Sorry for the hiatus kids, I was in jolly old England for a week with Aden (at least one post on that loveliness to come.) While I was gone, my review came out on the new book, “Kanye West: God and Monster,” by Mark Beaumont.
While the book is not great– way too long and not well-written or edited– I was fascinated by Kanye and wanted to learn more. He’s surprising in many ways. Growing up with two college-educated parents who valued the arts and instilled a strong work ethic, he started rapping as a kid in Chicago and worked his ass off writing and performing whenever he could.
He made his bones as a producer and was working in the big leagues by 19– showing up to meetings with record companies in a pink Polo shirt and a Louis Vuitton backpack– ready to negotiate. The 90’s hip hop world didn’t know what to make of him, but he refused to take no for an answer.
Once he broke into the music business, he worked obsessively on perfecting every record, surrounding himself with the best talent and open to all collaboration. As his star began to rise, his healthy ego became his downfall. His media meltdowns became legendary and made him a punchline.
But he just went back to work creating. His vision and influence extends well beyond music into producing and directing videos, fashion, and design. Kanye also changed the genre by writing more honestly about his life experiences and feelings, which opened the door for many new artists since. The book made me want to buy his albums.
While I wouldn’t recommend Kanye West: God and Monster— read why below, I don’t mince words– I hope a good writer gets access to Ye or he writes his own story. I’d buy that book for realz.
Anyone who’s glanced at a tabloid recently knows Kanye West as a flashy rapper married to reality TV star Kim Kardashian. But a new book, “Kanye West: God and Monster,” by Mark Beaumont (Ominibus Press) argues West’s talent and influence stretch well past the gossip headlines.
Beaumont did his homework — there are eight pages of sources cited in the index– piecing together West’s story, using media interviews spanning more than a decade. But the only quotes in the book allegedly said by West and those in his circle are taken from outside reporting– not original interviews– so there are no revelations, and few new personal details.
The book follows West’s life from childhood in Chicago, to his first shot in the music business, through to the present. The bulk of the content focuses on West’s creative process writing and producing, so it reads more like a music anthology than biography.
The chapters are long and dense, each focusing on a particular album, explaining the origin and meaning of scores of song lyrics and musical hooks, and myriad collaborators. West has joined forces with dozens of rap and hip hop stars and the author names them all, making it challenging to keep up. While Beaumont is deft at analyzing West’s lyrics and relating them to the rapper’s life experiences, including so many examples becomes repetitive, tedious, and breaks the narrative’s flow.
A consistent theme in the book is West’s perseverance and his refusal to accept rejection because his artistic convictions and belief in himself are so strong. Beaumont suggests that while West is a “god” in music now, he had a tough time breaking in.
He didn’t look or sound like other rappers in the late 1990’s, and came from a disciplined home with college-educated parents who valued academics, art and a strong work ethic. While most rappers were wearing tight shirts and baggy jeans slung low, West– a high-fashion fan– sported a loose pink Ralph Lauren shirt with the collar flipped up and a Louis Vuitton backpack.
Beaumont builds a convincing case that West is a creative music genius, with an eye for fashion, video directing, and design. He’s also known among peers as one of the hardest working in show business. Rapping as a child, he hustled through adolescence and produced on a platinum record at just 19.
The book examines his process– never writing down lyrics, constantly listening to music from all genres to find hooks, and putting them together with signature beats. West often burrows in hotels and makeshift studios for months with little sleep, barely stopping to eat, as he constantly rearranges songs up until a record release.
A near fatal car accident at the beginning of his career gave him renewed purpose and sparked more honesty in his writing. While most artists were singing about fast cars, guns and sex, West started writing reflective raps about peer pressure, materialism, racism, violence, and stereotypes.
The audience responded to his new vulnerability: he was selling records and wowing critics. Beaumont maintains this introspective writing style changed the game and opened the door for more sensitive artists like Drake, Kid Cudi, and Frank Ocean.
But with success, came hubris and a lack of self-control. West began to draw negative attention by comparing himself to great musicians and cultural icons, like Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Steve Jobs, and Ghandi, and became famous for his public meltdowns.
He was publicly vilified after effectively calling then President George Bush a racist on live TV, and again when interrupting Taylor Swift after winning her first MTV award insisting Beyonce should have won. The backlash sent him into exile, but the book doesn’t offer any new insight nor explain why West continued his monster ways in subsequent interviews, Twitter rants, and scuffles with paparazzi.
Fans looking for scoop on West’s personal life will be disappointed. Many life events– messy breakups, his mother’s tragic death following plastic surgery, feuds with other musicians, his marriage to Kardashian and becoming a father — are glossed over.
The book spotlights the music and West’s ambition and artistic influence. He has his own record label, produces and styles music videos, created a Nike sneaker, and has fashion lines in the works. His tour with hip hop magnate Jay-Z broke records and marked transcendence into the mainstream.
“They were outselling Rock and Roll giants, and had broken through cultural barriers to become accepted and loved far beyond their niche beginnings. They were pop culture figures dictating fashion, music and even changes in racial and social attitudes,” Beaumont writes.
Beaumont’s writing style is bland, unlike his dynamic subject. West’s personal story, his fearlessness and tireless work ethic, and his talent and creativity will likely inspire readers. Beaumont hails West as innovative and riveting. Unfortunately, his book is not.
Are you a Kanye fan? Tell me in the comments.