“I’m trying to get to the point where I could drop the last name off my name,” a fresh-faced Kanye West, nowadays legally known as Ye, prophetically told MTV News’ You Hear It First in 2002, archive footage of which features in the first part of jeen-yuhs. “Seriously, I don’t want to jinx myself or nothing, but I’ma take this opportunity. I got some songs on my heart that the world needs to hear.”
In the 20 years since that breakout interview, such candid declarations of his self-belief have become standard fare when dealing with West. That even applies to jeen-yuhs, a trilogy of fly-on-the-wall Netflix documentaries from West’s friends/collaborators Clarence ‘Coodie’ Simmons and Chike Ozah, with the rapper and producer recently demanding “final edit and approval” of the film. Judging by the sympathetic ‘Act I’ of jeen-yuhs, though, Coodie & Chike’s mini-docs will present a more modest version of Ye than we’ve seen for a while.
Coodie narrates throughout, explaining how he abandoned his own stand-up comedy career to document West’s rise from the “sickest” hip-hop producer around (as Pharrell calls him here) to all-round rap superstar. With footage dating back to 1998, the story of West’s momentous move from Chicago to New York in search of a big record deal is caught on film by Coodie. He grants us access to West’s Newark, New Jersey home and follows the budding star on the streets and into the studios of NYC.
We witness West fine-tuning ‘Jesus Walks’ in his apartment, freestyling ‘Two Words’ with Brooklyn trailblazer Mos Def and being chastised by the rapper Scarface for leaving his retainer unhygienically lying about in a studio (“Man, that shit don’t go up here, man. That shit been all up in your mouth, man”). One of the most humbling in-the-room moments captured in ‘Act I’ is when West visits the office of Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records to try and secure a deal. The attempt ends sadly with a forlorn performance of ‘All Falls Down’ to a nonplussed executive assistant.
It feels strange now to think that West’s signature wasn’t the subject of an intense bidding war. But, as jeen-yuhs attests, the man himself never lost faith in his ability. “Hopefully with God’s blessings, and Chicago on my side, there shouldn’t be any way for me to lose, really,” he tells Coodie. West’s late mother Donda, who features in two touching scenes at their old family home in Chicago (which was recently recreated during the ‘DONDA’ listening event in Atlanta) and at her apartment, is similarly optimistic about his career prospects. After admiring her son’s chain and listening to West gleefully explain how he and Jay-Z wrote ‘IZZO (H.O.V.A.)’, Donda dishes out some sage advice: “You’ve got a lot of confidence, but it can come off a little arrogant – even though you’re humble. It’d be important to remember that a giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing.”
Excitingly, there are still two more parts to come. Those will cover a number of the highs, lows, success and controversies in West’s life, including his 2002 car crash which inspired ‘Through The Wire’ and his support for Donald Trump. Coodie admits in this first instalment that he was willing West “to win” during those early days. Given the rapper’s difficult recent behaviour, that may not continue in the final two episodes.