Rory Galvin examines the recent documentary from filmmaker Coodie, chronicling rapper Kanye in the years before ‘Ye.’
Jeen-Yuhs is not a documentary about Kanye West, or at least, that’s how it was advertised. See, instead of being a typical doc in the style of something like Netflix’s The Last Dance - this fascinating look at the artist’s life is from the lens of someone else. The majority of the footage is shot by Coodie, a filmmaker known for various music videos - but this is certainly his biggest project. He also serves as the series’ narrator, and it helps to tie everything together.
“It’s personal, sad, and beautiful in a lot of ways. If I was to compare it to anything, it feels like The Great Gatsby, where you learn a lot from the main character, but through the eyes of someone else.”
Across three different episodes, he was there right beside Ye, and even as a fan of the artist I had no idea any of this was filmed. It’s personal, sad and beautiful in a lot of ways. To compare it to anything, it feels like The Great Gatsby, you learn a lot from the main character, but through the eyes of someone else. It’s never too much either: Coodie has his own small sections of the series that give background to his own life - and in fairness they show us the character behind the lens without overstaying their welcome.
You might think it’s ridiculous for the documentary to be called genius (or at least the phonetic spelling) but this truly shows Ye’s talent and artistic ability in both his early and later years. Even being able to witness a glimpse of the creative process in the studio was an absolute treat, especially considering how he hustled to record on other artists’ time when he couldn’t get a studio booking himself. Plus, he seems to lay out exactly what he’s going to do in the future and as we know, he executes on it; he said that The College Dropout would change the music scene and prove the viability of a producer and rapper like himself. What happened? The College Dropout was a huge hit, got Ye a Grammy and proved that you don’t have to be put in one box - and so many artists today end up doing both performance and production because of him. How many times have we seen this kind of footage from an artist before they even release their first album? Never really, because Kanye West is unlike any artist.
Of course, not everything is flattering, and some things show how flawed Kanye can be as a human being, especially in Part 3 - whether that be through a mental health episode, or brashness following the passing of his mother.
There are many incredible moments shown throughout the series that are worth mentioning; in Part 1 we see Pharell hear Through the Wire for the first time. In Part 2, I was amazed to see Jaime Foxx recording the iconic hook of Slow Jamz, and in Part 3 Ye was doing his trademark mumble lines for Kids See Ghosts in a Beijing hotel. Of course, not everything is flattering, and some things show how flawed Kanye can be as a human being, especially in Part 3 - whether that be through a mental health episode, or brashness following the passing of his mother. West’s mother Donda isn’t a huge aspect of the series, but when she is involved it’s quite poignant, and you can clearly see the influence she’s had on her son since.
Pacing-wise, it’s a long documentary - clocking in at around four and a half hours total, but the strangest thing is most of that takes place before The College Dropout. I wish there was a bit more here, but obviously not everything was filmed, and the big timeskip that happens in Part 3 works if you’re a fan who knows everything, but not a casual viewer seeing this for the first time. Still, I’m happy this exists, and I guarantee you other artists are looking at Netflix right now and hiring a camera guy to follow them around while they chase their dreams.