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Film Review: Netflix’s ‘jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy — act i: VISION’ (dir. Clarence “Coodie” Simmons & Chike Ozah) | Sundance 2022

It’s pretty eerie and surprisingly ironic to hear how he manifested his entire career. Ideas he had about the type of music he wanted to create and the opportunities he made for himself almost all came true over the course of the next two decades.

This documentary event from Netflix is being broken up into three acts with this first act titled VISION. Every great story beings with a vision.

Kanye says in the doc, from footage recorded early on in his career in just 2002, “I’m trying to get to the point where I can drop my last name off my name, seriously.” Well, it’s 2022 now, and I think it’s safe to say he achieved that. For years, you’ve been able to say Kanye and you knew who he was. Now, though, just two letters — Ye — are enough to identify the legendary star. The Coachella lineup dropped earlier this month, and headliners listed on the poster included Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, and Ye. And nobody questioned who Ye was.

Starting things off relatively recently in 2020 from the Dominican Republic, we see Kanye rapping straight into the mic. Then, we rewind and see the youngest footage of Kanye West during a short interview from Coodie at Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party in 1998 when Mr. West was just an up-and-coming producer.

Coodie is the man with the plan in front of and behind the camera of this doc. Starting out at his own entertainment outlet, Channel Zero, he interviewed legends like KRS-One, Run-DMC, Kobe Bryant, Lil’ Bow Wow, Snoop Dogg, Shawnna, Harlem World, and Foxy Brown. He went from being an up-and-coming comedian to a journalist documenting the rise of hip-hop in Chicago, shining a light on artists in and around the city — Da Brat, Crucial Conflict, Do or Die, Tongue Twista, and Common Sense.

At the time, 19-year-old Kanye West was breaking through quietly with his group, The Go-Getters. West was initially known as a cheap producer that rappers knew would deliver some cheap beats, but he was producing those fire beats so he could lay his own rhymes over them. This built his confidence as an MC, and he was well on his way to stardom.

Coodie decided right away that he wanted to create a documentary on Kanye’s come-up. However, Kanye soon decided to move to New York, so Coodie packed up and moved with him to document his rapidly evolving career in 2002.

We see Kanye recording his song, “All Falls Dow,n” off his debut album, The College Dropout. These studio recordings make it all the more obvious just how hungry Kanye West was to be a star.

During the recording of his first full-fledged project, Kanye described his debut album as “a breath of fresh air.” Despite not having a record deal, he was bursting with confidence and truly didn’t see that there was a way for him to lose with his rap career. He always knew he could come out on top somehow. He was bound and determined to get his record deal one way or another. 

Roc-A-Fella Records, Capitol Records, Rawkus Records, and more were all in talks to sign Kanye at some capacity. It was slowly and quietly becoming a bidding war to see who would land the music industry’s latest talent. 

At this point, the music industry landscape wasn’t entirely sure that a producer-rapper could be all that successful, so Kanye actually struggled to get signed in the beginning. People didn’t believe that a producer had the chops to rap as well. Kanye really paved the way for these producers who were crafting their own beats to emerge as their own vocalist.

It’s pretty eerie and surprisingly ironic to hear how he manifested his entire career. Ideas he had about the type of music he wanted to create and the opportunities he made for himself almost all came true over the course of the next two decades.

Aside from getting to see archived footage that hasn’t seen the light of day for years, the most interesting parts of this film come when Kanye West is in the process of establishing himself as an artist by getting his name out there, working on his rapper personality, differentiating himself from the pack, and laying out his unique branding. It’s clear to see why he is so successful in all of his strategic endeavors because his mind is just wired to think this way. 

There are some tender moments with his mother, Donda West, at her house in Chicago where they are talking about success, his career, and the way their lives had changed from their earlier days. You really see the love and respect he has for his mother in this never-before-seen footage of the two, and she really laid the foundation for what was going to be a long road ahead for Kanye.

Also… Donda had some bars! There’s a bit where she raps one of her son’s favorite unreleased tracks that she wishes he would have released. The confidence she had in her son, which we’ve seen time and time again over the course of his career, is really moving.

While in the studio working on “Jesus Walks” with Rhymefast, Kanye brings Scarface in to listen to the song in a different studio session. Scarface wasn’t totally vibing with the song, so Kanye played him the beat for “Family Business” instead. These were huge moments for Kanye’s confidence as an artist to have that level of validation from such a huge artist, and they give us a peek at how collaborations can casually come to be in the hip-hop world.

With appearances from Mos Def, Just Blaze, Dame Dash, Pharrell, Beyoncé, and JAY-Z, some share a sentence or two bragging on Kanye, while others might just be caught in the frame for a second or two.

Capped off with a cliffhanger ending, jeen-yuhs leaves you more than ready to tune into the following act ii and act iii of this three-part documentary event.

jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy — act I: VISIONpremiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and will debut on Netflix on Wednesday, February 16 with act ii: PURPOSE and act iii: AWAKENING dropping over the following two weeks.

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