Seth Colter Walls: Hi Cord Jefferson! Is there any new rap music that you have thoughts on or that you like especially? And if you say "Tyler" or "Odd Future," I will stab you in your esophagus!
Cord Jefferson: Ha! Yes, I feel like I've said all I need to say. Everybody's said all they need to about Tyler and Odd Future.
Seth: Oh, they will pull you back in before long, I'm sure. But yes, let's talk Rap A.T. (After Tyler.)
Cord: Within the past two weeks, I have developed a deep, deep obsession with a rapper out of Queens called Action Bronson. I'm more excited about him than I've been about any rapper since I was about 15 or 16.
Seth: Where did you learn of him? Message board? Record review?
Cord: A friend from Arizona texted me a couple weeks ago and told me to listen to him on YouTube. And since then I've done that thing where you watch literally every YouTube video about a person, whether it be a song or just some dinky, terribly produced interview.
Seth: Aha. Correct. And there are lots of videos of Action Bronson on the internet! He has a cooking show.
Cord: His cooking show! I've watched all of those twice even though they're all so meat heavy and I'm a vegetarian.
Seth: He has some weirdly charming freestyles where his throat dries up and he has to take a sip of water.
Cord: You've hit the nail on the head with the word "charming." Everyone I've introduced AB to has used that word.
Seth: Yeah—it's … refreshing? He's not a softy by any means, but it's rather easy to root for him. (Slash, look past the obvious Ghostface influence.)
Cord: Very. Charm is a lost artform in rap.
Seth: When did it die, do you think?
Cord: Biggie had it, Ghostface has it, Tupac had it to an extent. I really don't know if you can pinpoint when it died. But there are very few rappers anymore who approach the music with a playfulness.
Seth: I think Yelawolf is actually pretty good at this, though!
Cord: I agree with that. I think the problem is everyone trying to "out-real" one another. Goofy and silly is no longer a virtue. There is a scene in the video for "Get Off My PP"—
Seth: (Also: that title! It's like a Funkadelic song.)
Cord: Totally! But in this scene, AB is standing on some overpass in loafers, basketball shorts, an old rugby shirt of some kind and what looks to be a fur fedora. And you can see in his eyes that he knows he looks ridiculous, but he just doesn't care.
Seth: Yes: it seems an actually pure form of not "giving a fuck"!
Cord: And I remember thinking to myself—as I do a lot when watching his videos—that there is maybe two or three rappers around right now with that sort of mentality. And what makes it even more amazing in AB's case is that he's not even that famous!
Seth: Lots of people profess to give very few fucks. But look quite studied while insisting on this.
Cord: It would be one thing if he were at the top of the rap game and giving a big middle finger to everyone else. But as of now he's a relative no-name, and he's still saying fuck convention.
Seth: Do you think he can blow up? The new album, "Dr. Lecter," is admirably focused (40-some minutes) and basically a party from start to finish.
Cord: Yeah, I think he's going to be huge. This is very adult rap! And adults are looking for some good rap!
Seth: The line that really won me over came in "Ronnie Coleman" (which has lots of good lines, about Action's weight issues and food desires, etc.) … but it was "I wanna wear Italian clothing / but it just don't cut it."
Cord: That song is brilliant.
Seth: Even when he is rhyming "me" with "me," his flow is really great? "Lock the refrigerator / there's no controlling me / Steak and chocolate got they mothafuckin hold on me"!
Cord: YES! Do you think he sounds like Ghostface?
Seth: Mostly in the nasal department I guess? Not in terms of flow. Or in terms of, like, patois. Action's not on any kind of abstruse Wu-style lexicon.
Cord: "Barbecues get thrown with EBT cards/ land, sea, and the air, three stars." I think you're exactly right about the Ghostface comparisons. He can't really help how his voice sounds or ditch his regional accent, and aside from those, there's really no similarity whatsoever.
Seth: Also, Ghostface hasn't been this hungry … since Supreme Clientele! (Sorry, I do love that song from Fishscale, "The Champ"!)
Cord: (Me too.)
Seth: (Just Blaze!)
Cord: A funny story about that song is that I once played it for my then-girlfriend and at the part when he says, "Rip your guts out like a hysterectomy," she said, "That's not how a hysterectomy works." Not a big rap fan.
Seth: Ladies all literal all the time. So here is a question. Will it matter that Action is, or will be read as, The White? (I think he's Albanian. But, you know, he will be read as caucasian. The Times goes with "white.")
Cord: I don't know! I feel gross to admit that I've wondered about his race. Haven't you?
Seth: I've seen the question crop up in a lot of comment threads already. I came to Action through a YouTube rip of a song off of Dr. Lecter. One of those YouTube rips that's just an album cover. And the Dr. Lecter cover is a cartoonish thing! There's a hint of a Ginger-ish beard on it? But I really didn't realize (by googling in other tabs) until the end of the song that he might be white, etc. Which was interesting, because I was already quite sold!
Cord: Unlike Eminem's, his voice contains no traces of whiteness. Here's the thing about his whiteness. The only reason I feel it may be a hindrance is because of where he's from. If you look at all the most successful white rappers—Em, Atmosphere, Yela, etc.—you'll notice that they all come from very specific places with not necessarily the strongest rap scenes. So cutting it as a white rapper in the birthplace of hip-hop might be a challenge. That said, I think his flow is simply far too great to go unnoticed because of his race. I'd really like to think so, at least.
Seth: So I only have Dr. Lecter (I paid for it on Amazon! C'mon people, it's a self-released thing. Pay for it.) Have you heard the mixtapes and such?
Cord: I've heard Dr. Lecter. I've heard some singles he put out. Specifically the Statik Selektah produced "Cliff Notes," which is probably my favorite yet because it sounds like it was produced by DJ Premier.
Seth: And here is a freestyle over a Primo beat, from it looks like 2009?
Cord: Now, I think we'd be remiss if we didn't compare it to Odd Future, especially after last week.
Cord: Despite what I said earlier!
Cord: OK, this may be long but here's the thing: I really, really tried to listen to "Goblin." I really did.
Seth: Uh huh.
Cord: But at a certain point, I honestly felt ridiculous. There I was, a guy pushing 30, and I'm listening to a 19-year-old kid scream "BITCH SUCK DICK!" over bad beats. And I thought, "Hmmmmmm. Why am I doing this to myself? What purpose does this serve?" I like Steely Dan and waking up early, man!
Seth: It's not a great record? (And I liked Bastard!) But it will win this year's award for Record That Will Receive The Largest Haul of Excuses From Critics. Which counts for something.
Cord: Oh, totally. The accolades it's getting already are astounding! Are people listening the same thing we did?
Seth: I'm not sure, in light of your earlier Root piece, that it's all about White Critics fetishizing either. (Though that's an element.) I think, to draw an analogy to the economy, that as an Internet Concern, Tyler has become too big to fail. If it's the case that his 73-minute record is just overbloated and doesn't have much new to offer, we can't SAY THAT—because it retroactively invalidates about 100,000 lines of journalistic credit that are tied to thinkpieces which would then be underwater.
Cord: That's an amazing description and I'm jealous I didn't write it.
Seth: I mean, like the economy, Tyler will fail EVENTUALLY if he doesn't restructure. But the critical culture will artificially extend that lifeline for a bit.
Cord: That is so right on. To me, how this relates to Action Bronson is that he's the first rapper in a long while—and I believe I said this earlier—who is for adults.
Seth: And not like, in a uber-serious way, either! It's like for adults who remember and still have emotional access to fun. Which is a tricky balance.
Cord: Not only does his flow harken back to a different time in hip hop, he also raps about eating capers and drinking good wine and getting stoned. Exactly, like, getting stoned and cooking elaborate meals? I KNOW THAT PERSON! I AM GOOD FRIENDS WITH THAT PERSON SEVERAL TIMES OVER!
Seth: Hurray for adulthood. It Gets Better, children.
Cord: Does it ever.