Very few rappers can describe their high-end lifestyle as if it’s some fantastical journey. To artists like Curren$y, Wiz Khalifa, and Larry June, luxury is as common as the ocean. In all honesty, Riding in a Caprice while smoking a blunt is second nature to these guys, and life is somehow perfected. Their verses make me want to ride in the car with them, as bright city lights and advertisements for Gucci stores flood the streets.
The Griselda crew (particularly Westside Gunn) also operates in this upscale lane without as much phantasm. Their raps are more grounded in reality, which doesn’t necessarily mean the music is better or worse. It’s just simply their own perspective.
Queens rapper Action Bronson attempts to find this middle ground on Only For Dolphins, an album that lives and breathes inside Versace-esque (the producer) jazz loops, Curren$y-like extravagance (“All this marble got me feeling like a Roman”), and Mafia dialect (“Mass appeal, mass production/Mass destruction, crime, corruption”). It’s a worthwhile effort, albeit a derivative one.
Bronson-who’s found an alternate life in movies, Vice TV food shows, and books-doesn’t seem to have music directly across his eyesight anymore. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as many artists have found inspiration outside their home base of music. Meek Mill for example is making a name for himself as a poignant actor in the new movie “Charm City Kings.” Rick Ross has also dabbled in writing, and Kanye West is doing multiple Kanye West things. The opportunities are endless when you finally attain the resources.
Unfortunately for Bronson, there are multiple moments throughout Only For Dolphins that only confirm his recent lackadaisical approach to music. Outside of Harry Fraud’s pastoral beat on “C12H16N2,” Bronson illustrates his recent endeavors with very little pulse or ambition. The bridge sounds more like a To-Do list rather than a clever set of braggadocio (“Author, singer, dancer, exotic olive oil taster”). For someone who enjoys describing good food as much as Curren$y loves describing his car collection, Bronson does very little in the way of clever world-building or wealthy capriccio.
For what it’s worth, Bronson’s beat-making does leverage the stagnant wordplay at times. “Capoeira” features a beautiful saxophone solo amidst strings that feel like an intro to a classic 90s sitcom. “Mongolia’s” instrumental carries a healthy dose of off-kiltered guitar playing and wavering bass riffs. Both of these songs are sonically vast, which only proves how much of a lost opportunity this album was. Had Bronson made all of his beats (or at least the majority), a more exciting listen would’ve likely been in store.
Much of Bronson’s rapping style lives between laid back and confrontational. On Only For Dolphins, the Queens native continues this direction with intermittent breaths of personality. “Sergio” is one of the few times where Bronson re-establishes maniacal grandeur (“Cause I can eat a bag mushrooms and still drive the stick shift”). He strikes that aforementioned balance without sounding like a Griselda super fan.
In fact, one of the best beats on this album comes courtesy of Griselda’s in-house producer Daringer on “Shredder.” The electric keys mimc a foggy mist, while the saxophone is drenched in nocturnal reverb as if to mirror this noir aesthetic. Bronson is just fine when rapping in a Westside Gunn tone of voice, but the track itself is too short for any meaningful results.
Only For Dolphins never branches beyond these gorgeous soundscapes and surface-level luxury. Aside from describing himself as Delroy Lindo or Blade, Bronson doesn’t mention very many pop culture references either (a usual staple of his). He just appears annoyingly content. Unlike someone like Curren$y, who’s brand of rap feels like a heavenly escape from the sludge of reality, Bronson presents his lifestyle in a thread of banal ideas (“It be like, ‘Damn, that man smooth in a Corvette'”). He’s a deadhead in one moment, and a business man in another. Sometimes he’s an actor, other times, an olive oil taster. Despite some interesting personas, Bronson fails to create a convincing case of why it all matters in a musical context.