I’m sitting backstage with rapper Action Bronson on the set of a Funny or Die shoot he’s doing with R. Kelly. Before the crew can start filming though, Kelly needs to eat. It’s nonnegotiable. The crew isn’t happy about this, but the situation leaves me a nice block of time to catch up with one of the central figures of New York’s hip-hop reawakening.
The 30-year-old Queens native (his real name is Arian Asllani) didn’t always want to create music. In fact for most of his twenties he worked as a chef after graduating from the prestigious Art Institute of New York’s culinary program. (He even hosted his own cooking show on the Internet.)
At his core he breaks the conventions of rap. He’s a hefty guy that comes from a family of Albanian immigrants. His new mixtape, Blue Chips 2, samples very “un-hip-hop-y” artists like Tracy Chapman, Phil Collins, and Elton John. His lyrical word play contains rhymes about gourmet food more often than not. Stylistically, he’s been compared to Ghostface Killah.
Only two years after his debut, Action Bronson’s work has been met with critical acclaim from magazines like Rolling Stone and Complex, he sells out concert venues in a single day, and he just signed a record deal with Atlantic’s imprint Vice. Don’t tell that to Action Bronson though, he still takes his kids to school and has strong feelings about food (he hates the stupid pretzel bun trend).
So, how’s the new studio album going?
Its good, it’s working.
Is it almost finished?
Yeah you know, you just keep working and working. You never know when it’s finished, you just have that feeling. I haven’t had it yet so I’m just going to keep going until it feels done.
Until now your music has been released through smaller labels, has there been any adjustments you’ve had to make now that you are with a big label like Universal?
I’m trying to have it not affect anything. If you think about it like, “yeah I’m at a major label,” you’re going to be forced to think differently and approach things differently. I can only approach it the way my mind allows it. I’m not going to force it just for the label’s sake. Look at all the music out there! I don’t make the type of music that’s the popular hip-hop so to say with the southern influence and the really heavy high hats and base-y stuff. I could do that and I like that stuff, but I’m more off the wall with it. There’s no direction of where it could go. There’s all kind of influences. I’m sure when the time comes [the label]’s going be like, “Where’s the single?”
This is my normal shit. I still wake up every day and take my kids to school. It’s supposed to be this way. Blue Chips and Blue Chips 2 present me and that’s what people like. They don’t like a contrived version of you.
Blue Chips 2 has a lot of old school samples in it (Tracy Chapman, Phil Collins), is that you or your production partner Party Supplies?
We listen to a lot of music and just brainstorm. Like, “Yeah this will be crazy to rhyme on alright lets loop it up.” Boom there’s a rap song. That’s how it goes, you can’t put too much thought into it.
Then you wouldn’t be being you.
Exactly. When you start putting too much thought into it, the music starts getting too revealing. You don’t need to know all my inner thoughts. I just put out what I want.
What do you think of the New York hip-hop scene today? We have a lot of artists that are kind of New York famous but not big on a national level.
It’s a good time. There are a lot of different things in New York. New York is the melting pot. Me I’m more of a grassroots type of dude. I grew up in the ‘90s. My goal isn’t to be a ‘90s rapper, but I have little hints of ‘90s influence in my music. It’s a modern approach to classic rap. The hip-hop scene in New York is strong, it’s wide open, and everyone wants to be the top dog. Everyone’s being competitive and doing their thing.
What are you listening to when you aren’t listening to yourself?
Guns N’ Roses. ‘80s on 8 which is an amazing channel on Sirius. A lot of 101.1 in New York CBS FM playing the gold oldies, foreign music, different types of Spanish shit. I’m a man of different types of flavors and tastes. I like listening to things that inspire me. Older music, when instruments were being played not just people hitting buttons. It’s manlier. You’re touching things to make sounds appear.
Do you think you have that tangible feeling of making music in the studio?
I mean, Party Supplies plays almost every instrument, the type of samples that we pick are very musical.
Riff Raff tweeted that you guys are collaborating on an album.
He announces a lot of things, he pretty much wills things into existence. He’s a good dude, but you know he’s eccentric. He gets an idea in his mind and he’s ready to go right now.
Well tweeting it to 100K fans is a good way to pressure you into doing something.
Yeah he gets things done.
What’s in your refrigerator right now?
Nothing, just ginger shots, I’m about to move.
What food trends are you ready to leave behind in 2013?
One thing that I hate is anything on a pretzel bun. It seems like they were the thing in 2013. It’s pretty annoying.
Any plans to continue the Action Bronson food truck?
Yes, through some capacity. There’s all kind of ideas, we could bring it on tour…
I was at Bushwick Block Party where you first unveiled the truck. I need to ask, what is a chicken from France sandwich?
[Laughs] All it is is a nice marinated breast grilled on a baguette with gruyere cheese, some romaine lettuce, some roma tomato and French aoli, which is just capers, dill, garlic, very intense flavors.
Sounds great, when you’re not cooking, what are some of your favorite food spots in the city?
A lot in Queens, but one of my favorites is right here downtown, Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches.
What’s next for Vice Eats with Action Bronson?
Like I said, endless possibilities. I want to go to northern Africa. You might see me in Malaysia. You might see me in fucking South Africa. Anywhere!