Kanye West can never exit a news cycle. He has claimed to be many things – a god, a legend, a Donald Trump supporter, a US presidential candidate, husband to Kim Kardashian, and most importantly in the case of this Netflix docuseries, a genius.
Kanye West can never exit a news cycle. The hip-hop artist, producer, entrepreneur, and fashion mogul has claimed to be many things – a god, a legend, a Donald Trump supporter, a US presidential candidate, husband to Kim Kardashian, and most importantly in this case, a genius.
In 1998, Coodie aka Clarence Simmons Jr began covering his local Chicago hip-hop scene and came across a young, determined yet somewhat reticent music producer named Kanye West. Coodie – along with fellow filmmaker Chike Ozah – follow along an artist they felt was on the cusp of something greater. They had no idea where it would take them, and this is often repeated in their opus documentary Jeen-Yuhs, a trilogy released on Netflix between February and March, chronicling over two decades of the turbulent, persevering, and triumphant times of West.
From a behind-the-scenes spotlight of West at a gig in his “Chi-Town” [Chicago] right up to the rapper’s decision to run for president [again] in 2024 and his separation from Kardashian, Jeen-Yuhs captures a side of the American rapper and producer not many have had access to. Given the on and off journey of 24 years, Coodie makes the documentary as personal as possible, being the narrator who regularly adds in his opinion of major moments – be it West fighting for that place in labels like Roc-a-fella [and still having them drag their feet, more sure of his producing capabilities than his skills as a rapper], a severe jaw injury after a car accident, getting carried away with fame after his breakthrough albums College Dropout and Graduation, and his bipolar disorder diagnosis.
Jeen-Yuhs is divided into three acts – Vision, Purpose, and Awakening. Coodie – a stand-up comedian-turned-filmmaker who is greatly nurtured by his family – may have been pointing a camera at West since 1998, but he goes even further back and pops in family home videos of West rapping in 1998. “Belief is the power that fuels your purpose,” Coodie mentions in Act II: Purpose. By then, College Dropout is already nearly completed, as is West’s future hit ‘Jesus Walks’ in 2002, as seen in Act I: Vision.
A key figure in Jeen-Yuhs is Donda West, Kanye’s mother who, right from the first frame she appears in, is effusive, heartwarming, and his absolute pillar of support. Seated in their house with West in Act I, she is proud that he is buying an angel pendant. She is rapping his lines, she knows some of his earliest verses. She goes on to become his manager, and a part of Kanye’s philanthropic side, but it is all driven by the belief she has in her son. She says at one point, “Everything you do, it’s a million dollars.” And her most timely advice, which Coodie brings back right at the end, is something that arguably reflects the stature of West. “The giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing,” Donda says, affecting genuine wholesomeness and wisdom in the docuseries.
As West gets a Benz, he says he wants a Maybach. When he is working with Coodie on music videos for formative works like ‘Through The Wire’ and ‘Jesus Walks,’ West wants filmmaker Hype Williams now. Williams – who arguably elevated hip-hop’s visual game with videos for Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z, Usher, Nas, Busta Rhymes, and dozens more – went on to become a regular collaborator for West videos, at a time when Coodie had been sort of shut out of the rapper’s life.
Like a brother and an occasional confidant, Coodie is the concerned documentarian on Jeen-Yuhs. He captures every moment of hype – from West spitting bars impromptu at super-producer Pharrell to blowing the minds of Jamie Foxx, Ludacris, Jay-Z, and several others. Following the release of ‘Through The Wire’ and its music video [shot by Coodie, for which he stayed with West in his dental appointments after his jaw injury], Jeen-Yuhs paces through, reflecting the blur that the rapper’s life had become. He takes a moment to pause and asks Donda about what a new year would bring. She says, “It’s just gonna get better.”
As Coodie and West grow slightly distant now that the rapper was being courted and carried away by acclaim, Jeen-Yuhs also takes on a surreal, estranged tone. Following West’s emphatic win at the Grammys for College Dropout, the filmmaker tells us [for the first but not the last time] that he thought he had the end of his documentary, but developments in West’s life would keep him filming.
Although Coodie passes a remark about how West told him he was performing for the cameras and the public given his newfound fame, he rightly doubts this as our narrator. Even as they grow further apart, Donda’s untimely passing in 2007 of a coronary artery disease puts the concern for West back on Coodie’s mind.
The egoistical, mercurial, and closed-off Kanye West now has a family [and so does Coodie, a heartwarming detour], and he is becoming an enigmatic artist. What brought them back into each other’s orbit? It was 2016 when Coodie films Common at his music festival in Chicago. He was about to meet Yeezy and resume the ride, changed and grown as human beings.
As the most recent years roll out in Act III, Coodie gives us inside access to an artist like West who was liberal in his rage on Twitter, had psychiatric episodes, proudly met Trump, and wore a Make America Great Again hat, finds god [with the Jesus Is King album sessions], and build his fashion empire.
Jeen-Yuhs closely out poignantly like a mostly finished story, with Coodie interplaying metaphors of god and Kanye as authors. It is a fitting comparison for the incomparable self-anointed genius that is West. Even as his fans stay concerned, and others egg him on through his very public separation from Kardashian, there is succor in knowing West channels his life into creation. Like the rapper says in a car ride, “I’m good like I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes.”