Bucket hats to Balenciaga: the making of a jeen-yuhs
Fashion Mogul; businessman; gamechanger; doting father; greatest; toxic; bully; bipolar; crazy; God; Yeezy.
You cannot ignore the force Ye is, regardless of your love, hate or indifference for him.
Kanye Omari West wears many hats. To an average Swiftie, he’s a local menace; to a black man in a developing country, he’s a beacon of hope.
I have never claimed to be a super fan so I can’t play that role now but I liked the old Kanye, much as I like the new Kanye. I don’t think I fully comprehend Kanye but I like what I hear, I like what I see, I like the destructive force he always intends to be. From destruction comes creation and Kanye West has brought life to hip-hop and fashion as we see it now. He has brought life to celebrity culture and single-handedly ensured I streamed KUWTK for his appearances.
To be fair, Kanye West has been writing cultural history since the first reference point I have of him; a meme with his face saying “Find someone who loves you like Kanye loves Kanye”. I must have been 16–17 and 9Gag was still funny, and I don’t recall anyone from the music industry before him who had a meme dedicated to him at the time. Over a decade later, Kanye’s still relevant in musical history, in memes, and outside of his endeavours in fashion. The new Ye and the old Kanye West both exist as a phenomenon that cannot be written off or ignored.
Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy (or simply, jeen-yuhs) on Netflix tries to capture the force that Ye is since the aughts. Directors and old-time collaborators of Ye, Coodie and Chike offer a narrative on the singer-songwriter’s life outside of the one painted by his uncontrollable tweets and Insta posts and distinguishes it from the media reporting on him. To an outsider who gives no shit about Ye or the Kardashian sub-culture, this is a blink and you miss moment in history. To internet culture historians, this is a big one. Complete credit goes to Coodie Simmons for trailing West for years as far back as when Ye was a famed producer in Chicago and tracks his life for over 20 years.
Jeen-yuhs emerges from hundreds of hours of footage interspersing Kanye’s life, Simmons’ life, and their relationship with others and even with each other. The documentary isn’t just about looking at the making of Kanye West, but it takes you along the journey of those who have seen him from the outside, without pretending to be an authority on him. The third part of the documentary (titled AWAKENING) states the same from the years 2007–2014, without covering up or sugarcoating it. A large chunk of public events concerning Kanye is enmeshed and fast-forwarded towards the public memory of the Saint Pablo Tour, where Kanye had to leave the show mid-way to fly to Paris to be with his wife Kim Kardashian who was robbed at gunpoint. For an outsider, a lot of these stray events miss the context, however, Coodie and Chike provide just that context for these episodes to fit in.
For all the fitting context and the provision for it, there’s no apology for Kanye’s behaviour, there are no songs of praises to prove he’s a genius indeed. In the three parts, there are moments where you see Kanye playing himself for an audience and Kanye being himself without the need for an audience. In the first and the third part, his mother Donda and father Ray make appearances respectively, calling him out. Donda says he’s self-absorbed and Ray tells him to get a speechwriter and that he’s concerned for him. As a casual viewer of the documentary, this takes me back to the recent outburst Ye’s had on social media where he’d put out damning posts on Instagram. He’s ranted against (but not limited to) his ex-wife’s present boyfriend, his mother-in-law’s boyfriend, and other artists. It is my true belief that if his dad is around reading that, he’d be getting called out.
Moments like these build jeen-yuhs with tender story-telling using footage from different formats and periods around Kanye’s life. At the heart of this story is a man, a musician who believes in himself and all he does is say that out loud. The story in the documentary really zooms in on that bit more than anything else.
As a viewer, I appreciated the storytelling in the three parts. We didn’t get Kanye simping and we didn’t get Kanye bashing. In jeen-yuhs, we got an informed perspective with the intimate telling of the times he was starting out all way to the time he was running for the president of the United States of America. With over 20 years of timeline and hundreds of hours of footage to tell the story of one person and his impact around, we are privileged to be able to see this side of the greatest rapper of all time. Something, I didn’t believe when I started out to watch this, but by the end of it, I’m convinced.
I found the first and the third part the most engaging. The second part could have been edited succinctly and I feel that dragged the whole documentary down. The pacing too is a concern, with the first part setting just right in and the second going too slow, and the third rushing all in. However, I don’t think I can blame anyone. I’d probably do much worse if I was sitting on the edit suite for this project. Again, there’s a thin line between being impersonal when you’re re-telling an account of someone you invested your faith in years ago and getting it right. The documentary doesn’t hesitate in putting the focus on Ye even when he’s wrong and in some way, it draws attention to its imperfections, of not having the footage from years when Kanye turned to Ye. There’s a moment in the narration when Simmons says he’s going to meet Ye for the first time and that is a crucial point, we see a changed man and the filmmaker(s) know that they are outsiders, like the audience watching him.
In a lot of ways, jeen-yuhs is about having faith — Kanye put that faith in his mother Donda and she believed in him just as much. For the most part, the greatness we see in Kanye is Donda’s role in his life. The documentary exposes the extent of her impact on his life through the three parts and how much she meant to him. I won’t be surprised if this is followed by a documentary on the impact Kim and the children had on him now or years later. He is just as rattled and lost he is now, as he was first when he lost Donda, but again, I’m an outsider who’s so far removed from the situation that I have never once seen him live so what do I know.
All I know is that I like the old Kanye and the new Kanye and that I find myself in agreement with a man I am not fond of, “Thank you Kanye, very cool!”