Action Bronson is a pretty cool guy. If there’s one thing that his show last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg taught the audience, it was that. He’s cool in such a way that Wooderson from Dazed and Confused would have thought that his radness levels were off the fucking charts. That is to say that at the beginning of Bronsellino’s set, dude brought out a black grocery bag and threw its contents—a bunch of dime bags of high-grade marijuana—into the crowd. Wooderson would have shit his pants. He wouldn't have gotten his second wind to go see Aerosmith, because he’d have been too high to live. This is just one of the highlights to be found in last night’s show.
The concert, which was free because Converse decided to sponsor it, was amazing in a distinctly “New York Hip-Hop” sort of way. There were sets full of surprise guests, and nods to the rap scenes of yore, as well as today. The bill was stacked much like metal shows are, with like a million and a half acts opening up before the main attraction hits the stage. Tanya Morgan kicked shit off, but I ended up missing them because I got in a protracted argument with the kind folks working the Music Hall doors about whether or not I could bring my friend Braxton in with me. Basically, what happened is (A), free shows are stressful as shit to security people because forty people are trying to bum-rush a door that can fit one person in at a time, and (B), the doubly kind PR person who put me on the list forgot to put down that I could bring another person in. We spent several minutes debating whether or not I could go in, and then several more debating whether or not Braxton could go in, and then even more debating whether or not my photographer actually existed. What ended up happening is that I got in, and then Meechy Darko of Flatbush Zombies snuck Braxton in when the door guys weren’t looking. I’d like to sincerely thank Meech for sneaking Brax in despite not knowing us at all, and also I’d like to sincerely apologize to the people at MHOW for taking advantage of the goddamn chaos that they had to deal with. (As a post-script, my photographer not only talked his way in but somehow wound up onstage, and after we left the show Braxton was so drunk that he ended up passing out on a street corner without his wallet or his keys. I later recovered him and put him in a cab with his roommate. To my knowledge, everyone is alive.)
When we got in, the rapper Meyhem Lauren was probably a quarter into his set, and he completely shut shit down. His was the most quintessentially "New York" set of the evening, full of surprise guests—Despot, Sean Price, A.G. Da Coroner and Heems of Das Racist all made appearances, along with a slew of others—and a general “fuck everything” attitude that is so New York it hurts. He put out a mixtape entitled Respect The Fly Shit a couple months ago, and if you don’t download it you’re an idiot. Flatbush Zombies went up next, providing the audience with perhaps the most divisive thirty-ish minutes of music I’ve seen in recent memory. They’re Brooklyn dudes, but they rock a pan-regional aesthetic that the rest of the bill lacked. Their mixtape D.R.U.G.S. (which stands for Death and Reincarnation Under God’s Supervision because of course it does) is full of homemade-sounding synthy trap shit more reminiscent of a lo-fi iteration of Atlanta’s Alley Boy than anything New York has spawned in the past. The duo, consisting of the aforementioned Meechy Darko and the heroically bearded Zombie Juice (as well as bonus member Eric Arc Elliot, who mainly produces for them), rap mostly about being dead and doing a shit-ton of drugs. Tired subjects in rap, sure, but Flatbush Zombies discuss them in a way that seems new, subversive almost. They ended up bringing Remy Banks of the rising Queens set Children Of The Night onstage, and doubled down on the insanity by coaxing the like-minded ASAP Mob out for a couple songs. The second song the Mob and the Zombies performed was their single “Bath Salts,” and seemingly out of nowhere the ASAP figurehead ASAP Rocky popped onstage, providing the crowd with what was would prove to be the apex of the evening. Earlier, Rocky had been in the VIP section upstairs pouring malt liquor into a bunch of girls’ cups, which was pretty endearing because I had no idea dude was still on his 40 shit despite having an (allegedly) massive record deal.
What stuck out to me about the Zombies’ set, however, was that not everyone was digging it in the way that they’d dug Lauren’s, or they would end up digging Bronson. Two dudes in the back were booing with assholeish aplomb, more than probably because the Zombies have little to do with the old-school stylings of Lauren and Bronson, who were the evening’s main draw. Such is the state of latter-day New York hip-hop. It’s straddling a line between old and new, between progression and the comfort of the past. Guys like Bronson and Lauren can navigate this sea change by virtue of being ridiculously awesome, appealing to nearly every rap fan with a pulse, but many hip-hop fans by their nature are conservative in the same way Republican presidential candidates are, wanting only for a glorious, pure past that never actually existed in the first place. Hip-hop has always had its pockets of the bizarre, and the Zombies are fulfilling the role that dudes like Gravediggaz, KMD and even Busta Rhymes did back in the day, that of the weirdos who managed to wiggle their way into your earhole regardless of established conventions.
Action Bronson, on the other hand, is best looked at as a man out of time, the sort of hard-living antihero Bukowski wrote about pathologically, mixed with a throwback to New York’s mid-‘90s heyday. He’s a 320 pound white dude from Queens, and early on in his career people liked to give him shit for sounding like Ghostface. But as he’s evolved as a rapper, it’s become clear that Bronson is his own man. A former chef, his raps are largely concerned with culinary matters, as well as having lots of weird sex. Despite being built like a medium-sized refrigerator and looking sort of like a mall Santa Claus on his day off, females love Bronson, a few of them making their way to the stage so that he could hold them over his shoulder like a caveman carrying a freshly slain elk. His raps sounded just as good live as they sound on his mixtapes, with Bronson missing nary a word and managing to whip the crowd into a frenzy. In addition to throwing a bunch of weed out into the audience, he also threw out a bunch of shoes, because (again) the show was put on by Converse so there were myriad shoes to go around, and two Peter Luger steaks. He got the biggest rise out of the crowd when at the close of his set he performed “Bird On A Wire,” his one-off single with the rapper/professional crazy person Riff Raff. A contender for song of the year, the track finds Bronson slowing his flow down to a veritable crawl, simply riding over the majestic beat until Riff comes in and nearly steals the whole show with his left-field, italicized flow and lines about loan sharks and ostriches. The track is a synthesis of old and new, one that’s so damn good that even the old heads who can’t stand innovation can’t help but love. It’s proof that even the stodgiest of rap fans are receptive to change. You can’t shoot the messenger, it seems, if he’s already thrown weed at you.