Sitting on a logo-emblazoned double decker bus in the open sun in the middle of Austin, Texas, in the middle of SXSW with a bunch of bloggers sounds like the worst thing ever, right?
But this bus was different. This bus was being commissioned by the one and only Action Bronson — rap’s pre-eminent foodie/weirdo, a former chef in his Queens hometown, and the maker of some of Billboard‘s favorite golden-era-recalling backpack-rap bangers over the past few years. We would be riding around downtown Austin, listening to his new album Mr. Wonderful (due out March 24 on Vice/Atlantic), presumably smoking some of Action’s weed, then going to a food-truck fair to give out treats to fans and generally cause a ruckus.
In person, Action Bronson is exactly how you’d think: He arrived 45 minutes late, with right-hand men Big Body Bes and Meyhem Lauren and go-to producers Alchemist and Party Supplies in tow, rocking a man-bun, a green Carhartt shirt, shorts, some clean Nikes, and a massive blunt already hanging out of his mouth.
“I don’t really know what’s happening,” he admitted to the bus’ passengers. “We’re gonna ride around, listen to my album and smoke. You’re welcome to join me.”
And we were off. Both the bus, and the passengers, as the perfectly rolled blunt was already making the rounds. Billboard, professional as ever, declined to smoke, of course, but we’re told the weed was lemony, with a hint of chocolate and hazeulnut, great mouth feel and a smooth finish. On a scale of Bill Clinton to Cheech & Chong, this was straight Willie Nelson. “You gotta pass it to the left,” Bronson, apparently a fan of Musical Youth, instructed.
The sounds of the opener to Mr .Wonderful, the Billy Joel-inspired “Brand New Car” were blasting as the bus drove down Lavaca Street. It sounded great, though it was hard to hear between all the coughs from pink-lunged passengers who weren’t prepared for Bronson’s Cannabis Cup-grade green. They also weren’t well-versed in weed etiquette — the blunt had gone around the wrong way despite Bronson’s explicit instructions. “You f—ed up the rotation!” he admonished one hapless journalist.
Meanwhile, even amid SXSW’s usual madness, people on the streets of Austin were taking notice of the huge, loud, gaudy bus, covered by vivid images from artist Ron English, with smoke trailing from it. Most people don’t know who Action is, but people who do generally love him. “Bronsolino!” a tall Rastafarian guy yelled out as the bus turned onto the service road for Interstate 35.
As harder-edged second track “The Rising” came on, Bronson told us, “I want you to think about the beginning of The Terminator, when Arnold arrives on Earth naked.”
When we turned on Rainey Street, it became clear that the towering bus hadn’t done a test run of the route. Low-hanging tree branches kept hitting passengers in the head. Bronson himself almost got impaled a few times, though he barely noticed. For some reason, Billboard writes down the lyric “When I smile your baby mama shit her dungarees,” though we don’t remember which song it’s from.
The bus eventually pulled up to SouthBites Trailer Park, where several food trucks were serving Austin’s best street food — including Mmmpanadas, which Bronson, who has an online food show on Vice.com’s Munchies channel called “Fuck That’s Delicious,” teamed up with to feed a special-made poutine to a hundred or so fans already lining up.
Bronson, another blunt in his mouth — we estimate this was the third one — greeted the screaming crowd, took a few pictures and gave a few pounds, then got in the truck and got to work. He wasn’t cooking, but he was serving with kitchen-trained efficiency — bowls of poutine kept coming from the truck’s window in between puffs of smoke. The poutine consisted of brisket, fingerling potatos, cheese curds and scallions — it sounds like a Bronson lyric, come to think of it, and Billboard can attest it was delicious.
Once the crowd of fans had been served, Bronson went mobile, walking around with a tray and serving poutine to whomever else was nearby — security guards (“Somebody smells like some good-ass weed,” one murmured to himself), a woman on her way to medical treatment on an EMS cart (“Bayside Queens in the house,” she shouted), and even several grinning police officers.
“You’re serving poutine with a blunt in your mouth,” one particularly obsessed fan told Bronson. “How beautiful is that?”
All photos by Alex Gale