It will be difficult to find a rap album released this year as fun as Action Bronson’s major label debut, Mr. Wonderful–how can you not love a guy who looks like this and has the bravado to claim that he “took up a meeting at Paramount/typecast as a romantic lead”? Bronson drops plenty of one-liners that are alternately hilarious and clever, and in contrast to the prevailing atmosphere in hip-hop today, he keeps the mood light. His particular style may bring to mind Ghostface Killah, but Bronson’s focus is less on elaborate crime-based storylines and more on finding satisfaction in the simple pleasures, like a “plate [of] some melon and prosciutt’.”
He may have gained a certain level of notoriety from a series of mixtapes and various EPs that were underground hits, but Bronson realizes that Mr. Wonderful is an opportunity to introduce himself to a whole new audience. This explains why most of the album is focused on establishing the basic mythos of “Action Bronson”, as best exemplified by the comparing his origins to the creation of the genetically-engineered dinosaurs of Jurassic Park in “Falconry”. The album is not just tossed-off quips though, as there are several callbacks throughout–Bronson kicks off the album boasting that he’s got a brand new guitar/got a jazz guitar over a Billy Joel sample, and then said guitar provides the melody for “Terry”. Sometimes the clues are more difficult to spot, but reveal themselves after a bit of digging–in the line before the Jurassic Park comparison on “Falconry”, Bronson tells us he’s “listenin’ to German guitar riffs, what a life” and then a few songs later, this obscure track provides the main sample for “Only In America”.
Bronson takes a risk with a conceptual trilogy that makes up the middle third of the album. “City Boy Blues” is the most musically adventurous track on Mr. Wonderful, providing a refreshing change of pace, and “A Light In the Addict” provides a bridge between the trilogy and the rest of the album. The highlight though is the conclusion, the spurned lover’s lament “Baby Blue”. Mark Ronson does a great job emulating the style of usual Bronson collaborator Party Supplies with the easy jazz, bouncy piano, and soulful hooks, but it’s Chance the Rapper that steals the show with his guest verse. Chance wishes for a series of hilariously precise misfortunes to befall his former ladyfriend that range in malevolence from relatively harmless to rather painful (“I hope the zipper on your jacket get stuck” to “I hope you get a paper cut on your tongue from a razor in a paper cup”), though he ends on a rather mature note in wishing her happiness.
Mr. Wonderful is not a great artistic triumph, but not all albums need to be. Sometimes you need to kick back and have a little fun, but in a way that does not insult your intelligence, and Action Bronson fulfills that role perfectly. The man even offers some great advice: “Opportunity be knockin’–gotta let a motherfucker in.”