‘Kanye West: God and Monster’ Mark Beaumont

As you would expect, what you think of ‘Kanye West: God and Monster’ lies heavily on what you think of Kanye West. Music reviewer and frequent biographer Mark Beaumont’s book semi-obsessively tracks the divisive rapper/producer/fashion designer/superbrand’s life and career while revealing very little new about The Greatest Living Rock Star.

The book starts with Kanye’s grandparents, then goes to the story of his parents, then settles its focus on Donda and Kanye. I was quite surprised to read about Kanye’s childhood. Few rappers would have his background. He was born in Atlanta then moved to Chicago when he was very young after his mother got tenure at Chicago State. His dad was a member of the Black Panthers. Kanye seemed to have been ever the precocious child, as he was to continue into his adulthood, rapping from third grade and winning talent competitions all over the place. Donda and Kanye then moved to China for a year in his pre-adolescence, during which time Kanye was able to further concentrate on his academics. On return he scored so highly in a test that he was asked to resit it with no-one next to him. At least Kanye and Donda believed in Kanye.

Onto his post-high school days. Kanye got into art school, but dropped out. He was talented in both art and music but, as we all know, ended up choosing music. Good. He then flitted in and out of different jobs before annoying everyone with his constant beats. Then came Def Jam. Then the world.

After the earlier chapters, much of the rest of the book is split into chapters roughly surrounding the periods around each of his albums: The College Drop Out, Late Registration, Graduation, 808s and Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Watch The Throne, Cruel Summer, and Yeezus. It does into extensive detail surrounding each of his songs, so to really make the most of the book it would help to be well-versed in his discography. I’m a Kanye fan (a Fanye, if you would be willing to indulge me in this poortmanteau), but I must admit that I ended up skimming quite a lot of the song blurb segments.

The earlier parts of Kanye’s life are the most illuminating in the book, although I suppose this is because this is what is least known to me and I generally find it interesting to learn how famous people got their start. Kanye always seems to have been painfully strongwilled and with his ridiculous self-belief that his driven him to the success that he achieved. It seems that Kanye may have some type of personality disorder that was never properly diagnosed or never brought to public attention. He has proclaimed a lot of grand things recently in interviews, lyrics and at concerts, but what seems to be evident throughout his life and career is that he is one of the hardest working people in the industry.

The frustrations of Kanye’s early career must undoubtedly shaped the path of the rest of his career and his media personality. He struggled to make it as a rapper, being relegated to making beats for many years before he could take the stage. I say relegated: he was and is a very renowned producer. The College Drop Out seems to largely have come about purely based by Kanye’s stubbornness, skill and panache, making it and putting it out there with seemingly little support. Another biographical detail that was news to me was the car crash that nearly killed him and which inspired ‘Through The Wire’ which, as I listen to it now, is noticeably sung with his jaw wired shut.

It was a good album. All of his albums have been good, although I haven’t really listened to Late Registration or Graduation. It was interesting to read about his music video process, and, as I work in music videos, it is absolute madness to see how much money and time he was throwing at his videos to make videos that, to the best of my knowledge, haven’t particularly earned much rep as being “the best” or anything.

This leads to another strand of the book: Kanye’s perception of himself, the media and industry’s perception of him, and the public perception of him. He is an ass. But he makes good music. But he hasn’t been rewarded as much as he would like. So he’s more of an ass. And the wheel keeps on spinning.

Reading about the amount of effort that goes in to making each album, and indeed each song, is eye opening. And quite inspiring – I wish that I was passionate enough about anything to spend this much time and care over it. Everyone that has worked with him recognises his work ethic and his gift, and a lot of people still work and want to work with him, in spite of his brash media image. There is certainly a difference between Kanye the craftsman and Kanye the personality.

Then there are sections about his personal life: the loss of Donda, the loss of his first fiance, the Amber Rose breakup, and finally Kim and North. These were all interesting asides, though I suppose I am naturally predisposed to the gossipy side of life so to others reading it solely for the music, it may be a bit pulpy.

There’s a lot more to Kanye West than is shown in the media. He is an ass. The Taylor Swift thing and, more recently, Beck thing are both ridiculous and he definitely did deserve some stick for it. But here is a man who does what he believes in, and stick by what he does. The media perception of him is not the real Kanye, but then again, the music probably isn’t either.

I take back my earlier comment. The book does shed a new light on Kanye West, even if by only making you think more about the man. And you can’t help but admire what he has done for music, how he constantly reinvents himself and how he pushes to keep achieving more and more: whether in music, fashion, or #breakingtheinternet. More of a monster than a God, but always just a man.

7/10 – a thorough and insightful biography, although prone to dragging in places. 

‘I Love Lucy And Bekka’: More Laughs From Golden Globe Winner Gina Rodriguez

… and also starring Kristolyn Lloyd.

If you have a spare 20 minutes, I highly recommend watching the web series I Love Lucy & Bekka in its entirety. Contrary to my writing style, I’m actually a big fan of brevity. Most first season episodes weigh in at around one and a half to two minutes, with the longest episode at 3:11.

And worth every second!

ILL&B is written by NBC Universal’s Emerging Writer’s Fellowship finalist Rachael Holder and centres on best friends/roommates Lucy and Bekka, played by Lloyd and Rodriguez respectively.

The episodes are low key and do a good job of having a simple idea, executing the joke and getting out. In this sense, it is definitely a comedy for the internet generation’s ever shortening attention spans.

For example:

“You know when you love a baby, a small child who is being so cute, you just want to throw him into traffic?”

As a girl in my early 20s living with one other roommate, maybe it’s particularly appealing to me as I am pretty much its target demographic. Most of the conversations that Lucy and Bekka have are things that most of us have probably said or heard at one time or another, but everyone loves a bit of relatability.

The series opens with Bekka chatting to Lucy while she’s on the toilet. Girlfriends! Later in the series, Bekka casually walks in on Lucy’s boyfriend on the toilet. Toilet budz!

Sure, not everything worked for me, and as each episode mostly hangs on one key joke, some episodes (“Lemonade“) are kind of duds, but the highlights definitely outweigh the lowlights.

If you only have 5 minutes, I recommend “RIP Tommy“, “Porn” and “Crying“.

With Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez (that’s her full name now) as the star, you can bank on the performances being good. Because the writing and much of the humour comes from very low key things, the performances have to be strong to sell it – which all three actors do.

Whether GGW Gina Rodriguez deserved to win for Best Actress in a Comedy (it should have been Lisa Kudrow) or not for Jane The Virgin, she is still undeniably a great actress, and it’s nice to see her getting the opportunity to do some straight comedy rather than a role that I would say is more dramatic with comedic elements.

The series ends with Lucy moving out, possibly with her boyfriend who featured in the preceding two episodes. I presume this, combined with Rodriguez’ schedule, probably means the end for I Love Lucy & Bekka.

It was fun while it lasted, but I don’t for the life of me know why they released all of the episodes on the same day -especially when there is a story arc in the last three episodes.

Some final notes: I’m a big fan of the costume and production design; the quality of the sound seemed to vary from episode to episode; and there’s a continuity error in episode four (comment with the answer below for a gold star).

‘American Dad!’ Finally Makes Itself At Home?

American Dad! is a strange show – and it’s been treated equally strangely over its history.

While every episode but four of its 10 season run aired during Fox’s Animation Domination, it struggled to pull the numbers of air-mates The Simpsons, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show or even Bob’s Burgers.

From my straw polls amongst friends and online, it seems that American Dad! is seen as  Family Guy‘s bastard cousin: less funny, less good, and too political (people are entitled to opinions even if it is of things that they know nothing about).

Making that comparison is like comparing Family Guy to Johnny Bravo; sure Seth Macfarlane had a hand in it, but they’re nothing alike when you look at the humour and construction of the shows.

It is the least Seth Macfarlane of any Seth Macfarlane creation – with the exception ofCosmos – and his voice is pretty much the only thing he’s lent to the show since the end of the first season (or midway through the second).

The scheduling of American Dad! has been odd throughout its Fox lifespan. Season one officially had seven episodes, ending with “Deacon Stan Jesus Man”, while the production run ended with “It’s Good To Be Queen” – the 12th episode of the second season.

I always felt the first season ended with “Stan of Arabia Part 2″, which isn’t based on anything in particular, although it does feel like the show really got going after that point. And the DVD box sets don’t give any answers at all (which is why DVD is a dying format).

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, American Dad! has a pretty substantial backlog of episodes. It’s also hard to associate episodes with a particular season, as their production order and airing order rarely matches up. And, even in cartoon terms, there’s very little growth or developments for the characters; story arcs are rare and continuity seems largely unimportant.

There are, of course, ways you can tell that a particular arc is in place: Jeff and Hayley are on the run, or Jeff is in space. You can also tell when the show is in a ‘tonal season’, where the voice or quality is quite consistent, such as season one or season five – the first season with the new opening, and my personal favourite.

American Dad! is a dark and surreal show, and this has played both to its favour and its detriment. It has less broad appeal than Family Guy (think of that statement what you will) meaning many initial viewers were turned off when they weren’t given more of the same,  but that same brand of humour also won it a substantial cult following.

It isn’t afraid to be very dark and shocking –  but in an intelligent or interesting way, as opposed to shock for shock’s sake because outrage is good publicity. It also takes stylistic risks, with episodes serving as homages or parodies to the apocalypse, James Bond, indie cinema, and plays to name a few.

In case you hadn’t already heard, American Dad! also moved to TBS in the fall. Its last episodes on Fox were buried in preseason in a fitting testament to how they treated the show in its life there. Animation Domination is dead, and Fox is trying to make way for newer (read: more profitable; better viewing figures) shows.

Cable to the rescue!

The move should be the biggest change to the show, but it is the departure of co-creator Mike Barker that will probably have the largest impact on the future of American Dad!

The official line is that he left over creative differences at the beginning of the 11th season’s production, though I can’t really see a huge change in the creative direction of the show since its TBS airing, which may be to do with the huge backlog of already-produced episodes.

TBS have been actively promoting American Dad! and have given the show bigger creative balls, even if this only amounts to letting them say shit and tits. The renewed 12th season is also the longest in the shows history, at 22 episodes.

It seems TBS cares about the show in ways Fox never did. Granted, it probably gives TBS solid ratings compared to its other original programming, but the renewal is a huge vote of confidence, especially for a show going into its 200th episode.

This is hopefully the chance for American Dad! to reach new creative heights, with freedom that just isn’t possible on network TV. The animation and overall quality doesn’t seem to have dipped or changed too much so far – at least when compared to the last two or so seasons on Fox – and by physically distancing itself from the Macfarlane machine, it may finally find its right audience.