This article was originally submitted on the 26th March
At a time when Kanye West seems at his most unhinged—burying Pete Davidson alive in revenge-fueled music videos is certainly a low point—Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy offers a welcome reminder that the rapper/singer/producer/fashion designer/loudmouthed media mogul is, in fact, a human being. Rather than dissecting his two-decade career, the documentary instead offers a personal perspective: Coodie Simmons, who co-directs with Chike Ozah, presents intimate footage of the rap star with his own first-person narration. Coodie’s viewpoint is open and honest, and helps ground Mr. West in a much-needed subjective reality.
Jeen-Yuhs makes its authorial statement clear early on, when Coodie states how his decision to follow West was influenced by the film Hoop Dreams; he wanted “to do a documentary on Kanye, to see how far his dreams would take him.” A remarkably apt prediction—one upon which Coodie takes hold, following West to New York and beyond. The first two acts of the film, “VISION” and “PURPOSE,” stick closely to this idea, tracing West’s journey from underappreciated beatmaker to the genius behind The College Dropout. Footage of the rapper in these early stages can be shockingly candid. In one scene, West storms into the headquarters of Roc-a-Fella Records and raps the soon to be smash-hit “All Falls Down” to anyone who will hear him—not least of which include some confused secretaries.
In these burgeoning years, West comes off as a charmingly naïve young man, absolutely brimming with ideas that need to be heard. His utter belief in himself—while verging on the obnoxiousness we know him for today—seems for the most part productive confidence. His self-obsession brought a new kind of masculinity to hip-hop, one that emphasised spirituality and quotidian middle-class problems that certainly didn’t jive with Jay-Z’s gangsta rap. This confidence is on full display here, and in mostly benevolent forms. A welcome sight, indeed.
Of all the pleasures in Jeen-Yuhs, the most heartwarming comes in the form of Donda West, Kanye’s late mother. Her presence and her smile contains the brightness of a supernova, and brightens the moods of all those around her. Seeing her positivity makes it far easier to understand the Kanye we have today. Their loving rapport is a genuinely beautiful sight, and does wonders to explain West’s emotional sensitivity. With a mother like her, who wouldn’t have his confidence?
After the release of The College Dropout, Jeen-Yuhs segways into its third act, “AWAKENING,” which details West’s star-studded years—those that made Kanye into the egotistical, controversy-prone cultural behemoth he is today. Rather than the laser-focus of the first two acts (which range specifically from 1998-2004) “AWAKENING” documents a seventeen-year period, during much of which Coodie and Kanye were not on speaking terms. The act suffers as a result: whereas the first two capture West with the affection of a close friend, the third act is relegated to media reports and public hearsay.
Still, for a documentary about an egomaniac as famous as West, Jeen-Yuhs portrays the superstar rapper with an admirable intimacy. There are moments that show him at his best, others that show him at his worst—and through it all, he remains charismatic, sympathetic, and human.
Image Courtesy of NRK P3 via Flickr