As far as 21st century renaissance men in our time of bro culture go, it might be harder to find one more entertaining – or unabashedly authentic – than Queens native Action Bronson. Since firmly cementing his place in the pop culture landscape during the early part of the decade, the epically bearded, heavily tattooed rapper has delighted hip-hop heads with his jubilant, idiosyncratic lyrical style. (He’s also raised concerns about misogyny in his lyrics, as explored in “When Do Misogynistic Lyrics Become Hate Speech?“, by Hans Rollmann.) A classically trained gourmet chef, he’s also garnered an equally impressive fanbase as the host of numerous cooking, travel, and talk shows, including The Untitled Action Bronson Show and F*ck, That’s Delicious (both on Viceland, of course) the latter of which is also the name of his first book, a memoir/ cookbook/ gastronomic manifesto that’s as riotous and ecstatic as his television personality.
But for a man of seemingly limitless passions, Bronson seems to hold one above the rest: a decades-long love affair with marijuana that influences just about everything he does (as anyone who’s listened to any of his songs or watched more than 30 seconds of Traveling the Stars: Action Bronson and Friends Watch Ancient Aliens, also on Viceland, knows well). It makes perfect sense then that this self-proclaimed weed superhero’s second literary effort would be an homage to the plant he’s described as “the tree of life” and a “conduit to happiness”. If you’re in to Bronson’s raucous persona and gastrointestinal indulgences, the resulting book, Stoned Beyond Belief, does not disappoint. It’s a trippy-yet-informative, munchie-laden romp with more than enough ganja-related minutiae to appease everyone from old-school hippies to millennial microdosers. An impossible-to-classify, essential stoner artifact as unique and hilarious as the author himself, penned with the help of James Beard Award-winning food writer Rachel Wharton who, according to her website, has collaborated on books by several chefs/celebrities, helping them “find their voice”.
Ostensibly, Stoned Beyond Belief seems to stick to pretty much the same format as F*ck, That’s Delicious, even featuring a similarly garish neon cover. But Stoned Beyond Belief goes far beyond F*ck‘s autobiographical anecdotes and recipes (though it does include plenty of those), with interviews, comics, mooching strategies, hemp history lessons, travel advice, music playlists, blunt-rolling and hash-making tutorials, New Age mumbo-jumbo, tattoo flash pages, and paraphernalia suggestions – not to mention one section that’s just a photograph of dozens of blades piled together with the caption “Knives” – jumbled together in no apparent order, like the exuberant musings of the guy at the party who’s had one or five too many bong rips.
Bronson, like any good freestyler, thrives in the randomness, a stoned tour guide who wants to take you on the greatest marijuana voyage, regardless of what shape that journey takes. Gleefully touching on countless aspects of cannabis culture in a swaggy New York drawl, he constantly peppers in his own experiences from a lifetime of imbibing, from his misspent youth scouring the boroughs for “beasters” (mid-grade pot) while playing handball and stealing lunch meats to put on Subway veggie combos “before all that fuckery with Jared”, to his much later discovery of “next-level” West Coast strains, as well as the extracts, oils, hash, and the terminology – cannabidiol, terpenes, trichomes – that has become an integral part of an exponentially diverse and lucrative industry, to his current status as a backseat mystical guru who wholeheartedly touts the plant’s allegedly celestial origins and its integral role in shaping evolution. Though much of this philosophizing is admittedly wacky, it’s far more interesting than the slew of dispassionate, science-based cannabis books to appear in recent years, a reminder that for most people, above all else, getting high is supposed to be fun.
The best part about Bronson is that he never claims to be anything less than the sum of all his parts, even the seedier ones. Readily admitting his addiction to his drug of choice, he discusses his body’s need to wake and bake and the intense pain he suffers when he doesn’t, some of the lengths he’s gone to score (“I sold all the old-school boxing books and autographs my grandfather left me when he died”), the always-present potential for negative experiences (as detailed in a story about giving his mother a concentrated oil that caused her to hallucinate and remain bedridden for a day and a half), and his ingrained propensity to lie about his stash – “No matter how much weed I have, I’ll always tell someone I don’t have weed.” When he outlines several strategies for boofing, or “To throw weed in your ass as soon as authorities are noticed,” you know he’s writing from a place of, um, expertise. As always, there’s the honesty that’s always refreshing, shocking, and sometimes very gross: “I can’t hide anything, that’s how I am: I am myself to the extreme.”
Remarkably, some of the book’s best entries aren’t explicitly about smoking (or dabbing, or eating, or vaping) pot, but rather about “heady as fuck” things that, according to Bronson, serve to enhance one’s high and/or overall spiritual outlook. These include the stereotypical stoner succulents, healing crystals, the Grateful Dead, graffiti, and instructions for cooking dozens of surprisingly non-magical treats, because eating a weed-laced dinner “is a gimmick, like going to Guy Fieri’s restaurant on Forty-Second Street.” Instead, drawing on a childhood spent in his Albanian grandmother’s kitchen and nearly a decade of rapping around the world, he dishes out an insane selection of culture-spanning comfort food that’s mouth-watering regardless of the level of THC in one’s blood.
As with Bronson’s previous work, there’s no separating haute cuisine and late-night grub – Wagyu steak bao and Muslim lamb chop exist effortlessly alongside fried pizza and the “Home Wrecker”, which is basically Jewish salami sliced and dipped in mustard, ideally eaten at two or three in the morning. It’s a contradiction that works perfectly in Bronson’s universe, a place where premeditation almost always gives way to raw emotion; what he loves is what you’re going to get. And frankly, it’s hard to argue with 15 pages of recipes featuring “melty cheese” with accompanying photographs so deliciously food porn-y it’s almost cruel.
Elegantly designed, with dazzling imagery and a bright, minimalist, and occasionally psychedelic aesthetic that shifts rapidly from page to page (all the better for those with slightly compromised attention spans) yet never fails to be anything less than eye-catching, Stoned Beyond Belief would make a gorgeous coffee-table book, even if it was written by “wooks” (those annoying creatures who represent all of the worst – i.e., smelliest – aspects of hippiedom). But under Bronson’s one-of-a-kind bleary-eyed guidance, the book transcends counter-culture ephemera as an indispensable guide to every corner of the marijuana universe, a poignant ode to one of earth’s most powerful plants, and a fascinatingly undiluted glimpse into the mind of the man whose life it saved.