Here’s something I wrote in the middle of my latest review post for Mindless Ones, in which I talked about a couple of comics I didn’t like and one that I did:
Is this really what I want to aspire to though? Something that reminds me of something I liked before and might therefore conceivably enjoy again, if I put the work in? Apparently I can’t pretend that I’m immune to the appeal of this stuff, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting more than either Multiversity: Guidebook or Earth 2 have to offer.
If you swapped the names in that paragraph out for “Your Old Droog” and “Action Bronson”, and replaced the idea of putting work in with “trying not to think about race” then you’d have a fairly accurate record of how their works hit me.
Droog and Bronson don’t have much in common beyond their home town and a love of shit-talk. Bronson blends baroque culinary references with absurd descriptions of his physical prowess. Don’t get me wrong, the big guy’s got some moves, but songs like ‘Rare Chandeliers’ see him pulling off spectacular combos that would make Jackie Chan feel like captain inadequate:
Backflips off the ledge, hang-glide off the roof
Land on one leg, see me all up on the front page
Holding a pump gauge, ready to dump, aim
At your nuts, like the mouth of a whore
Somersault Cadillac on the door
Bronson’s voice is high pitched, needling, and his flow is punctuated by moments where his voice drops, breathless at the end of a sentence as he comes crashing through safe wall or some other shit. There’s no getting around it: he sounds like Ghostface Killah.
Your Old Droog, meanwhile, raps in a low growl, snapping hard on the internal rhymes, referencing ’90s rock bands, only pausing to dare you to call him out for it:
Back in the line of fire
Sayin’ my style’s dated is like checkin’ to see if wine expired
Salut, thought of that bar in the car
Cheffin’ up in the truck like halal food
Got them raps for you, I ain’t talkin’ gyros
Get on the mic and spit that porno for pyros
There’s no getting around it: he sounds like Nas.
The pleasure I derive from both rappers’ work is undeniably related to the fact that they remind me of other rappers who were scrapping for the throne while I was growing up. Bronson’s been working hard to create a distinct, excessive persona in a series of tight collaborations with producers like Statik Selekta and Party Supplies; Droog’s got less work behind him, but he’s more openly courting nostalgia right now, what with his references to 90s rock bands, Clerks samples and defensive references to the mature wine.
(This all sounds terrible when you write it down. It isn’t.)
As with the comics I was talking about in that Mindless Ones post, I can’t pretend that it doesn’t work on me. Droog’s Kinison EP has been on constant rotation round my way this week. Its first few tracks sound like they’ve been slowed down a little too far, which gives the sample in ‘Blood’ a genuinely haunted feel, and suits Droog’s rasp and bluesy aspirations just nicely. The latter songs speed up a bit, and the frazzled rock vamp of ‘Freeway Fire’ fits him just as well as the slower boom bap of the early tracks. Trying to distance himself from other rappers by positioning himself as a rock star from the flannel era and sampling rockist/anti-rap ranting is a pleasing minor novelty. The real test of his worth will be whether he can transform this into a fully-fledged aesthetic.
Action Bronson’s managed it, I think. He’ll probably always sound a bit like Ghost did in 1996, but at this stage I think it’s clear that he’s not just another biter.
Droog might never record an Illmatic, but could he manage a Blue Chips 2? I think so, but if he doesn’t at least we can cringingly anticipate the scene in the Back to the Future remake where Chris Pratt raps ‘New York State of Mind’ in front of Nasir Jones’ pal, inventing hip-hop in the process…