As someone who spent hundreds of hours of his life scouring Napster for the latest Genius Level Musik mixtape or impromptu freestyle, and who foolishly snuck out of a hospital once upon a poor decision just to see him in concert in the early aughts, I would say my standing as a devout,
Bible College Dropout-thumping, Kanye West apostle is undisputed.
However, in recent years, between calling the mother of his children a “white supremacist,” deeming 400 years of slavery “a choice,” declaring open season on long-time collaborator Kid Cudi, and pledging allegiance to—of all people—Donald J. Trump—his increasingly erratic and deeply-problematic behavior has forced me to question my own commitment to the cross, and I expressed the following sentiment after the same guy who told us that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” proceeded to don a MAGA hat and shuck and jive his way into Trump’s Oval Office:
I’ve always maintained that despite his heel turn, Kanye is far too valuable to the Black community to completely abandon. Be it entertainment, fashion, or inspiring the next generation of innovators with his ingenuity, his contributions to the cultural zeitgeist are profound and impossible to quantify. But by aligning himself with the policies and practices of an aspiring despot, he’s nothing more than a Trojan Horse—a cancerous scourge masquerading as our infallible savior.
This is exactly why hip-hop royalty such as T.I (“I’m ashamed to have ever been associated with you”), Diddy (“Not black excellence”), and reportedly Jay-Z and Beyoncé, have cast him out of the kingdom. It might be time for the rest of the Black community to seriously consider following suit. Because while the would-be God I met 14 years ago sought to deliver us from evil, his current incarnation will only destroy us from within.
I’ve never quite understood how someone who began his career as a beacon of hope and the avatar of everymen and everywomen everywhere eventually evolved into the antithesis of everything he once stood for. And while many point the finger at the tragic death of his mother, Donda West; his well-documented mental health challenges; or his now-fractured allegiance to the nefarious Kardashian clan as the impetus for his turbulent descent, Netflix’s upcoming documentary, jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, serves as both a visual diary of how a promising Roc-A-Fella Records producer thrust himself into global superstardom and an ominous warning for what would come.
Co-directed by Coodie and Chike, West’s longtime friends from his humble beginnings in Chicago, jeen-yuhs excels because outside of its compelling narrative and outstanding sense of perspective in relation to the larger cultural zeitgeist, it provides us with something Kanye has fought fiercely to protect: Exclusive access to his private life. And not from an invasive standpoint; this film is a cordial introduction to the man behind the madness.
jeen-yuhs is crafted from nearly 20 years of private archival footage collected from Coodie, who, when he wasn’t holding his homeboy down as his career began to blossom, made it a point to whip out a camcorder and record everything he saw. That includes intimate conversations between the “Good Life” rapper and his Mom, in which she encourages him that his confidence—or arrogance, depending upon who you ask—is his superpower; Kanye bombarding the Roc-A-Fella Records offices with impromptu performances in a heartbreaking attempt to convince receptionists and assistants to take his music seriously; and a devastating confrontation between the eventual G.O.O.D. Music founder and one of his earliest mentors, fellow Chicago-based producer Dug Infinite.
Simply put, jeen-yuhs is urban legend come to life. And in speaking with The Root, Coodie and Chike detailed some of the things that surprised them while revisiting 20 years of footage while piecing together this labor of love.
“I would say, the footage that I found of his mother giving him some advice about, you know, ‘The giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing you can. You can stay on the ground and be in the air at the same time,’” Coodie told The Root. “That was shocking when I saw it because I did her funeral presentation and I don’t remember seeing it. And this was a week before he went to the Oval Office. I felt like that message was for Kanye to see [at that moment]. So I was shocked. [...] Was she saying it then or was she saying it now? That’s how powerful that was.”
“There’s [an older] clip in the hotel room where Kanye is venting about calling him by his first name,” Chike said. “‘You might as well just came me Ye!’ But then while we’re editing this project, that’s when the news comes that he’s dropping his name to ‘Ye’. That happened right at the time we’re doing this.”
The two also shared their thoughts on how the Yeezy Gap collaborator has evolved throughout the course of his career.
“Definitely his success changed a lot from the first time I put the camera on him,” Coodie said. “But everything else about him is pretty much the same. When we separated for six years, I saw another side as he was becoming huge and the media was telling his story. But when I got back with him, it was the same person that I met on 95th Street at the barbershop.”
“A lot of people see Kanye through the media. That’s their first sort of interaction with Kanye,” Chike said. “But not a lot of people have seen this side of him, and Coodie’s lens is truly able to activate this more vulnerable side of Kanye. Coodie’s lens is like this empathetic lens. I think it’s a testament to just Coodie as a person. If you know him, he’s just a non-judgmental person. So it gives you a sense of comfort when you’re with him. And in all of our projects, people open up more behind his lens or not.”
Trust and believe this three-part documentary does a masterful job of contextualizing Kanye’s indelible impact on pop culture, while adding a new dimension to the uncharted layers of his enigmatic lore. However, it’s up to you to decide—in light of his increasingly disturbing behavior in recent years—if this foray into undeniable genius is too little, too late to salvage what’s left of the Grammy Award-winning artist’s legacy.
jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy premieres on Netflix on Feb. 16.