be physical. I used to play football. I like putting people on their back, pause. I don’t like hurting people intentionally, but I like fighting and shit like that. Before the game, you fucking bash each other with the facemask. I like jumping into the crowd. You gotta tell people, “Yo listen, girls, I’m at 300 pounds at this point, almost in the twos. If you’re gonna be in the front, I’m gonna crush your hand or something.” You wanna have fun. You wanna leave your bullshit for an hour or two.

You can’t be afraid. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Music is a great escape of life’s anxieties. If my music makes people do that, then that’s all I could ask for in life. If you feel it in your bones, that’s how I feel.

Did you have a plan that you would reach this point? Did you think you would be here five years ago?
No, not at all. Five years ago, I was still in the kitchen. January 31, 2011 was the last day I stepped in the kitchen. Since then, it’s been straight rap. I had no plans on that being that. It was just a hobby, it was just something fun. Just to hear yourself record and laugh with your friends. But it became a reality and I’m the type of person who seizes opportunity. I’m not gonna let that shit pass. And it clicked at the right moment. I was a little bit immature when I was in the kitchen, but at the time I broke my leg something clicked.

Do you know what that is? Desperation?
My back was against the wall, I guess. Instincts is it. Instincts kick in and you see where your fuckin’ manhood is at.

You say it’s just the beginning, but where do you think things will go?
You gotta get different. You can’t be the same on everyone. There’s no telling where this path is gonna take me. I’m riding a wave. I have goals; I wanna be the best, obviously, at everything. You wanna be the best, you wanna excel, you want people to love you, you want this and that. I’m just content performing, making my music, cooking, doing all the things I do. I’m happy. I’m a happy person.