Action Bronson Saaab Stories

[Vice; 2013]

Styles: hip-hop, braggadocio
Others: Harry Fraud, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah

Saaab Stories, the latest release from Queens rapper Action Bronson, is slightly confounding. The EP — entirely produced by rising Brooklyn-based producer Harry Fraud — sounds gorgeous throughout, providing an array of consistently solid beats that explore sonic territory both new and old for Action. And yet, there’s something distinctly lacking in Bronson’s words. While the rapper (and ex-chef) is still focusing on the topics that he’s best known for — referencing obscure athletes and culinary images between his usual taunting and braggadocio — Saaab Stories largely feels like a missed opportunity; Harry Fraud’s contributions offered Bronson a platform to take his work to a whole new level, but the lyrics on most of these songs see the rapper miring in status quo mediocrity, plateauing rather than progressing.

Unfortunately, this dichotomy — of Fraud’s largely on-point production and Bronson’s generally middling lyrics — pervades nearly the entirety of Saaab Stories. Take lead single “Strictly 4 My Jeeps”: the beat is hard-hitting and thrillingly visceral, and yet Action’s lyrics leave the listener wanting something more. There’s an amusing shout-out to Coldplay and a provocative (if purposeless) reference to the beards of Saddam Hussein’s deceased sons, but for the most part, Bronson’s words are pretty forgettable, even coming off as somewhat lazy. The jazzy “No Time” and the hazy, ethereal “Triple Backflip” similarly suffer from a number of unentertaining and aimlessly misogynist lines — “Tryna fuck a groupie bitch on the hood of the Mustang” and “Come, hold my dick while I take a piss,” respectively — that deny these stellar beats from becoming similarly stellar songs.

Still, Action hasn’t completely lost his ability to craft weirdly compelling lyrics — take, for instance, the Wiz Khalifa-featuring “The Rockers,” which boasts a winning reference to wrestler Marty Jannetty in the song’s addictive hook. But perhaps the most unforgettable moment on this EP is the second half of “Alligator.” While the first half of the song is somewhat disappointing (the beat here is one of the least gripping on the entire release), the track abruptly transitions around the three-minute mark into a haunting extended coda, where Bronson — rapping over sparse bass guitar arpeggiation and percussive clattering — narrates the story of a woman fighting breast cancer that has near-cosmic implications: “Strange occurrences, alignment with the sun and earth/ As baby turtles break the sand just to figure out the meaning/ Instinctively they heading towards the water cause they need it/ Forever cycles stay the same, they feel it like a fiend’s wrist.”

That moment alone is enough to make me hopeful about what Action will do next. Bronson certainly has the ability to craft lyrics with intellectual depth and emotional resonance, words that are equally imbued with humor and pathos. Unfortunately, Saaab Stories mostly lacks these qualities. Still, Harry Fraud’s production ensures that the EP is still enjoyable in a purely instrumental, non-lyrical dimension; I just wish that Action had stepped up and delivered rhymes on a level that these beats deserve, on a level that — as evidenced by that devastating last verse on “Alligator” — Bronson is clearly capable of.

Links: Action Bronson - Vice

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