Action Bronson, the hip-hop artist, cookbook author and former host of VICE’s “F*ck, That’s Delicious,” is no stranger to hyperbole and his new book, “Stoned Beyond Belief,” stays the course. Like every artistic medium the New York City native, now in his mid-30s, has tackled, Bronson brings his affinity for cannabis, as well as his blunt speaking style and crass sense of humor, to the project.
What sets “Stoned Beyond Belief” — which Bronson created in collaboration with the New York food writer Rachel Wharton — apart from the rest of his work isn’t so much the subject material as the format: a non-linear splattering of his various anecdotes, recipes, drawings and musings on the subject of cannabis.
What it lacks in substance it makes up for with its sensationalist, visual-heavy layout and Bronson’s own earnest nature.
“Stoned Beyond Belief” is basically a funhouse in book form. The color, font, size and layout of the text change from page to page. Essays bump up against cartoons that bump up against sumptuous, full-page photos that bump up against interviews. This messy style is nonetheless engaging, and if Bronson is attempting to capture the disorienting effects of being stoned, he’s not too far off the mark.
The book’s strongest moments are its wonderful anecdotes, stuffed in between the less inspiring stuff. Years of traveling the world as a pseudo-celebrity have resulted in a lion’s share of tall tales, and Bronson relays these hilarious, absurd accounts with a delightful eye for detail. In one passage, he describes his first interaction with a dealer (he calls him a “shaman”) in South Africa: “He was a guy on a motorcycle, wearing a f*cking earring and a tank top. We were all on mushrooms, and when we went into his house, we started cracking up, because he had a giant folding fan on the wall, as if it was art, and The Simpsons figurines in a fish tank.”
At another point, Bronson spins an affectionate tale about introducing his mom, a hardcore stoner herself, to a high-potency oil that knocked her out of commission for two days straight; the accompanying comic, drawn by Johnny Sampson, makes it all the more endearing.
Throughout all of these anecdotes, Bronson maintains a sort of neutral objectivity about his own fame: He seems neither entitled nor surprised when, blissfully stoned and eating a gyro in Paris, “a girl stops by and pulls out three passion- fruits from her bag and tells me, I brought these for you, they’re from the Ivory Coast. First of all, I was floored by the gesture; it was beautiful, it was amazing.” Later, he spends an evening in the company of his pro sports heroes, gobbling blunts as — he mentions offhand — Ariana Grande performed in the next room over.
The only thing that Action Bronson loves as much (well, almost as much) as weed is food, and “Stoned Beyond Belief” is also interspersed with various recipes and odes to his favorite cures for the munchies. The most interesting food anecdotes shine light into Bronson’s past. His family can trace their roots to Armenia, and those traditional foods come with stories of their own.
When recalling his grandmother’s bread, for instance, he writes, “my grandmother would also always serve it with pindjur, or roasted red peppers and tomatoes crushed with garlic, salt, and parsley. She would cook for all of us, and then just bread and pindjur would be her meal.” At the other end of the spectrum, I’d probably be just as happy not knowing how Action Bronson makes a grilled cheese sandwich (although the accompanying gargantuan, gooey grilled cheese image alone may inspire you to fire one up on the stove).
In the book, we also see a self-deprecating side of Action Bronson that’s as intriguing as it is surprising: as much as he loves smoking weed, he also goes out of his way to describe his longing for pot as a “sickness” and himself as a near-addict.
“There could not be a situation where I could be left out in the cold without weed,” he writes at the beginning of the book, in a passage where he recounts his younger years when he would regularly scam friends and strangers alike in order to feed his weed lust. “I liked weed so much, I decided to give everything else up and go chase my dreams,” he continues. “My real dreams: smoking weed every day.”
But he also appreciates the plant as much as he loves it. Although “Stoned Beyond Belief” isn’t exactly a narrative masterpiece, there is a parallel to be found between Bronson’s personal evolution with cannabis and its own radical shift from underground crop to a heavyweight, almost-mainstream industry. Bronson has been there to see it all.
Like a lot of coffee table books, “Stoned Beyond Belief” contains a lot of fluff. But that doesn’t take away from its honesty, or the fun that Bronson had in bringing it to life.
TELL US, have you read “Stoned Beyond Belief” yet?
Originally published in Issue 36 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE