Action Bronson is hardly the first great rapper to hail from Queens, but it’s admittedly been a while since the heydays of Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, and Mobb Deep — even Nicki Minaj celebrates the fifth anniversary of her debut album this year. That leaves the 31-year-old former chef to carry the Queens torch with his major-label debut, the recently released Mr. Wonderful, which follows a series of beloved mixtapes and stands tall as one of the best albums in a month overflowing with excellent rap records.
SPIN sat down with Bronson at the Shady Records offices (on an unlisted floor in a nondescript Chinatown building) to quiz him on musicians from his hometown — hip-hop stars, mostly, but with a few curveballs thrown in for good measure.
1) Onyx, “Slam”
This is one of my favorite groups of all time, I was in sixth or seventh grade when this came out and I remember being in the classroom just wild’n out, throw your guns in the air, slam the video was on the box, just one of my favorite songs. I recently met these dudes in Switzerland of all places last year and they performed right before me and they had the crowd going nuts, they’re good dudes.
2) 50 Cent, “I Get Money”
That’s not my favorite 50 song but it was hot, I love 50’s early mixtapes and albums. I felt like this one, this one was a fucking banger, you know what I mean? This song was everywhere, this was the sound of summer. It was played at every bar.
3) Ramones, “We’re a Happy Family”
Who is this by? The Ramones? Oh, alright. Legendary group with that punk-rock shit, they were very early.
They, like, invented the leather jacket.
Right, that leather jacket. They’re from Astoria, the ultimate type of music.
4) 3rd Bass, “Pop Goes the Weasel”
Who was from Queens in 3rd Bass besides Serch? “Sledgehammer,” Peter Gabriel. I rap over “Sledgehammer.”
That’s one of the samples from “Contemporary Man,” right?
Yeah, that’s right. I love this record. “Pop goes the weasel, pop pop goes the weasel.” So fucking basic.
5) Nicki Minaj, “I Endorse These Strippers”
I wasn’t sure if you knew this one in particular but I thought this one would appeal to you.
Very theatrical music, I like it. Nicki is amazing, incredible.
She can just take a song about strippers and make it theatrical.
Her voice just sounds like I don’t give a fuck, her voice makes you want to fucking go crazy. You don’t have to see her, just the way she’s talking.
6) Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”
What part of Queens is she from? I could’ve sworn she was from Brooklyn.
I can see that with her accent.
One of the most iconic songs ever made, ever written. I wish I could write songs like this, I’d be very rich. [Sings along.]
You could always sample it.
Nah, then I don’t make any money off it.
7) Nas, “Made You Look”
That gunshot segue’s pretty nice.
This was such a hard joint, oh my God. I feel like I’m at the park, at his level, when you thug out and walk like that.
You don’t get a lot of Nas songs where he’s trying to be an entertainer first and foremost.
I guess, yeah, you’re looking at it from a different perspective, I never thought of it like that. I’m just listening to the theatrics of the rap and how ill it is, the beats. You’re right, it’s a good one.
8) Run-D.M.C., “Christmas in Hollis”
One of the best beats ever made is for a fucking Christmas song, like this is an iconic rap beat. Five minutes from where I grew up, Hollis. The drums, you don’t really hear that in hip-hop.
No scratching anymore either.
No, it almost became corny. [Rap] is so broken down into genres now that it got bunched into all that scratch type [thing], almost corny, because of the beat.
9) Mobb Deep, “Shook Ones Pt. II”
You put this song on any time; someone will definitely want to fight.
Do you remember any kids getting into fights to this song?
There were many fights. But this is just driving around music, smoking out the sunroof, summertime smoking in a friend’s car, sunbathing. One of those good ones, classic song, put it on at any rap party and everyone will go nuts and start bobbing.
10) A Tribe Called Quest, “Bonita Applebum”
As far as rap, I was more of a Mobb Deep guy rather than a Tribe guy. I fuck with it, [Q-Tip’s] cool and shit, like “Scenario” was my joint, but I lean towards the Mobb Deep, Nas, Kool G Rap-type shit. It was more backpacky, I don’t know, I just always liked more gangster shit, the harder shit.
11) LL Cool J, “Big Ole Butt”
This is my first hardcore rapper; he can do anything, soft or hard shit.
I always forget how young he was when he started.
He was 16 or something like that, a great song. This is the shit you bump in the Mustang. He’s got a fucking track suit on.
12) Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”
[He makes a perplexed face.]
This is Simon & Garfunkel.
Which one is from Queens?
I think both of them are.
Are you serious? I had no idea. I used to take a rock’n’roll class in junior high school and we always had to listen to all these ’60s and ’70s songs, a lot of Simon & Garfunkel and shit like that. They have secret meanings behind the fucking lyrics.
Do you remember any of them?
No, but I remember my teacher was found out to be a pedophile.
13) My Bloody Valentine, “Only Shallow”
Have you heard of My Bloody Valentine? They’re from Ireland but the frontman was born in Queens.
Never heard of him, I’ll check it out.