Netflix’s three part documentary ‘jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy’ is an intimate look at how Kanye West became one of the greatest artists of a generation.
The main character of jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy isn’t Kanye West. It’s Clarence Simmons, aka Coodie, one half of Coodie & Chike, the duo that directed the five hour, three part Netflix documentary that premiered today (February 16th). Coodie and his partner Chike Ozah, spent years following Kanye West, documenting as much as they could on camera. When Coodie started, he was the host of a local Chicago public access show called Channel Zero. Later, as years went on and Kanye garnered more success, he pivoted to becoming Kanye’s personal documentarian. For Coodie, the hope was to create a Hoop Dreams-type of documentary without the tragedy. It was a calculated gamble from Coodie that Kanye would, one day, become one of the biggest artists in the world.
“I’ve seen that his story needed to be documented and I would do it in a form of just being patient and documenting every move,” Coodie told Okayplayer. “I just knew Kanye was going to win a Grammy and to see all the obstacles that he had to overcome to even get to the point of winning that Grammy. I couldn’t even imagine that was going to happen.
The first part of jeen-yuhs, called, “VISION,” covers from the early moments of Kanye and Coodie’s relationship — including footage from a Jermaine Dupri Life in 1472 album release party in 1998 — up unto the hours leading to Kanye getting into the car crash that broke his jaw and helped launch his solo career. (The next two installments, “PURPOSE” and “AWAKENING,” will premiere over the next two weeks; at time of publication, Okayplayer only had access to “VISION”).
First thing you notice right away with jeen-yuhs is that the footage is incredible. Just a fucking treasure trove of unbelievably intimate footage, as Kanye solders from Chicago to Newark, New Jersey to LA, trying to convince people he’s more than a producer. The uncertainty is apparent. It’s stunning to watch Kanye West — who already had success after producing most of JAY-Z’s The Blueprint — go around and beg to be taken seriously: employees at Roc-A-Fella roll their eyes as he plays an early version of “All Falls Down”; Dame Dash looks bored and a little shit-faced as he blandly describes Kanye’s potential; and Scarface quickly and definitively dismisses the “Jesus Walks” beat. (Face did, however, like “Family Business,” although he he skipped out before he could record a verse for it.) Each time Kanye is dismissed you could see his enthusiasm wane — doubt and hurt all over his face, which then leads to confusion. How could people not hear what he was hearing?
All the stumbling around leads to the powerful last moments of VISION where Kanye’s mother, Donda West — who tragically passed away in 2007 — is centered. She showers him with praise and wisdom, listens intently to what he has to say and encourages to keep on going. There is no doubt with her. These moments are incredibly moving. They are also bittersweet. We know what happens eventually.
“When it gets to the third movie [“AWAKENING”], when she made a transition, that’s one part I’m like I just want to make sure that I’m there or people that really genuinely love and care for him are there to embrace that moment,” Coodie, speaking on what Kanye’s reaction will be to how the movie handles Donda’s death, said. “Because that’s reliving something that had to be super heartbreaking for him.”
There is one major — but not fatal — flaw with “VISION.” Because we’re seeing Kanye through the eyes of Coodie, the director becomes a distraction. For some reason, Coodie finds it important to cover some of his own biographical details and talk about the importance of Channel Zero. He also narrates — there are no talking head interviews — and his performance doesn’t work at all. There is too much narration and it often sounds amateurish with passages full of cliches. The spotty performance takes away from the most meaningful aspect of this film — the footage. Buried in the last couple of weeks of Kanye headlines was a request that Drake narrate the movie, which might be a hint Kanye was thrown by the narration too. (Kanye also publicly asked for final edit rights — something Coodie and Chicke refused to give.)
But, when you consider the amount of material here, it’s a minor complaint, one that should be overlooked, especially if you miss the old Kanye.