I’ve found the Action Bronson “universe” to be pretty absorbing. The Albanian rapper from Queens developed a dedicated fanbase as early as 2011 with his first mixtape, which flourished into Vice-driven territory and expanded success through TV hosting gigs fueled by a generally fun (and funny) persona. Well, from my own perspective at least, I don’t know how much of a persona it is; Action Bronson may very well just…be like that. His posturing, represented by an energetic and raucous yet smooth flow (especially early on, compared frequently to Ghostface Killah), has always been supported by food metaphors (a continuity from his professional chef days) and athletic references. That dynamic has remained almost entirely consistent across the 14 releases Bronson has put out in the 11 years since 2011. I say “releases,” because included in this list unlike with my others that focus on a “main” run of albums, are mixtapes and EPs. In hip hop and rap, I feel it’s a bit more difficult to parse such things from a canon “album experience,” and in Bronson’s case, that’s doubly true because his mixtapes and EPs come in at runtimes longer than many other artists’ albums. So yes, below, I’ve ranked all of the work from the incredibly prolific Action Bronson, a rapper I’ve always enjoyed.
#14 — SAAAB STORIES (2013)
Favorite track: “Strictly 4 My Jeeps”
The EP SAAAB STORIES was Action Bronson’s major label debut, released through Vice and Atlantic Records as it was. As can sometimes happen with such a development from a scrappy indie, the result was pretty disappointing. Bronson wasn’t totally ruined by mainstream success, as we’ll see, but such attention didn’t start promisingly. It’s been noted that SAAAB STORIES, while well produced by Harry Fraud (who is co-credited on the cover), has a darker and more aggressive sound, providing a backing that doesn’t quite match Bronson’s usually eccentric approach. It makes his lyrics more ominous than tongue-in-cheek, so a lot of what makes Action Bronson, well, Action Bronson is subsumed into a technically proficient if not truly enjoyable sound. SAAAB STORIES, as noted by its place in this list, is the least essential release from the Queens rapper; even though it’s not terrible, it definitely flops with an out-of-place energy.
#13 — RARE CHANDELIERS (2012)
Favorite track: “Blood of the Goat”
Co-credited to producer The Alchemist, RARE CHANDELIERS was an early mixtape from Bronson. Its low placement on this list belies its generally enjoyable vibe. If there’s a problem to be found with the release, it’s simply that there aren’t many particular tracks that stand out to me. That being said, “Blood of the Goat” is a pretty sinister little song, an ironic thing for me to enjoy considering my criticism of SAAAB STORIES. But something about it still has a funky groove while working with an oppressive mood and some great features from Big Twins (AKA Twin Gambino) and Sean Price. The track’s got a legacy because of those appearances, but otherwise, the rest of the mixtape plays with the newcomer Bronson’s chaos; RARE CHANDELIERS just never seems to collect that chaos in a way I love.
#12 — LAMB OVER RICE (2019)
Favorite track: “Arnold & Danny”
LAMB OVER RICE, an EP also co-credited to The Alchemist, is an improvement over RARE CHANDELIERS from seven years earlier. LAMB OVER RICE is funkier and smoother, but the production, instrumentals, and samples mostly accentuate the rapper’s brash voice rather than clash with it or cover it up. If it’s lower on this list, it’s only because it doesn’t collect enough energy over its just seven tracks. The EP isn’t a minor Action Bronson work just because of its length, however. Perhaps an aspect of LAMB OVER RICE’s smoothness, at least as it’s exemplified on “Arnold & Danny,” is that it settles things into a relative malaise. The balancing act for Bronson, at least as I see it, has always been channeling his eccentricities and diverse influences into, if not a cohesive project, one that represents him in a more accessible way.
#11 — WHITE BRONCO (2018)
Favorite track: “Live from the Moon”
From what it seems to me (and I am by no means dialed into the hardcore Action Bronson community, which is made up of some vocal fans), WHITE BRONCO is seen as one of the rapper’s rare Ls. And while I don’t think the album is Bronson’s worst release, I can understand the sentiment. I think by this point in his career (of course, this was only a few years ago), Bronson had been putting out tracks, mixtapes, EPs, and albums almost nonstop. While he hasn’t really let up that pace since WHITE BRONCO, I think the album came in a formative period where the rapper was working with a more experimental sound. Bronson was smoothing things out a bit, as can be heard on “Live from the Moon,” while staying in the lane he set out for himself seven years earlier. It can create an atonality at times, but even for this shortcoming, I think WHITE BRONCO is a respectable bit of, if not a maturing style, at least an awareness of pushing previously set boundaries.
#10 — ONLY FOR DOLPHINS (2020)
Favorite track: “Latin Grammys”
ONLY FOR DOLPHINS, which took its name from a line on its predecessor WHITE BRONCO, continued that album’s experimentation. Bronson and his suite of producers have been varying things up on his full-fledged records of the past few years, working with some atmospheric transitions between tracks and jazzy instrumentals. It generally works, and I can’t put my finger on it, but something seems to be missing from these albums. Maybe it’s Bronson’s focus on his TV shows or fragrance line or olive oil or whatever, but I think more than that, the rapper is just in a period of figuring out how “serious” he wants to get. ONLY FOR DOLPHINS is not some mature manifesto (“Latin Grammys” succeeds on its repetitive line “Yeah, yeah, yeah (aah-ooh), I might not be able to touch my toes, But I will still fuck these hoes”), but the music and Bronson’s often more laconic delivery certainly represent a shift from his earlier style.
#9 — BON APPETIT ….. BITCH!!!!! (2011)
Favorite track: “85 Barritz BRO-HAM”
As much as I’ve explained that there is something missing from Action Bronson’s recent work, it’s not like his oldest work is infallible. BON APPETIT ….. BITCH!!!!! was the rapper’s first release, a mixtape co-credited to producer J-Love. It’s a lengthy exploration of all the themes (if you can call rapping about women, food, and obscure athletes “themes”) Bronson would explore, and has the general sound and feel of everything to come from him. The samples are on-point and the rapper’s delivery is great, but the whole of the mixtape sounds somewhat rough, even compared to what would come in the very near future, and its length guarantees some filler or less-than-great tracks. Still, BON APPETIT is a worthy debut from Action Bronson, regardless of its terrible late 2000s/early 2010s rap album/mixtape cover.
#8 — THE PROGRAM (2011)
Favorite track: “Mr. Songwriter”
THE PROGRAM is another one of those early releases from Action Bronson that actively co-credited his accompanying producer, in this case Don Producci. The EP carries some of the best tracks from BON APPETIT, but also makes its mark with a number of phenomenal original songs, such as “Mr. Songwriter.” To be honest, much of the track’s appeal is its pitched-and-sped-up sample of Connie Stevens’ song of the same name, but its fusion with the constant beat and Bronson’s upbeat delivery is just so satisfying; “Mr. Songwriter” has ended up one of my favorite songs from Bronsolinio. The rest of THE PROGRAM is no slouch either, but it ends up in this middling place because the rapper would take much of what he did here and do it better on subsequent releases.
#7 — COCODRILLO TURBO (2022)
Favorite track: “Estaciones”
COCODRILLO TURBO is Action Bronson’s latest album at the time of this writing and the impetus for this piece, and it’s also the best of the three albums I see as a kind of trilogy, preceded by WHITE BRONCO and ONLY FOR DOLPHINS. Sure, they all have in common covers painted by the artist himself (I believe), but I also think they showcase a more thoughtful Bronson. Again, while that doesn’t necessarily apply to some lyrics that reveal the state of our society, the rapper is working with producers to craft some really beautiful backings to Bronson’s typical approach. See “Estaciones,” which features Hologram with a verse that also doesn’t establish the album as some kind of important treatise. But listen to that backing, how Bronson and his guest work with it, and you get a sense of how COCODRILLO TURBO is a fluid and investing work in its own right while setting up some excitement for whatever he does next.
#6 — BLUE CHIPS 2 (2013)
Favorite track: “In the City”
If I had to guess, I’d imagine one of the two BLUE CHIPS mixtapes is many Action Bronson fans’ favorite release from the rapper. And I get it, because I think they epitomize the greatness of Bronson’s early potential, working with eclectic samples and presenting a mostly upbeat and fun listening experience that feels alternative to the biggest hip hop of its time. The mixtape is co-credited to Party Supplies too, also responsible for its predecessor, and together, the rapper and the producer have made some real magic. BLUE CHIPS 2 isn’t Action Bronson’s best work in my opinion, but there isn’t much fault to be found with it.
#5 — BLUE CHIPS (2012)
Favorite track: “Pouches of Tuna”
As mentioned, BLUE CHIPS was co-credited to producer Party Supplies. Although I think a number of people prefer this mixtape’s sequel, there just so happens to be a personal preference from me for a greater number of standout tracks on the originator of the BLUE CHIPS trilogy (because the mixtapes were also followed by a full-fledged studio album of a similar name). The simple string backing on “Pouches of Tuna” combined with Bronson’s flow is just superb; there’s almost nothing better in the rapper’s discography. BLUE CHIPS is upper-echelon Action Bronson, an early release that nevertheless demonstrated the artist’s quickly growing proficiency and ear for sounds that deceptively complemented his vocal style.
#4 — WELL-DONE (2011)
Favorite track: “Time for Some”
WELL-DONE was a collaborative record with producer Statik Selektah, and while I had generally thought of it as a minor Action Bronson release, in revisiting it for this piece I was profoundly impressed by it. The album is funny, but as can be heard on “Time for Some,” it also at times rings with a swagger that is a little more powerful than Bronson’s usually tongue-in-cheek approach. You know, I’ve used that phrase “tongue-in-cheek” a couple of times, and as I mentioned in my introduction, I don’t know how much of the rapper’s lyrics are meant to be overt or ironic jokes. Because the reality is that Bronson and his collaborators, in these early years especially, would fall into the “problematic” traps that are often (fairly) leveled at the hip hop genre, such as the use of the “f-word” slur. There’s no real way to explain that away. But in revisiting these early years of Action Bronson (to be clear, a period when it was very not OK to be homophobic even publicly), I find some real value in the rapper’s ecstatic music and lyrical delivery. WELL-DONE is nearly the best example of that in Bronson’s earliest years.
#3 — DR. LECTER (2011)
Favorite track: “Moonstruck”
“Moonstruck” kicks off DR. LECTER and immediately proclaims the record as one of Action Bronson’s best. From the sample of “The Juggernaut” of the 2000 off-Broadway musical THE WILD PARTY (what a pull) to the singing guitar to the pounding beat and finally to Bronson’s bravado, the song is also perhaps the rapper’s best. The record that follows “Moonstruck” doesn’t quite live up to its highs, but Bronson’s first “studio album,” one of four releases in his debut year of 2011 alone (!), is underrated as far as I can see. This is classic Bronson, distilled into the most accessible, catchy, and dance-y form he would be able to pull off in his first years. DR. LECTER is electrifying stuff and much more satisfying than the amuse-bouches his other early works represent by comparison.
#2 — MR. WONDERFUL (2015)
Favorite track: “Easy Rider”
The SAAAB STORIES EP was Action Bronson’s first major label project, and as seen from my opinion of it, his full album-length experience after it could have been a disappointment. Instead, Bronson put out MR. WONDERFUL, a hip hop whirlwind. I’ve noted a couple of times that the rapper has been “maturing” or at least developing his sound in a different way over the past few years, but with this record, Bronson entered a dimension from which he pulled incredible samples, top-tier flow, and lyrical content that was funny and at times sentimental (as can be heard on “Easy Rider”). Action Bronson has always sounded confident, but on MR. WONDERFUL, his voice and the music that surrounds it seem more deliberate, making for a phenomenally fun record.
#1 — BLUE CHIPS 7000 (2017)
Favorite track: “My Right Lung”
But it was the album Action Bronson made after his biggest gap between releases that stands as his greatest achievement (although it was just two-and-a-half years after MR. WONDERFUL). BLUE CHIPS 7000, the culmination of the BLUE CHIPS trilogy (although this one isn’t solely produced by Party Supplies), is a jazzy and funky bit of hip hop with wise sample curation and a more laid-back Bronson at times. To be honest, even though I do it a lot, I have a hard time writing about music; I love the form (uh, who doesn’t), but the language with which to describe it isn’t always on the tip of my tongue. That goes double for hip hop and rap, genres I wasn’t able to appreciate until I was out of my “I like everything except country and rap” phase as a kid. So forgive me if I sound repetitive, but the full Action Bronson promise, executed to its greatest degree so far, is on BLUE CHIPS 7000. He’s funny, weaving in and out of bravado, sports references, metaphors involving food, and even some cringe-y statements about women. Throughout all Bronson’s work, though, there is a through line of a cerebral or very conscious choice of how to present stories and ideas from the former chef, how to be fun and confident and proud, sure, but also how to marry those instincts with great fucking music and an unconventional voice to match it. Listen to “My Right Lung;” as Bronson says, he would give his right lung if he could dunk a basketball right now. Hilarious. But hear that tone in his voice, that noodling that supports him, and you get the distilled representation for BLUE CHIPS 7000’s appeal as an offbeat bit of hip hop delicacy from an offbeat chef-turned-rapper serving up the best he has to offer.