Renaissance Man: Action Bronson Interviewed

Renaissance Man: Action Bronson Interviewed
“A person with many talents or areas of knowledge”

The dictionary definition of a “renaissance man” is a fitting portrayal of New York rapper and serial experimentalist, Action Bronson.

Having cut his teeth in a range of exploits alongside his rap career – hit cooking shows, recipe books, craft beer, scented fragrances, olive oil, canvas paintings and now Hollywood movies – Bronson, real name Ariyan Arslani, has developed a Diddy-esque, multi-faceted backdrop to his grandiose rap style, that exhibits his passion for life and new experience.

His latest album, ‘Only For Dolphins’ pulls you into his world of jovial hyperbole. Laced with extravagant, witty imagery (“Twenty Kawasaki’s looking like wild horses on stampede / I look like a character that was drawn by Stan Lee”) and stripped back, worldly production, Bronson takes you on a mystical journey of aquatic delights.

Alongside the album, the half Albanian has released a bespoke olive oil and is set to release a fragrance, ‘Splash’, as premiered in the album – for “man, woman, whatever”. If this wasn’t enough, the Queens rapper is on a fitness rampage, having lost seven stone and counting.

Our conversation over Zoom reflected his wide range of interests – flitting from strongman boxing and vintage fitness DVDs, to Tom Hardy as James Bond, being starstruck in the presence of Joe Pesci and the meaning of his Albanian heritage. What was immediately clear was his infectious love of life and eager eye for the subtleties of the world around him. A modern-day renaissance man at peace with himself in the midst of chaotic times.

We pick up the chat following an in depth, niche martial arts discussion…

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On the topic of athleticism, you’ve been on a pretty crazy fitness mission yourself. Can you tell me a little bit about your journey?

Yeah, man. You know, it’s just health. Just fitness. Life fitness is pretty much what it is. That’s it. One day snap out of being a little baby bitch and immature and figure out what you really need to do for yourself and make yourself better. And I fucking took course.

I’ve been loving the Instagram clips of you smashing medicine balls, are we gonna get a fitness DVD from you next?

You never know, man. The funny thing is, I make it fun to work out. Like anybody I work out with, it’s a fun time, even though it’s serious, it’s a good time. Back in the day, there was a show called Body by Gilad. It was on ESPN. It was some like Israeli guy with a fucking jheri curl, with two women behind him doing aerobics moves for 30 minutes, like on ESPN, like seven.

On ESPN!?

Yeah, seven thirty in the morning, which was phenomenal. I used to catch it before I went to school. Check it out, Body by Gilad, he’s a legend.

Body by Gilad?

Body By Gilad. Exactly. Body by Gilad. It’s next level. So maybe some ‘Body by Baklava’ type of inspiration, you know?

I’m definitely watching that. And there’s serious strongman energy going on in the ‘Latin Grammys’ video. There’s this Eddie Hall vs. Thor strongman boxing match coming up. Have you seen much about this?

Of course! I follow Eddie Hall religiously. I love The Beast. He’s one of my favourite people.

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Who have you got in that fight?

I fuck with Thor. I didn’t know him as an actor as I’ve never seen Game of Thrones. I only know him as a strongman. I don’t like his acting. I think he’s a good strongman, but he was a little bit of a bitch. He tried to lessen Eddie’s win with some sort of controversy on him. I don’t like shit like that, because Eddie Hall worked his whole life for that. And Thor went on to be champion many times over also. I love and respect all these men. And I love Magnus Magnusson. But boxing, these guys, they both look unbelievable, they look like big galoots.

They could gas out pretty quick.

I mean, someone’s going to get knocked the fuck out. That’s what’s going to happen. Someone’s going to get hurt. If Eddie Hall lands a punch to the rib, to the head…it should be actually illegal for him to hit somebody.

But it’s the same for Thor though. And he’s got the reach too.

Thor has height on him too. He has reach. So he might just jab him away. You never know.

Eddie’s gotta use the Mike Tyson technique for this fight, get close.

We can talk about Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones too. It seems like everyone’s having some good matchups around right now. I love it.

Yeah. People are getting crazy with the obscure boxing fights.

Next is going to be Tyson Fury vs. Shaq.

Yes! Anyway, back to the album, for people that haven’t checked it out. How would you describe the project?

Think about the universe and how vast it is. It’s the universe, underwater. That’s how I describe it.

Aquatic.

From deep down below, from the core, from the core of the planet.

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And I want to talk a little bit about the beats and samples that you used on the album. What are you looking for when you when you listen to a sample or an instrumental?

I love music, I love weird music, I love music that’s recently been uncovered, and no one knows about it. I’ve learnt about digging and finding different crazy shit from Alchemist. And I’ve always been like that, from the beginning. Like when I first did my first album (‘Dr Lecter’), our mind was definitely on sampling all kinds of crazy shit from around the world. And we sampled a lot of Turkish shit on there and a lot of Arab stuff. So that was something that always interested me.

I’m a worldly person and like I said, the strongman shit, watching that back in the day that gave me an interest. I’m from a certain part of the world, my family’s Albanian. So we’re from the Balkans and knowing about Europe, it gave me some wordly vibes. I’ve been downloaded with worldly vibes. I love music from all around the world and all different types of tempos and all different types of rhythmic numbers, you know, four, three, four, four, four, five, six, eight. That stupid shit that musicians talk about that I don’t understand. But I feel it and I hear it and I understand it. So it’s really about the vibe and the feel.

You get it all from just listening. You pick an area, you pick Nigeria, you pick Ghana, then you pick Greece, you pick Turkey, just go through the music from there. Shit that you can’t find on YouTube. And you could find a lot on YouTube also.

YouTube is great for discovering music I find.

I’m talking about YouTube maybe six years ago. The way it works now is weird but unveiling certain shit feels good no matter how you do it.

The producers you’ve worked with on this album are guys you’ve worked with a lot of times before, like Harry Fraud, Alchemist, Tommy Mas, as well as the features like Mayhem Lauren. Did you try to keep this album as more of a family affair?

You know, I don’t really think about it. I just do the music. I do what feels good and then it comes out. I’m never worried about features. I’m not trying to make, like, the big collaboration song just to get the kids and views and shit like that. I like doing what comes from my heart and my soul. And Mayhem is the person who started me in this shit. My brother, it’s not Mayhem, it’s Jamie. He’s my brother’s, like, holidays and family ties. These are the type of people that have a feature on the projects, like Rob Marciano, we’ve known each other for ten years. These are the type of people that I love having on my shoulders who are just, in my opinion, high level fucking speakers.

That’s for sure. And alongside the album, you’ve released an olive oil. It looks like it sold out in a flash. What’s the story behind this?

This is our first one from this year, my friend Nick Coleman is the number one mind and palate in olive oil tasting in the entire universe as we speak. He happens to be someone who chases the harvest, which means he goes and he finds the freshest olive oil for the time, and then me and him release special versions of this with me doing the artwork, tasting and bottling exactly what I want from my mind and my soul, with his help. And I also released an ice cream for the album. I’m also about to release a fragrance for the album. I also did the artwork, I try to hit all the different senses, every single sense that’s humanly possible.

So what sort of things should we be eating with the olive oil?

I mean, with this olive oil, it’s anything, literally. Name me something.

Focaccia, salads.

Focaccia? It’s literally made for that. Focaccia, salads, anything.

Where were the olives sourced from?

This olive is sourced from Chile, And the olive oil is hand harvested. It’s never been brought to America before. We’re the first ones bringing this cultivar into America, which is pretty beautiful.

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And with Splash, the fragrance, what does this smell like?

Oh, it’s gorgeous. It smells like you just came out of the water in St. Lucia or in the Mediterranean. You’re coming out of fresh water and just shining from all that olive oil that’s been doused on your body, you know what I’m saying?

It’s like James Bond coming out the water.

Right, exactly. But beefier, like 100 pounds more. Is Tom Hardy James Bond now?

It’s Daniel Craig still, I don’t think they’ve sorted a new one yet.

They should make Tom Hardy James Bond.

It’s a good shout but he might be a bit similar to Daniel Craig.

Nah, he’s much better looking. I’m like a chubby Tom Hardy, so I take quite offence to anybody that doesn’t like Tom Hardy.

Look, I love Tom Hardy.

 Good. So we can continue the talk.

On the subject of actors, I wanted to ask you about your own exploits in this field. What was it like working with Scorsese in The Irishman?

It was mind boggling. It was beautiful. It was it was calming. It was unbelievable. And it was easy. That’s really what it was, the most important thing out of all those things, it was easy. It felt so good.

Was it a nerve-wracking situation for you?

No, not at all. I was off an edible, I was edibled out. I was smoking hash in my trailer. And then I did the scene. And when I got on set, De Niro wasn’t sitting in the chair, it some guy that kind of looked like him. And I was like, what the fuck? And then about a minute before we were about to do the scene, the guy gets up and its De Niro. I was relieved. I thought they had given me the dummy De Niro.

And what was it like working with De Niro as well? That’s pretty crazy.

Yeah, it was beautiful. He was fucking with me. He pulled me over to the side after I fucked up. He’s like “Yo kid, you’re fucking up the scene. Come on. What is going on here?” And I was like, “oh no, I’m sorry. I’m new at this”. He’s like, “I’m fucking with you”. It was dope, it was fun.

And did you get to meet the whole crew, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci?

Scorsese invited me to Lincoln Centre to this red-carpet premiere and I met Pacino in the back room. I met Pesci at the end when I was leaving, and I was just dumbfounded. I didn’t even know what to say because I mean, he’s one of the best ever to live. I couldn’t even look at him. I just said, “Yo, I love you. I got to get out of here.” But his handler came up to me telling me how much he loved ‘Fuck, That’s Delicious’.

And if someone wants to play Action Bronson in a movie about your life, who would be the starring role?

There’s only one man, Delroy Lindo.

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So I want to talk a little bit about ‘Fuck That’s Delicious’. I was really happy to see you at Mangal II in Dalston on your trip to the UK in the series. What do you make of the food in the UK?

Phenomenal. I don’t understand how it got such a bad rap for so long. I mean, there is some shit, obviously there’s some shit, but there’s shit everywhere. But there’s so much more good than shit in my opinion.

It was cool to see you in Liverpool as well.

I love Liverpool. Liverpool was a vibe. That show was fun, I had some good times there for sure.

There’s good people in Liverpool. Any port city in the UK is the same, like Glasgow. Good, hearty people.

I’ve had some good times in Glasgow too. But I also had a breakdown in Glasgow because the hotel that we stayed in was like a converted nursing home. It was my first trip in Europe. It was the worst fucking shit ever. Then I had the Burger King, it was nasty.

The Burger King in the UK is not good man.

But I fuck with Scotland.

So obviously you’ve had the chance to travel to many places. Do you have a favourite, culinary wise that stands out?

New York City would probably be the best bet or the UK because you have your hand at anything at any time. You’re able to get any type of cuisine at any time of the day. And that’s what I love. I love variety and availability. But I would have to say New York City.

And in terms of other cooking shows, there’s obviously been some amazing ones throughout the years. A favourite of mine is Antony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’. Were there any cooking shows that inspired you?

Yeah, of course. I used to watch PBS a lot back in the day, guys like Ming Tsai, ‘Yan Can Cook’, Jacques Pepin. My favourite show was ‘Molto Mario’, Mario Batali. I used to love ‘Iron Chefs’. Andrew Zimmern, Anthony Bourdain. All that stuff makes me very happy.

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And on the subject of travel, I wanted to speak to you about Albania. I was lucky enough to travel there last year and was blown away by the scenery, the people.

It’s untapped, gorgeous. It’s an unbelievable place that people don’t even know about.

I feel sometimes in the UK, Albanians potentially get misunderstood or not understood at all. People don’t really know what an Albanian is.

They’re misunderstood around the world. Usually when someone says, we know an Albanian guy, they say “he broke my cousin’s head open or he fucking robbed my father”, some shit like that. It’s never, “I know this great lawyer, he’s this Albanian guy or I know this doctor, he’s a phenomenal brain surgeon, this Albanian dude”. It’s never that, it’s “I got hit with a rock. I got hit with a bottle by an Albanian guy.”

Yeah. I mean, from my experience it was very peaceful.

Of course, they always want you to feel comfortable. They always want you to eat. They always want you to drink, and they always want you to be enjoying life.

Do you think your Albanian heritage has helped shaped you as a person?

Yeah, of course, it’s connecting to roots that are deep. You’re connected to ancient people and original people. So it feels amazing. It feels amazing to be part of that.

That’s pretty much everything, man. Just to wrap things up. You’ve got your finger in a lot of pies. What would you say has been your greatest achievement?

Hmm, my greatest achievement. I don’t know, man, these little babies that I have, these children that I’ve made, those are some pretty amazing achievements. But you know, I have to have the book done before I can answer that, but the book ain’t done. So we’ll look back on it. We’ll have another conversation ten years from now for me to really be able to give you an answer.

Finally, you’re a guy that has a clear love and passion for life. People are obviously stuck inside at the moment, maybe feeling a little bit negative, a bit down. What advice would you give to people who are feeling this way?

I’m not one that really gives advice. I’m more of the lead by example type of thing.

You have to change the way you think. You know, you’re not the only person going through shit, so stop wallowing in your bullshit. Everyone is going to have very similar situations, if not even more dire. So just get it together, because people around you, I’m sure need you. Life goes on and there’s a fucking beautiful life out there. 

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‘Only For Dolphins’ is out now.

Words: Angus McKeon

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