When Action Bronson plays this Valentine’s week – February 13 at NYC’s Irving Plaza, February 14 at Brooklyn’s Warsaw, February 16 at Philadelphia’s Franklin Music Hall – the Queens rapper and producer will focus on the thing we know him for best: hard, weird hip hop with an Impressionist edge. Bronson’s new album, White Bronco, is filled with raw, surreal imagery and thick, slithering beats. Yet, Bronson has made himself into a brand far beyond hip hop with his Viceland television show and accompanying best-selling book, F#%k, That’s Delicious, with its literary follow-up, Stoned Beyond Belief, due out in March. Plus he’s got a role in the Christmas release of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman crime epic on Netflix. We caught up with Action chilling in NYC before his Valentine’s run.
Action Bronson hits the stage in NYC and Philly this weekend
Having interviewed you in the past when you started making albums, it was recognizable that you had ambition. But several books and several television shows, to say nothing of painting and maintaining a career in music and food – wow. When did doing all of this become a thing in your head, that you could build a brand out of yourself?
Action Bronson: I feel like when I started doing TV shows, in the beginning, I saw how big it was getting right out of the gate. That people were responding to that, and the music taking off too. People were just enjoying everything that I did, and that gave me confidence – that maybe I could do anything that I wanted to do.
Before all that, you came from the restaurant world, as your parents had a Middle Eastern restaurant in Forest Hills where you chef-ed, and you had an online cooking show (Action in the Kitchen), so that had to help with the food end of things.
Action Bronson: Me coming from the food world, with my mom having all of her cookbooks around, that was always a thing I gravitated to. Still, it was a weird thing that I never knew that I wanted. But it was part of me. And it got to a point that when opportunities arose, I jumped on them. You have to, you know? You never know how long we have on this earth. Might as well give it my best.
On the music tip, you had the Blue Chip series through the Vice label – with Viceland being the network behind your series – until last year, when you left Vice and went on your own for the new White Bronco album. After the Blue Chips series, did you know that you wanted the next record to be more wild and as weird as some of the stuff at the start of your rap career? Were you looking to unleash yourself with the new album?
Action Bronson:You get away from the stigma of labels and having all this pressure on you – trying to produce singles when my tastes might be different than the guy at the label – it’s hard. It’s hard trying to please everyone. Sometimes, you have to go outside that realm, outside of yourself even to please just you and you alone. You live in the moment. Music is my journal, my journal of life. Each time I do something, I have a song to capture that moment.
Was it scary leaving your home label at Vice after so long, especially considering you’re still with Viceland? It comprised so much of your life.
Action Bronson: At the end of the day, I’m still under contract for one more year of “F#%k, That’s Delicious,” so let’s see what happens there. To be honest, we all hope relationships last forever, and if you want them to, both sides have to give 100%. I don’t want to be involved in the business if someone doesn’t want to see me win as much as they are. It wasn’t scary. It’s just questioning, just me taking a big jump into the deep end of the pool. Look, I started not really knowing anything about any of this. Everything is a blessing from that point.
On top of all this, you started painting again, and, not so long ago, exhibiting your work which has a great Neo-Impressionist, Post-Basquiat look to them. Handsome stuff. How did that happen after so long not being a thing for you?
Action Bronson The painting stuff is for me. I have been naturally inclined that way. I love to do art, doodle, draw, graffiti. I always had a marker, a paintbrush and spray can in my hand. I just wanted to broaden my spectrum. It’s therapeutic for me. And the Neo-Impressionist thing is about bold raw imagery, and I think that goes for my music as well as my painting. Even food. I’m just bold. I get straight to the point. But I’m also disturbed and distorted.
OK, the new book that comes out March 19, ‘Stoned Beyond Belief,’ is about your devotion to weed, and recipes around smoking. Is it fair to say it’s a lifestyle guide?
Action Bronson: I don’t really know what ‘lifestyle’ means. It’s nature. It’s built into my DNA, a plant than grows. It’s not taboo anymore.
That’s for sure.
Action Bronson: Growing up I had a ton of Disney books at my disposal, Dr. Seuss too. All very colorful, and in sets. That’s what I wanted to do with the “F#%k, That’s Delicious” brand – create a set of which “Stoned Beyond Belief” is the second volume. It’s another cookbook, but it centers around my life and how it’s changed around weed with little comics and anecdotes. Plus, it’s gorgeous looking – neon green. I’m very proud of this.
Is this where life is going for you? Certainly you need not give up one thing for another, but you sound totally stoked about the new book. Think there’ll come a time when the music takes a back seat to cooking or booking?
Action Bronson: Nah, because the music means so much to me. All my skills complement the other, and they’re all me. It just takes time to do it – not just cranking it out. I’m as excited to make music as I am about cleaning my bong. And I really like to clean my bong. I use the same care and precision doing that as I do all my work.
Last thing I have to ask you about is your role in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman on Netflix. That had to be something intense, especially you had scenes with DeNiro.
Action Bronson: Who the f#@k ever thought that could happen. When I got the call to audition, they told me Scorsese likes “F#%k, That’s Delicious,” and all of a sudden it’s like ‘holy sh*t.’ I bombed during the audition because I couldn’t see the script. I guess my eyesight is going, but I was too embarrassed to asking for glasses, so I stumbled and mumbled. But they liked me, and gave me a part. Next thing you know it’s me and DeNiro, face-to-face on camera, and Scorsese’s all love and smiles. I screwed up the scene a few times, and DeNiro pulls me aside and says, ‘you know, you’re really f**king everything up.’ I was in shock. Then he hits me and says, ‘I’m just f**king with you.’ How great was that? It felt good.