The Evolution of a Jeen-Yuhs

A portrait drawing of Kanye West. The documentary series jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy on Kanye West’s professional life has been released. Illustration by Everette Cogswell.

In 1998 the journey to begin filming the three part documentary series about Kanye West, jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy began. The hip-hop scene in Kanye’s hometown of Chicago was almost non-existent. All the big MC’s were living on the coasts, showing how big rap was going to be in the coming years. Chicago rappers were hungry to join this surge of hip-hop popularity, and so was filmmaker and director of jeen-yuhs, Coodie Simmons. Simmons was hired to host Channel Zero, a hip hop themed television show based in Chicago. But right as Channel Zero was getting popular, Simmons met the man who was about to change his life: a young, humble producer by the name of Kanye West. Simmons left everything behind to film this documentary about Kanye, and the rest is history.

act i: VISION. The documentary starts very early in West’s career when he was making a living creating beats. He wasn’t famous, he wasn’t a billionaire, he was a kid trying to make it in a business not catered to his lyrical musical style. Hip-hop was focused on a very different sound than what West was creating at the time; labels were searching for the next Jay-Z or DMX, and West didn’t fit that mold. That was until he met the most successful rapper at the time, Jay-Z. Jay-Z instantly recognized West’s talent and had him produce half of his platinum album, The Blueprint. This episode is the easiest and most fun to watch, West is humble and driven, and there are a ton of great moments of him and his late mother, Donda West. Act I highlights who West was and what he wanted to become, which was very nice to see after the past few years of nonstop controversy. 

act ii: PURPOSE. Act II is very different from Act I. In the time between these two episodes, West’s ego has been inflated, in order to be a big enough personality for the ever changing music industry, and to sign to a major record label. He hustles every minute of his life to try to reach his goals. But it seems like all of his work was for nothing; once he finally got his record deal and was on track to release his debut album, The College Dropout, West was in a near fatal car crash that broke his jaw in multiple places. This episode mainly focuses on West’s comeback; he healed from his injury while making a platinum song about his experience called “Through the Wire.” After his debut album, The College Dropout released, West skyrocketed into fame, and that is where the final act takes place.

act iii: AWAKENING. The final act of jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy was truly hard to watch. It shows the death of West’s mother and how that affected him. West started pushing everyone away, including his longtime friend and the director of jeen-yuhs, Coodie Simmons. West starts to spiral out of control in this episode; whether it was crashing Taylor Swift’s VMA award speech or calling out George Bush on live television, it was clear West wasn’t in a good place. Although he continued to create some of the more highly rated hip-hop albums of all time in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and The Life of Pablo, there was nobody there to help West when he needed it the most. The documentary ends in late 2020 with West trying to run for president and staying secluded on his Wyoming ranch. It did leave the viewers with some hope for West; he was starting to do Sunday service, a choir based church service that seemed to be a positive turn for West’s career and health as a whole. 

Overall jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy was well directed and the story was told in an excellent way. Even though there were years when Simmons wasn’t able to film Kanye, there was still a great flow with no noticeable gaps in the storyline. It definitely would have been more uplifting to end the documentary with a focus on the church service phase of his life if West wasn’t currently involved in what can be considered his worst controversy yet. For him, this documentary being released on Netflix seemed to come at the perfect time. It took the media’s attention off his ongoing hatred for comedian Pete Davidson and his highly publicized divorce. For many West fans, it is getting harder and harder to support him in any way because of his actions. The documentary showed that the old Kanye is still there, it just might take some time before we will see him again.

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