Netflix’s documentary series jeen-yuhs is, in essence, a translator’s attempt to ground Kanye West in the real world.
jen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy first presents us with a familiar image of the acclaimed yet controversial musician. We start with Kanye West in 2020, recording in the Dominican Republic. Showing his documentarian Clarence “Coodie” Simmons his phone, we see a tweet ready for sending. “Don’t tweet that?” Kanye asks, before Coodie responds that people will understand his tweet. This seems to set Kanye at ease and he sends the tweet, stating that sometimes he needs a translator. It’s how we’ve known Kanye for the past however-many years now, tweeting thoughts that only he seems to see the logic in. With West being in the news recently for Instagram posts that range from laughable to disturbing, you’re left to wonder where Simmons is now, his translator seemingly absent.
Netflix’s documentary series jen-yuhs is, in essence, a translator’s attempt to ground Kanye West in the real world. Simmons, who’s been filming West since the late 1990s, brings the audience into the last two decades of Kanye’s life in a sprawling epic that will cover such moments as Kanye’s 2002 car crash to his mother’s death to his presidential campaign. The first episode, titled “act i: vision,” follows West as he starts off in the music industry. Already making waves in Chicago after partly producing the 2001 Jay-Z album The Blueprint, Kanye moves to New York to be signed as a musician. However, despite his best efforts, he is met with dismissal by his peers who value his beats over his prospects as a musician. Released on a week-to-week basis, jen-yuhs will conclude on March 2nd. For now, let’s breakdown the most memorable moments from the first episode of jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy.
Our First Glimpse of Kanye West
Seeing Kanye for the first time in the 1990s is a strange moment. You’re caught wondering who will appear on camera: will it be the Kanye West who said slavery is a choice? Or the sensitive Kanye West revealed through songs like “Runaway” or “Ultralight Beam”? The Atlanta-born rapper has been so eclectic and unpredictable, it’s nerve-racking just waiting for him. When we do meet him, he’s more composed than we’ve seen him in recent memory. At Jermaine Durpi’s birthday party, Simmons directs his microphone to every music industry celebrity he can see. Murda Mase, the members of Harlem World and then, from seemingly nowhere, out comes Kanye. This isn’t Kanye West as we’ve known him before; this is a reserved and shy Kanye. His Yeezy line is absent, he’s wearing glasses and a suit jacket. In a sense, his normalcy is more abrasive then his usual behavior.
Playing “All Falls Down” at Rock-A-Fella Records
In an effort to establish his rapping skills at the prestigious label Rock-A-Fella Records, Kanye takes to hallways and offices with a demo of his early hit “All Falls Down.” But he’s not here to play for Jay-Z or any of the other artists or producers working at the label. Instead, he’s playing it for the office workers. Hijacking CD players and stereo systems around the office, Kanye raps along to the demo to a litany of unimpressed desk jockeys. As the viewer, you’re torn between the cringe of the moment as Kanye interrupts the business day and jealousy that these people get an exclusive experience of this iconic Kanye song.
Rapping “Two Words” with Mos Def
One of the most impressive rappers of the late 1990s, Mos Def arguably steals the show from Kanye in his appearance. Oozing enough charisma to light up the room (and your television screen), the artist jumps into a performance of “Two Words” from The College Dropout, years before his recording of it with Kanye in studio. Mos Def recites his lines with such showmanship that it’s a legitimate surprise that Kanye matches that energy in his verse. What’s more, it’s a reminder of the artist Kanye started off as before his pinchant for controversy marred his reputation. When Kanye’s done, Mos Def and company (including The Wire‘s Wood Harris) are visibly impressed. We remember how that felt.
A Duet With Donda
Easily the most heart-warming moment of the documentary, a down-on-his-luck Kanye goes to visit mother Donda West after his spat with Dug Infinite. The viewer feels just as much tension waiting to see Donda as we did to see young Kanye. When we meet her, Donda West radiates a kindness and tenderness that immediately comforts Kanye. You can see in an instant how her absence transformed Kanye into how he is today. Sitting at her dinning table, Donda recites some of Kanye’s early lyrics and talks about how much she wishes he would record it. Kanye jumps into a rendition of it, backed by Donda, both enjoying the craft of writing.
Getting Signed By Rock-A-Fella
The climax of Episode 1, after being dismissed and ignored by the label, Rock-A-Fella reconsiders Kanye after his persistent efforts to be rewarded. Hands folded in a sort of prayer, Kanye reads the contract before signing, that weight lifted from his shoulders. Back in Chicago, in a moment that could’ve been ripped straight from a movie, Jay-Z asks Kanye onstage at the Rock-A-Fella Dynasty tour if there’s something he’d like to share.
And finally, we see the Kanye we’ve always known as he announces to thousands of fans that he’s been signed by Rock-A-Fella Records. Crowned with his own Rock-A-Fella chain, he embodies the showmanship and ego that would come to define him. It’s a powerful moment, like Rocky Balboa finally making it to his feet at the count of nine in the second film. But, as the trailer for the second episode hints, now that he’s made it, he’s got more to lose.
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