TV REVIEW: jeen - yuhs (Pt. 1)
jeen-yus, a three-part documentary by the original Kanye West stans, Coodie & Chike, is dropping piece-by-piece on Netflix over the next few weeks. I was fortunate enough to see it in theaters last Thursday with some friends, so I figured I’d let you guys know my thoughts. I want to say first and foremost that I hate when publications like Pitchfork drop reviews for shit before people have a chance to see it. When I first heard about this coming out, I was doubtful that it’d be anything but a cringey hit piece or overly fluffy portrait of this ubiquitous figure. The opening credits led me to believe that’s what I was seeing, with flashes of him with a Trump hat, interrupting Taylor Swift, with some narration like “damn, how did it get here.” However, once we cut back to a non-famous Kanye West next to Jermaine Dupree in the late ‘90s, the tone switches dramatically. For the next hour and a half, we get a really intimate and never-before-seen portrait of a proto-narcissist. The directors treat the audience like they are smart, and let everyone draw their own conclusions.
Not to retread every single thing that happens, but here are the big beats. Coodie & Chike are following Kanye around with an old school video camera as he produces all the hottest beats in Chicago. He is a talented rapper in his own right, but all his best beats go straight to Jay Z and the Roc Nation label that he so desperately wants to be signed too. For the majority of the runtime, we see this clearly talented and deserving figure bob and weave traditional media outlets like MTV, the radio, newspapers and the Roc themselves to try to get a look. He crashes the latter’s offices and plays them now-classics like “Jesus Walks” and “All Falls Down”, and gets kicked out. He gets a bit of success then gets dissed by one of his biggest production mentors on the radio. When he fails, everyone looks past him. When he succeeds, everyone wants to see him put in his place. It’s no wonder that he pushed so hard when it came to fashion or his presidential run, he had a vision that other people didn’t.
The most heartbreaking part of it all centers around his relationship with his mother, Donda. It is clear that Kanye has an ego, a penchant for expensive things and for beautiful women, but it’s all grounded and fueled by his chats with Donda. “Oh I like this” she says about his brand new chain, before reciting his mixtape lyrics (that he forgot!) back to him. She is his biggest fan, truly believing him and following him on his journey to success. It hurts to see, considering that his mom passed away from preventable circumstances, because she really is the rock that holds the balloon of Kanye West from floating up into space. The general candidness of the camera work mixed with these legendary or deeply personal looks at Kanye, with minimal narration, is a journalist's dream to watch. As someone who constantly goes to concerts to try to snap great pictures of my favorite artists, I am thoroughly impressed by the footage presented. We get Kanye contemplating changing his name to “Ye” in 2003, getting his Roc chain from Jay-Z on stage and working with Scarface in the studio before the release of The College Dropout. These are bits that are beyond a 10/10 scale, it’s like finding a treasure chest full of gold.
All of this makes something like the 9-minute victory lap of “Last Call” on his debut so much more interesting. He simultaneously thanks and jokingly embarrasses these A-list rap figures, saying that No I.D. was the only reason he’s here but then makes Jay Z record an intro after he was essentially ignored by him for 2 years. It just shows how deeply authentic he is as an artist, whether that comes out in sweet ways during the College Bear era, horny ways on Yeezus or bitter ways on his Instagram page. He is unable to be great and dishonest at the same time, and we get to see the very beginnings of that dynamic on jeen-yus. It’s a man who pushes against a door so much that when it eventually opens, he still feels the need to keep doing it. Then he needs to open another door, and another one, then he’s in debt, then he’s a billionaire, still pushing, divorce, still pushing. I hope that the other two parts prove to be just as interesting, but we’ll have to wait and see for that. For now, this is the Boyhood of hip-hop documentaries, except it’s actually good.