June 13, 2013

saab-stories1Son Raw wrote a rap review

I was slightly concerned for Action Bronson. Blue Chips was an amazing breakthrough displaying a world class persona with a surprisingly experimental edge, but a character as large as Bronson’s can easily calcify in the public eye. Despite working with one of rap’s best active veterans in Alchemist, Rare Chandeliers often seemed like less than the sum of its parts with Action getting lost in Al’s prog-funk haze. The boasts seemed strangely detached from reality, the sort of cartoon ridiculousness born from an overexposure to Californian kush and sunshine –while his subsequent guest spots began to take on an air of predictability. He was still murdering beats, but we weren’t far from Action Bronson madlibs where “food reference+80s sports reference” had you half way to a verse.

Saab Stories assuages these concerns in the best way possible. Bronson doesn’t switch up his lyrics because it turns out he doesn’t need to – instead he goes widescreen, exploring new flows over production that gives him all the room he needs to convince the world that he’s one of the top 5 spitting. Give credit to Harry Fraud: resisting the siren song of production pyrotechnics, he instead provides the kind of stoned loops that bring out the grimier side of Bronson’s persona – the dirty, drug-addled New Yorker straight out the kitchen with stories to spare. “Triple Backflip” is all synth washes and conga rolls with the occasional blues lick thrown in. “No Time” is 90s-era De La Soul with rough drums and jazz loops. “The Rockers” goes double time. It’s this sonic variety that allows Bronson to tweak the formula to keep things interesting and when Fraud finally does bring out the big guns on the two part “Alligator,” Bam Bam responds with one of the darkest, coldest verses of his career.

Which brings us to the rhymes: Bronson’s lyrics still revolve around sports, sex, fine dining and the occasional acrobatic boast. But this time, they’re focused and altogether more sinister. There’s an almost punk edge to these songs, harkening back an era where you might catch Debbie Harry snorting lines with Fab Five Freddie and Action’s paranoia infects even the joyful moments. In short, it’s a great New York record, tough as nails even when the backing tracks evoke rap’s golden era or the aural answer to Sour Diesel and when things get really dark, Bronson reveals himself to be a writer of surprising depth and versatility. His portrayal of a down and out prostitute on “Alligator” contains all the detail of say, Slug’s verses about women, but without the sentimental affectation. Like much of Bronson’s work, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll be totally grossed out but this time, you’ll also get the chills.

That’s not to say Saab Stories isn’t fun: there’s plenty of Big Body Bes, a stunning (!!!) Wiz Khalifa guest spot, the Hot 97 throwback “Strictly for My Jeeps” and possibly the best blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Redman tribute ever committed to wax. Clocking in at a brisk 25 minutes, the EP doesn’t overstay its welcome and leaves you wanting more, a welcome development from a rapper who might have been faltering from overexposure. Best of all, it leaves you wondering what’s next and proves that the Queens representative has plenty more tricks up his sleeves.


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