Posted on: March 11, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Just as the final episode of “jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy” was being released earlier this month, Kanye West took to Instagram to release private conversations with his now ex-wife Kim Kardashian. With multiple message threads, threats to her new boyfriend Pete Davidson, and typing in all caps, it seemed clear West was having a manic episode.

But behind the flame-out facade, there’s a real human whose story is portrayed in the Netflix docuseries.

The show reveals the down-to-earth side of West, and it’s easier to understand and relate to him when he’s portrayed in such a personable light. Viewers are taken along on West’s journey as he comes up in Chicago, is ignored by one of the biggest record labels of the time, gets into a life-threatening car accident that shatters his jaw, and eventually lands the deal that opens the doors to his current legacy.

Related coverage: A timeline of Kanye’s troubles as family falls apart

Connor Dore

Multimedia Editor

‘act i. VISION’

The story behind the making of the documentary is interesting in itself. Coodie Simmons, an up-and-coming comedian in Chicago, had started a show on public access TV called Channel Zero, interviewing hip-hop artists in the Chicago area. The more shows he produced, the more commonly known the name Kanye West became. A while later in 1998, Simmons had the chance to bring West on as a guest. Almost instantly, he knew West was going to be great, and he dropped his dream of being a comedian to make the documentary now known as “jeen-yuhs.”

The camera style of the documentary fits the story of West very well, making the viewer feel like one of West’s friends traveling alongside him. Viewers get to see West’s apartment in Chicago and watch him move to New York with the goal of getting signed by Roc-A-Fella, Jay-Z’s label, by any means necessary.

The documentary starts with West and Simmons in New York at a point when West has already executively produced Jay-Z’s new track, “Izzo.”

He is so close to his dream but the people that could turn his dream into reality are not taking him seriously. Roc-A-Fella wants to keep West in the position of producer.

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

West and his team decide to “raid” Roc-A-Fella Records to play his song “All Falls Down” for executives. Naturally, they all ignore him and distract themselves with other work. At the end of the raid, another artist passes him and yells, “Make sure I get my beats!”

It’s this scene that wiped away all of my internal bias toward West, and I genuinely started rooting for him.

A little later, we go back to Chicago with West to meet his mother Donda, who plays a key role throughout the rest of the documentary. Seeing them together, talking to the camera, and speaking to the viewers about their life is emotional.

His mother gives him loving advice, and you can see the strong foundation she’s built for him in years past.

After his trip, West goes back to New York and books a recording session with Scarface, one of Roc-A-Fella’s most popular artists. There, West plays him a track called, “Family Business,” and Scarface praises it heavily. West does an interview for “You Hear It First” an MTV show on emerging artists. The momentum leads West to achieve his goal and in 2002, he is signed by Roc-A-Fella.

‘act ii. PURPOSE’

After watching West struggle just to get signed, we now watch him struggle with his label not pushing his music, and over-pushing other artists that look better for the label, such as Peedi Crakk. The label asks West to go to Los Angeles to produce Crakk’s new album. Though West signed as an artist, the label is still trying to box him in as a producer.

On Oct.23, 2002, West is driving home from a studio session in L.A. and falls asleep at the wheel. The crash almost takes his life and shatters his jaw in three different places. As a rapper, the most important part of your body is your mouth. West’s jaw is wired shut for three weeks, and the healing process is expected to take more than six months, stopping the little momentum there is for Roc-A-Fella to release his debut album.

I looked at this accident as God saying, ‘I am about to hand you the world. Just know at any given time I can take it away from you.'”

Kanye West reflecting on his near-fatal car accident

Nearly two hours into the documentary, we haven’t seen much footage of West in the recording studio. Before pressing play, I hoped I’d be able to watch him work. I looked forward to seeing someone with his passion do what he loves.

In the second episode, viewers finally get to see some studio time, and it’s worth the wait. Watching West pull these ideas out of nowhere is surreal and an unforgettable experience from a viewer’s standpoint.

West’s first hit, “Through the Wire” debuts at 94 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 15 for five weeks in a row. This song was recorded and produced after his accident with West rapping literally through the wire holding his jaw in place. This song is the focal point of “act ii.”

Even after West’s persistence, Roc-A-Fella Records keeps delaying the release date of his debut album, “College Dropout.” After getting the wire taken out, West is told he needs surgery that would put his mouth out of commission for a few more months. He decides to put his music before his health, delays the surgery, and completes his album. It feels like he is choosing us, the audience, over himself.

After multiple studio sessions, he is ready to shoot the music video for “Through the Wire.” West pays for the video himself since his label won’t fund it, and ends up using footage Simmons has shot for the documentary. After releasing the video, Kanye gets a date for his debut album, Feb. 10, 2004. “College Dropout” sells 441,000 copies the first week of release and peaks at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 200. It’s nominated for 10 Grammys and wins Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song for the piece “Jesus Walks,” and Best R&B Song for “You Don’t Know My Name.”

At this point, it feels like the documentary is coming to a close. The bigger West gets, the more he and Simmons grow apart, and the documentary is put on pause. West has made it. But as the episode ends, we are introduced to West’s battle with mental illness, his lack of self-control, and a new version of him as a husband and a father.

‘act iii. AWAKENING’

In 2016, Simmons is invited to the debut concert for West’s “Life is Pablo” concert and is ready to begin filming again. When he is unable to reach West, Simmons leaves believing that might have been the last time he would see him.

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

However, during his tour, it becomes national news that West is having breakdowns, and his bipolar disorder comes to light. Simmons reconnects with West, filming again and joining him in Japan for the production of another album, “Kids See Ghosts.”

The documentary then jumps to 2019, as West reconnects with God. He makes a Christian album called “Jesus is King” and starts touring with his choir Sunday Service.

This episode’s main focus is West’s political run and his struggles with mental health. It ends with a beautiful poem about God from Simmons and fades to black right when Kanye is about to perform his newest album “Donda” at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Trilogy worth watching

West is a polarizing figure for pop culture in our modern world. Some hail him as a genius, while others look down on him.

This documentary shows us that West persevered through adversity to get to where he is today. It shows us the work he put in to perfect his craft as well as his imperfections as an human being.

‘jeen-yuhs’ doesn’t focus narrowly on Kanye’s bad decisions or his unstable actions. It broadens the view to every part of him and his life. In fact, it focuses so much on West as a person that we don’t see a lot of him in the studio and we don’t see the creation of most of his most popular music.

I personally would have liked to see more of him in the studio doing what he does best, but overall, I give the series 4/5 stars, as it is well worth the watch. By the end, you might see some of yourself in him or maybe some of him in you.