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.