Action Bronson and Alchemist have settled into a very comfortable rapport with each other and bring out the best in each other on "Lamb Over Rice." The tape is a short and stoned romp through lavish landscapes.
Action Bronson has been a busy man. He’s spent the past year doing everything from painting (he’s created the cover art for his last two projects), to acting in the upcoming Irishman, to releasing a book, to making ice cream sandwiches. Besides a few features, however, he’s been mostly quiet on the musical front. Just in time for Thanksgiving, he’s linked with his old friend Alchemist for their latest collaborative work Lamb over Rice.
As always, Alchemist creates a lush soundscape but Bronson is rapping with an intensity that he hasn’t shown in sometime and it’s much appreciated. Whether it’s the relatively short run time (17 minutes) or the cohesion that comes from working with a singular producer, Lamb over Rice feels fresher than his more recent full lengths. There’s a whimsy that pervades the EP that is reminiscent of his work with Party Supplies on the first two Blue Chips projects. Almost every song ends with Bronson and company laughing and cracking jokes. Meyham Lauren can be heard in the background offering scented oils, and there’s discussion of Eastern European grapes. The energy on the project is lighthearted, it feels almost like an inside joke between the two frequent collaborators. Besides the countless number of loose songs they’ve done together, the duo previously released the 13-track Rare Chandeliers in 2012. In some ways this new project feels commemorative of their first, as it came out on the same day of the Rare Chandeliers vinyl, while this latest outing is only seven songs long (two of which had already come out as singles).
Bronson is at his strongest when he’s in rapid fire absurdist mode. The tape is full of one liners and similes tossed out with such frequency that gems like “My jump shot got an arc like Noah and ten of every animal can show up,” can almost get lost in the deluge. Bronson is still smuggling drugs in food and spinning the wheels of foreign cars; frequently naked. He’s flipping into things like a Russian gymnast, testing positive for steroids, and there are at least three references to beef stew. "Dmtri" finds him talking about his grandparents learning English from watching Martin as well as alluding to a DMT trip in which he experienced death and rebirth only to wake up in a parking lot in Queens. “Dirty mountain tiger to the face / Better strap up, I’m bout to see space / As I entered, I felt everything was centered / Oh shit I think I’m back in the placenta / but then I woke up in a Nissan Sentra / in the parking lot of Queen Center.” It’s this kind of mixed bag of weirdness that we’ve come to love from Bronson but there’s something about his enthusiasm on this latest record that sounds like a return to form.
Bronson’s voice is as distinct as ever and he and Alchemist complement each other beautifully. In terms of content, although there’s a lot of extravagant imagery, there isn’t a lot of weightiness or consequentiality to the lyrics. There are a few moments of introspection in the midst of all the both literal and figurative shit-talking, but they’re sparsely sprinkled throughout the piece. At one point after describing a sexual exploit he admits, “I’m disgusting but I’m honest.” On "Sven" he says, “Shit’s strange I could feel the wind / All this pain I could feel within / Goes away when I’m in a Benz / But comes back when I’m starin’ in the rims / Take ten.” Or, on "Just The Way It Is," where he contemplates the trappings of success: “Health is wealth /But wealth buys the fancy belts / Good / It’s even easier to hang yourself.” The project greatly benefits from these moments as it grounds some cartoonish aspects of Bronson’s character and make for some of the more personal lyrics on the EP.
You can take the craft and technical aspects of rapping seriously without taking yourself too seriously. There’s a narrative that good or "real" rap music has to be a serious affair and outwardly fun-loving rappers lack lyrical ability. Bronson and Alchemist seem to be gently trying to shake those notions, but at the same time, don’t seem to care at all, as it sounds like two people who feel they have nothing to prove about their artistry. Though the project is somewhat lacking in depth or social commentary, that has also never really been part of Bronson’s appeal or aesthetic. Fans of Bronson are primarily expecting cheeky fly talk, and of that there is plenty. Even Alchemist gets in the rap seat for a very breezy verse on "Arnold and Danny," which is a rare event nowadays even though he initially started his career as a rapper. That being said the EP benefits from its short nature in that there’s only so long you can coast on charisma and hedonism before it gets repetitive. But if that’s what has come to be expected and rewarded then what else are they supposed to do other than play their role? As Bronson says on "Just the Way It Is,": "That’s just the way it is / You gotta raise your kids / I just want to be a normal person but I’m special and I understand / that you wanna hear me rap and do the running man."