‘Kanye West – God & Monster’ is an apt title for this biography. Here is a man who speaks in colours, rather than black and white, so it’s brave of Mark Beaumont to try and chronicle his complicated life.
It begins with an introduction to West’s maternal grandfather, Portwood, who is deserted by his father and left with the parting gift of a quarter. Portwood goes on to become a success and marry Lucille, and in turn they are blessed with children including West’s mother, Donda. Donda is encouraged to drink from white only fountains and inherits an internal strength and sense of justice that she passes on to her son, Kanye (meaning ‘the only one’ in Ethiopian).
Despite West’s parents divorcing when he is a child, his photographer father, Ray, remains present in his son’s life. Ray West was a member of the Black Panther Party and on occasion grabbed the microphone from people to speak at rallies. Sound familiar?
The book is divided into chapters that include song titles. West’s meteoric rise to fame is covered in detailed fashion. From the young boy who tells his mother that ducks do not quack properly to the young man trying to make his musical way in his beloved Chicago.
West’s struggle to be taken seriously as a performing artist is well documented: he is seen by many as a great producer and beat provider but that’s it. Throughout the book he fights to establish himself as a performer. Even after West does establish himself he cannot quite let go of the earlier rejections using lyrics to get his point across.
A glittering host of music royalty, including Jay Z, John Legend and Nicki Minaj, flit in and out of the pages building on the image of West’s character. One man who is ever present in the book is NO I.D. who comes across as a type of father figure to West and someone he recognises as a mentor. NO I.D. is immortalised in songs such as ‘Made in America’.
As you’d expect, two of the most infamous incidents in West’s life are revisited here. At a televised Hurricane Katrina appeal West says: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”. West had strayed from the teleprompter as he felt compelled to, and Bush would go on record as saying it was one of the worst moments of his presidency (West would regret branding Bush a racist). However the sentiments behind the comment West held onto. Mike Myers (who was standing by his side at the time) would stand by West, saying he was proud of him and that he agreed with him regarding race and the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. The other incident is that Taylor Swift award interruption, which West struggles to rationalise.
There are some touching moments, including the death of West’s beloved mother and his annoyance that she died for the “Hollywood look” (Donda passed away following complications after plastic surgery). West’s struggle to overcome his near fatal car crash is also included.
By the final pages, West has made it on a professional and personal level, marrying Kim Kardashian who he had wanted to marry since he first saw her. The boy in the pink shirt, who came from a middle class background and not from the ghetto, cuts a convincing figure in a place that he did/does not quite fit in.
The passion that he has for his music is evident in this biography. He turns hotels into recording studios and is fiercely protective of his work and dedicated to perfecting his craft. As Jay Z says: “We have 75 mixes of ‘Stronger’ (to get the bass guitar right) Who does that?”
Beaumont has done a good job with this. West’s imperfections and perfections are laid out for the reader to draw their own conclusions on whether he is a God or Monster, or even both. As a fan, I conclude that he is neither. He is just a human being with an incredible talent.
God & Monster is out now on Omnibus Press. Kanye West headlines the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury on Saturday 27th June.