Is Kanye West A Genius? Documentary Reveals His Excessive Self-Indulgence, Struggle With Mental Health And Strive To Shine
He took the retainer out of his mouth and started rapping. They filmed the Netflix series for more than 20 years.
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Kanye West started out as an aspiring producer from Chicago in the late nineties. He was full of endless creativity and had great potential, but not everyone saw it in him. In order to break out of the box of a producer and shine as a full-fledged rapper, he needed more than just talent. What did it cost him?
The new documentary Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy on Netflix is an in-depth chronicle of his life, rap beginnings and early successes, but also the downfalls. It was released on February 16 with a pilot episode called Act I: VISION. The trilogy was filmed for approximately 21 years, with the very first shot dating back to 1998.
The directors of the entire project, which cost Netflix more than 30 million dollars, are Clarence "Coodie" Simmons and Chike Ozah. They saw a star in Kanye after the first meeting. Coodie believed in him so strongly, that he decided to leave his well-established hosting and comedy career behind and dedicate two decades of his life to someone who could disappear at any moment. But that never happened.
The rapper was in the production process of the documentary, and although he stated that he demanded to have the right to the final cut, the filmmakers ultimately did not grant this to him. All the more reason why the series is worth watching.
If you are wondering about the strange title of the document, try reading it out loud a few times. Yes, jeen-yuhs is basically a literal transliteration of the English word genius. A term that Kanye likes to refer to himself by throughout his life. The documentary with the image of a home camera gives the viewer an insight into Kanye's musical virtuosity, excessive self-indulgence, the constant need to achieve more, but also the struggle with a mental disorder.
It all started with a quirky interview by channel zero host Coodie at Jermain Dupri's birthday party with the rap group Harlem World and its headliner Mas. Somewhere in the background stood the 21-year-old smart music producer from Chicago in glasses and with braces on his teeth.
At that time, none of them could have guessed that the seemingly quiet, but very self-confident young man is the future 22-time winner of the prestigious Grammy Award, the richest African-American in the history of the USA, a candidate for the US president and, last but not least, one of the most important rappers history.
In 2000, he was already a platinum producer who took care of beats for rappers such as Mase, Raekwon and Eminem. At the time, he began to see himself not only as a producer, but also as a rapper. There was no denying his lyrical talent and unique flow, which he also liked to show-off on camera or when playing his beats.
The first episode primarily shows Kanye trying to shine as an MC after moving to New York. His goal was clear. Get rid of the producer label and sign with Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella Records.
At the publishing house, he took a retainer out of his mouth and rapped in the offices
Throughout the documentary, we are accompanied by archival footage moving chronologically through the beginnings of Kanye's first successes. We can thus enjoy authentic pictures from the environment of the rapper's apartment in Newark, making music in the studio, from meetings with representatives of the scene, from a close relationship with his mother or the first interviews on radio and television.
First episode focuses on the period of Kanye's beginnings in New York, where he tries to gain recognition, but which, at first it doesn't work. Rap colleagues such as Common, Rhymefest, Jermaine Dupri, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Damon Dash, Memphis Bleek and Jay-Z see him primarily as a producer.
In the scenes, there is no shortage of period "backdrops" such as flip phones, tape recorders, the first CD discs or Kanye's removable braces. Every time he tries to make an impression, he takes the retainer out of his mouth and suddenly his delivery has much more weight and intensity.
Similarly, he tried to impress the people from Roc-A-Fella Records. He went from office to office looking for players where he could play his first hit, which later appeared on his debut album The College Dropout - the track All Falls Down.
For example, he stood in front of a marketing worker or an assistant director of a publishing house, played his songs, took the retainer out of his mouth and started rapping. However, he did not make a big impression, both of them ignored him after a while because they were busy with work. Finally, his team was told to turn off the camera and kicked out of the office for important negotiations. In short, the publishing house did not take him seriously.
"America, get used to this face!"
In the documentary, the viewer also has a unique view of the creation of one of Kanye's first big hits - Jesus Walks. From his makeshift studio in a Newar apartment, he releases it to his friends for the first time with the original lyrics and unfinished verses. Kanye wanted to get the legendary rapper Scarface on the chorus, which was how he planned to secure a record deal.
After listening to the song, Scarface not very convincingly replies that he can help him with the chorus, but that it will be difficult. Finally, in the studio, he is even more interested in another Kanye song - Family Business, for which he does not yet have recorded verses, but he already knows the lyrics by heart, so he raps it for Scarface. "I like this one," he replies.
Although the recording with Scarface did not happen in the end, the blessing of one of the best rappers of the time motivated Kanye to persevere in what he does. Not long after that, we have the opportunity to see Kanye's first ever interview on television, specifically for the MTV station as part of the program You Hear It First. By doing so, he wanted to get more public attention and publicity.
His mother helped him keep his feet on the ground
Also central to the first episode is Kanye's portrayal of his strong relationship with his mother, Donda, who died in 2007 and after whom he named his latest album out in 2021. If you're a Kanye fan, you know what her mother meant to him and what a turning point it was in his life when she passed.
Even more so, rock fans will enjoy the archival footage, which shows the strong bond between Donda and her son. She often shows up by his side, cheering him up and at the same time trying to keep him grounded so he doesn't "fly away". In the footage, you can see that Kanye has respect for her and her words. She had a special way of lifting his spirits and showing her love.
At one point, the viewer is transported to Donda's apartment in Chicago, where Kanye shows her his new jewelry, brags about an interview with MTV, and tells the story of how Jay-Z reacted in the studio to playing him the beat of Izzo's song. Jay, together with members of Roc-A-Fella, later premiered it live during the BET Awards.
"You have a lot of self-confidence, and sometimes it can come across as a bit arrogant, even if you are humble. But remember, when the giant looks in the mirror, he sees nothing. But everyone around sees a giant. You have to stand on the ground," his mother tells him. You could see that Kanye believed in himself because his mother believed in him.
At the end of the first episode, Donda appears again by Kanye's side, this time at the house where the rapper grew up on 79th Street on the South Side of Chicago. They talk about his childhood, but also about his upcoming first album. These are rather emotional scenes in which Kanye thanks her for what she has done for him, how much she has sacrificed for him and for giving him a solid foundation.
We can see big names around Kanye. After signing the coveted contract with Roc-A-Fella early in the series, he has been meeting more and more personalities, notably, Jay-Z. Towards the end, we see Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams praising Kanye in the backstage of their joint concert in Chicago. He was no longer just a producer from whom rappers buy quality beats for little money. The time has come to show your rap genius to the masses.
It is difficult to say whether this documentary will capture the hearts of viewers. As a long-time fan, I enjoyed it with bated breath and almost without blinking an eye. However, to someone who is not particularly interested in Kanye West, it may all seem rather uninteresting and long-winded. Nevertheless, with all its detail and 'back-stage' footage, I believe the series can interest a wide group of viewers.
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