Overnight success never really happens overnight. The faces you see on your TV and computer screens and the voices you hear on your radio and music blogs might seem like they leapt from obscurity to ubiquity in a single bound, but that’s almost never the case. Before you “pop,” before your email inbox is full of offers and your phone’s ringing is incessant, your true mettle and resolve will be tested. You’ll be at the bottom. The universe will ask you this question in the form of setbacks and unfortunate events: “Just how badly do you want this dream?”
Take Action Bronson and Mr. MFN eXquire, for instance — though they’ve become darlings of the Internet who’ve parlayed blog buzz and video views into major record deals (Vice/ Warner Bros. and Universal Republic respectively), things weren’t always like this.
Prior to the celebrity co-signs, verified Twitter accounts with thousands of followers, fans and record deals — they were in the “paying fucked up dues” portion of their careers. Just a few years ago a slightly slimmer Bronson shared stages with the virtually unknown eXquire at small venues in New York City, getting paid in “good looks,” drink tickets and low dollar amounts. Back then, they could hardly get blogs to post their music (eX’s “YeahRight” skit on his Lost In Translation mixtape addresses this). For eX, then a security guard, and Action, a cook at a family restaurant on disability, the idea of making money off of their musical talent was far-fetched, but it was all they had.
How things have changed in 2013. Though they’re not at the top of the game yet — they still have to prove that they can deliver strong major label debuts and sell records — they’re far from the all too familiar bottom. Mass Appeal linked up with the ebony and ivory New York rap heavyweights at the Mendez Boxing Gym in Manhattan’s Flatiron District to talk about their place in hip-hop, their come-up, how they separated themselves from the pack. To paraphrase Drake, “they made it from the bottom / now they’re here.” And they’re not going back.
Mass Appeal: Your lives aren’t what they were two or three years ago. Tell me about the specific moment you realized that things had changed forever.
Mr. MFN eXquire: I have no emotional attachment to being a rapper — I mean other than the art form. But like, the lifestyle, I have no attachment to it. The illest shit for me was when I was in the supermarket. I’m used to going to the supermarket, either I got the EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer card, i.e. Food Stamps) on deck or I just have a certain allotted amount of money for me to use. I just remember being in the supermarket one day, like ‘yo, I dead ass can buy everything in here right now. Anything I want, any sweet goodies I want,’ cookies, cakes, berries, fruit juices. Whatever it is. I can have any food I want and I just went H.A.M. in the supermarket. Like just ‘cause, just ‘cause I could. I didn’t even eat all that shit, ‘cause like, fuck that, I can eat now, what up? That’s when I realized like yo, this shit’s working. Like yes, I’m here. That was my moment: the supermarket.
That’s some real shit. Which supermarket was it?
MME: It was actually the ‘hood supermarket, the Pathmark. Right there [in] downtown Brooklyn by the Barclays [Center]. How real is that? [Laughs]
So Action, have you had any moments like that?
Action Bronson: There was one show in Toronto recently. It was the illest experience I’ve ever had. It was at a venue that [they] only let top tier dudes do [shows at]. Like Snoop did it the week before me. It’s called The Hoxton. It was nice — fucking major place. It was jammed, like a fucking thousand people outside. They were hanging on to every fucking word I was saying. They knew the entire set I had put together. Random songs. It just made me feel like I was out here. Obviously the money, you get some money here and there. It’s much better than making $500 bucks a week, working in a kitchen slaving in there, you know?
Both of you tend to do the unexpected and break with convention and thus far it has worked for both of you. I want to talk about some of your more surprising collaborations. EX, tell me about “Telefuck” with Gucci and how that strange collaboration came about.
MME: I don’t think it’s that strange. People say it and I don’t get it ‘like ‘cause if you listen to me, I rap about everything he raps about. He rap about bitches, I rap about bitches. He rap about whooping niggas out and all that and fucking with his niggas and getting fucked up. I rap about the same shit, so like, what do we rap about that’s different? I don’t rap about tagging up. I don’t rap about no hip-hop shit. I’m talking about Brooklyn nigga ‘hood shit. He talking about Atlanta nigga ‘hood shit. So how are we different? He wear a hundred chains, I wear a hundred chains. He got a big stomach, I got a big stomach.
What made you wanna go and get Gucci specifically?
MME: ‘Cause that’s one of my favorite rappers. I like to work with people that are my favorite. Like, if I speak to you and there’s respect and I’m like, “Would you like to do a record with me?” and they are like, “Yeah, aight.” You the OG. I’ma send it to you, you send me the verse back. Shit was beautiful. A lotta people mad at it, but I feel like niggas make me what they want me to be, like “he’s boom bap.” Obviously you never listened to my album ‘cause I don’t sound nothing like that. I’ma do what I want. I’ma be comfortable and if you don’t like it, you can suck my dick.
AB: Fuck that term “boom bap,” man.
MME: I don’t even like that. I don’t even understand what that sounds like.
AB: I don’t know, I think it’s like [makes sounds] “boom, bap, boom, boom, bap!”
MME: I feel like me and Action, this is a perfect conversation for us to have. I feel like niggas try to make us old-school rappers and we not. I don’t rap like ODB. I don’t look like him. I don’t talk like him. I don’t even move like him.
AB: I’m not even going to mention, you know …
MME: He don’t rap like Ghost! Niggas try to make you what they want you to be and if they can’t box you [in], they get angry.
Action, let’s talk about “Bird On A Wire.” Let’s talk about you collaborating with Riff Raff, which a “boom bap” dude is not supposed to do.
AB: I fucking love Riff Raff. He makes me laugh a lot. He’s a very entertaining human being.
Action and eX: [Shouts at the same time] He’s like the white Raekwon!
AB: Really, that dude, he rhymes. Motherfuckers hate him. I love him. He’s the best for me.
MME: He’s one of my favorites too.
AB: He’s an ill dude. He’s a cool motherfucker. That’s my man. I fuck with Riff. We reached out to each other, I think, via Twitter or whatever. I went to LA. We just met up and that was that. We fucking made that shit. You know, I wrote that song with Fraud and I was like, “Yo, who can we get on this?” We were thinking about people and we was like, “Naw, this for Riff! I’m sending it to Riff.” He sent it right back and that’s what it was.
MME: All three of us got a song together. Are we allowed to say that?
AB: Yeah, I think it’s for his album, for the Diplo album.
MME: Yeah, Diplo did the beat. That shit is fly.
AB: Me, eXquire, Riff Raff and fucking Diplo —
stupid shit, stupid.
Let’s talk about you guys’ live shows a little bit. I think another thing that separates you from the pack is the showmanship. Action, I’m going to start with you on this. You go to an Action Bronson show and it’s not just a dude rapping on stage, pacing around like a caged animal. It’s not like you have dancers or a million people on stage. It’s a motherfucker who’s going to run into the crowd, who is going to throw weed into the crowd. Tell me about your show, where it comes from and how you developed it.
AB: Yeah, you know I like doing things that are ridiculous. It really comes from me watching ECW [Extreme Championship Wrestling] and going to old events. They would be right there, they would jump in the crowd and fight right in front of you. They would fucking jump off the top rope into the crowd, like RVD (Rob Van Dam) versus Sabu — that match was retarded at the Elk’s Lodge.
MME: [Laughs] Word.
AB: Like, I used to go to the Elk’s Lodge all the time. Motherfuckers would straight up do flying splits off the top rope and land right in front of us. So I took that and intertwined it into my shit. Like the picking up of girls, it’s like some mad barbarian shit. Like, who does that? If girls want to get up on stage, just pick ‘em up, throw ‘em on your shoulders and just rap. Just do whatever at any time, go in the crowd and the fucking crowd, they go nuts.
Is crowd surfing next for Action Bronson?
AB: I mean I’ve done it, but I don’t want to break anyone’s body. Honestly, so what I do, I usually pick them up or I just go in the crowd and wild out. I try to get every aspect of the venue. If there’s a balcony, I’m going upstairs and rapping next to the people, dancing with women. Whatever it is, man.
Now, as a cannabis connoisseur and a man who is topping out at around 300 lbs …
AB: 320, but don’t tell anyone. Shhhh.
How have you mastered the breath control to be able to do this?
AB: I don’t know, I gotta be honest. I used to play sports, but I’m not going to give it to that. I’m going to stay away from that one. I don’t know man, I guess that’s why we’re here ‘cause I’m a fucking star. [Laughs]
So eX, I want you to tell me about your show. I know you’re a very deliberate person in a lot of ways. Like people think you’re just hardcore and aggressive, but sometimes people don’t pay enough attention to the intellect it takes to do what you do. Tell us about your show, your presentation. How it goes down and what’re you trying to accomplish?
MME: I mean, we just get up there and we just do funky, fly shit. I mean, I look at myself kind of like an Afrika Bambaataa or like, some wild shit. Remember like in the ‘80s, real rappers, OG rappers? Them niggas was costumed up, them niggas would come out and they gave more than just, “I’m up here, I’m rhyming, I’m fly.” So when I get on stage, I like to take it to another level. I did Irving Plaza. I did the onesie – I had the baby blue onesie on with the Margielas, just ‘cause I can do that, know what I mean? I wouldn’t walk the streets like that, but I just like to bring a different visual element to people.
For me, a show is about spectacle. ‘Cause I did the open mic, “I can get on stage for dolo and just rhyme and stand there and everybody will stare at me” thing. I can do that or I can go on stage and crowd surf, get these niggas hype. I mastered that shit. I have 100 ways I can do it. Depending on where I’m at and how I feel that night. I do everything off feeling. Like tonight, I feel smooth. I’ma wear a suit on stage, I’ma use a mic stand, I’m not moving. Tomorrow, I feel wild, so I’ma go out there and pour water on the crowd, pour 40s on the crowd. That’s just me.
What do you try to convey with your aesthetic? What do the chains mean? The Cazals?
MME: The Cazals is basically like, back in the ‘80s, you had to be like a person of prestige or a man of respect to have like $600 glasses on your face. ‘Cause niggas will snatch ‘em off your face, so that’s why I wear ‘em ‘cause I can do that. The beads is pretty much, all of them have an individual meaning. Like, I have some beads that represent my mother. I got some beads that are representative of me being a warrior. I try to have dichotomy in everything I do. Dichotomy means there’s a duality in it. Like sometimes you have the negative sides of things; you got the positive sides of things. I try to show both of it ‘cause I been both of those things. I went to college and I did some things that was unsavory. I can’t represent one side of me and just ignore and pretend like I’m stupid.
That’s what’s up and now, my man right here, Mr. Comfort. [Laughs]
AB: I mean, I do what I want, like I said. I’ve made it — it’s obvious I don’t have to play dress-up every day for people to like me. So I just do what I do. I wear my fucking blacks [shorts]. I’m always ready to jump in the pool or the ocean ‘cause they’re fucking swim trunks. I’m ready to go. Got the New Balances on the feet all the time or the little skippys with the socks, you know? That’s what it is, skips with the socks.
Don’t forget the Crocs.
AB: We put the Crocs away for a minute. We not in the kitchen anymore. I’m not whipping in the kitchen no more man, put the Crocs away.
Speaking of aesthetic, here’s the interesting thing about you, it’s like …
AB: It’s the beard. It’s the baby blue eyes. It’s a strange look; you’re not used to it. The baby blues and the red beard and the fucking boyish good looks. C’mon, get it together here — I got fucking German cheekbones!
When did you stop wearing pants?
AB: I haven’t worn pants in like eight years. I wore a pair of pants once in eight years. It was sweat pants. They weren’t even jeans, they were sweats.
Why did you give up pants?
AB: It’s a lifestyle, you know? I just like the way shorts feel. I like the way shorts look. I never wear jackets either. I only wear layers and hoods. I have mad jackets though; I have like 15 jackets that I don’t wear.
I know what your style is. You got joints like this [coat right here], three-quarters and shit with the hood.
AB: When I got the shorts on with the long jackets, you don’t even know if I’m wearing nothing. I could be naked under there.
What does it mean to be a “hip hop heavyweight?”
AB: It just means we’re fucking eatin’, man. We eatin’. Bottom line, my man wears a bib every single day — and so do I — cause we eatin’.
MME: Moneybags on deck.
AB: That’s it. We eatin’ out here.
MME: I don’t know what that term “hip hop heavyweight” signifies. I like to believe that just means that I’m good at my craft. I’m good at what I do. I think it’s a beautiful thing. I love being a hip-hop heavyweight.
AB: “Heavyweight” is always the best ticket — Mike Tyson days, you know? You don’t want to see the little fucking guys.
This story appears in Mass Appeal Issue 52. Read more stories from the issue here.