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Daniel Mikolášik
February 17, 2022, 8:01pm
Reading time: 6:17

Is Kanye West a Genius? New Netflix Documentary Reveals His Limitless Confidence and His Struggle with Mental Disorder

He pulled the retainer out of his mouth and started rapping. The new docuseries on Netflix was in the making for more than 20 years.

Daniel Mikolášik
February 17, 2022, 8:01pm
Reading time: 6:17
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Is Kanye West a Genius? New Netflix Documentary Reveals His Limitless Confidence and His Struggle with Mental Disorder
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Starting out as an aspiring Chicago-based producer in the late '90s, Kanye was full of limitless creativity. He had great potential since day one, not everyone was able to see it, though. In order to break out of the producer box and make it as a rapper, he needed more than just talent. What did he go through to get here?

 

The new documentary jeen-yuhs': A Kanye Trilogy on Netflix is ​​a vast chronicle of Ye's life, rap beginnings, and first successes and falls. It started on February 16th with a 1,5-hour long pilot episode called Act I: VISION. Gradually, the remaining episodes will fold out on a weekly basis. The trilogy was filmed for about 21 years, with the very first shot dating back to 1998.

 

 

Clarence "Coodie" Simmons and Chike Ozah are the directors of the entire project, which had cost Netflix more than $30 million. They saw the stardom in Kanye from the first moment. Coodie believed in him so strongly that he decided to give up his well-established hosting and comedy career. He dedicated two decades of his life to someone who could have disappeared at any time. But it didn't get to that.

 

Rapper was involved in the production process of the documentary, and although he stated that he demanded the right to the final cut, the filmmakers did not give him that. Another reason why the series is worth watching.

 

Source: Netflix

 

A confident genius

If you raise your eybrow over the strange title of the document, try to read it out loud a few times. Yes, jeen-yuhs is basically a literally transliterated pronunciation of the English word genius. A term Kanye likes to use a lot throughout his lifetime. The documentary with the aesthetic of a home camera brings along a look into Kanye's musical virtuosity, exaggerated self-love, the constant need to achieve more, but also the fight against mental disorders.

 

Everything started around the unique interview with Coodie from Channel Zero at the birthday party of Jermain Dupri with the rap group Harlem World and Mase. At that time, only a 21-year-old music producer from Chicago with glasses and retainers stood in the background somewhere.

 

Nobody at the time could have guessed that the seemingly quiet but beyond confident young man was the future 22-time winner of the prestigious Grammy Award, the richest African-American in US history, a candidate for US president, and, last but not least, one of the most important rappers in history.

 

Source: Netflix

 

By 2000, he was a platinum producer, making beats for rappers like Mase, Raekwon, and Eminem. At that time already, he began to see himself not only as a producer but also as a rapper. His lyrical talent and unique flow were undeniable, and he also liked to demonstrate that on camera or when playing his beats.

 

The first episode shows Kanye's attempt to make it as an MC after moving to New York. His goal was clear. Get rid of the producer label and sign a contract with Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella Records.

 

At the label, he took the retainers out of his mouth and rapped in the office

The entire documentary is intertwined by archival footage looking at the beginnings of Kanye's first successes. We get to watch authentic moments from the environment of the rapper's apartment in Newark, the creative process in the studio, encounters with people from the scene, close relationship with his mother, or first interviews on radio and television.

 

In the first episode, we don't move very far timeline-wise. This one revolves especially around the period of Kanye's beginnings in New York, trying to gain recognition, failing a few times. Rap colleagues like Common, Rhymefest, Jermaine Dupri, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Dame Dash, Memphis Bleek, and Jay-Z see him primarily as a producer.

 

Source: Netflix

 

The scenes do not lack iconic items from the period, such as flip phones, tape recorders, first CDs, or Kanye's detachable retainer, which makes him sound like a child at times. Whenever he wants to make an impression, he pulls the retainer out of his mouth, and suddenly his performance gains a much greater weight and intensity.

 

He tried to impress the people from Roc-A-Fella Records in the same way. He went from office to office with his team, looking for ways to present his first hit, which later appeared on his debut album The College Dropout - All Falls Down.

 

For instance, he would get in front of a label executive, play his beats, pull the retainer out of his mouth, and rap along. However, he didn't make a big impression. They'd ignore him after a while because they were busy with work. Eventually, his team was ordered to turn the camera off and kicked out of the office. In short, the labels didn't take him seriously.

 

 

"America, get used to seeing this face!"

In the documentary, we also get a unique glimpse of the process behind one of Kanye's first big hits - Jesus Walks. He played it to his friends for the first time from his Newark apartment with the original lyrics and unfinished verses. Kanye wanted to get the legendary Scarface on the hook, which was his strategy to land a deal with a label.

 
After hearing the song, Scarface isn't convinced. He says that he can help with the chorus, but it will be difficult. In the studio, he gets more interested in another of Kanye's songs - Family Business. There were no recorded verses at the time, but he already knew the lyrics by heart, so he spits them to "Face". "I like this one," he replies.

 

 

Although the recording with Scarface never happened, the blessing of one of the best rappers at the time motivated Kanye to persevere in what he does. Afterwards, we get to watch Ye's first interview on television, specifically for MTV as part of the You Hear It First program. He wanted to get more public attention and publicity with this move.

 

"I feel that everything that should have been my disadvantage has turned into my advantage. They told me I was too small for basketball. So I punched at the balls from below. They told me I couldn't rap when I was a producer. All right. I've heard this beat. Of course, I created it. I rapped on it before you even had a chance to hear it," he told MTV.

 

Source: Netflix

 

His mother helped to get his feet on the ground

The centerpiece of the first episode also portrays Kanye's strong relationship with his mother, Donda, who died in 2007 and after whom he named his last album in 2021. If you are a fan of Kanye's, you know very well what his mother meant to him and what a turning point her death has been in his life.

 

The die-hard fans will love the archive footage, which shows a strong bond between Donda and her son. She often shows up at his side, lifts his spirits, and at the same time tries to keep him grounded so that he doesn't "fly away". You can see in the footage that Kanye has a lot of respect for her and her words. She had a strange way of lifting his spirits and showing love.

 

Source: Netflix

 

At a certain point, the story proceeds to Donda's apartment in Chicago, where Kanye shows her his new jewelry, brags about an interview with MTV, and describes how Jay-Z reacted to the Izzo beat in the studio. Jay and members of Roc-A-Fella later premiered it live during the BET Awards.

 

"You have a lot of confidence in you, and sometimes it can seem a little arrogant, even if you're modest. Remember, when a giant looks in the mirror, he sees nothing. But everyone around sees the giant. You've got to keep your feet on the ground, and you can't fly at the same time," his mother tells him. It's evident that Kanye believes in himself because his mother also did.

 

At the end of the first episode, Donda reappears alongside Kanye at 79th Street in South Chicago where the rapper grew up. They talk about his childhood and about the upcoming debut album. These are relatively emotional scenes in which Kanye thanks her for what she did for him, how much she sacrificed for him, and for giving him a solid foundation.

 

Source: Netflix

 

In the very first episode of the documentary, we already see the first big names in Kanye's surroundings. After signing the coveted contract with Roc-A-Fella, he increasingly meets with Jay-Z. In the end, we see Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams in the backstage of their joint concert in Chicago, praising Kanye. He was no longer just a producer that rappers buy quality beats from for a few bucks. The time has come to show his rap genius to the masses.

 

Hard to say whether this documentary will win people's hearts. As a long-time fan, I enjoyed the first episode and held my breath with every scene. Almost didn't blink. However, for someone who isn't particularly interested in Kanye West, the first episode may seem rather uninteresting and lengthy.

 

I can imagine that many contexts might be misunderstood and some dialogues may even get boring. I agree that almost 90 minutes is too much to watch Kanye relentlessly trying to get a record deal. However, the next two sequels should also bring the promised drama and Kanye's first media scams, which are definitely bound to appeal to a wider audience. Let's see what happens.

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