This article was published on January 24 and updated on February 4 with the official trailer
“I don’t give a fuck about the industry,” says a 25-year-old Kanye West nearly 17 minutes into JEEN-YUHS, the three-part documentary tracking his early career that Netflix will premiere on February 16.
In the very next scene, Kanye makes a surprise visit to Roc-A-Fella Records’ New York office to play a demo of “All Falls Down” for disinterested execs who send him packing.
This clash between brashly confident young Kanye (an unstoppable force) and the industry he exists in (an immovable object) makes up the best parts of JEEN-YUHS’ first chapter. Over the course of just over 90 minutes, it follows the burgeoning musician through about two-thirds of 2002, perhaps the most important year of Kanye’s life.
At this time, Kanye was soaking in the success of co-producing JAY-Z’s 2001 opus The Blueprint, guested on Scarface’s ”The Fix,” playfully competed with Just Blaze, and desperately tried to shed his image as a mere producer by getting signed to a record label on the strength of his rapping.
But Kanye fans know all this already.
JEEN-YUHS doesn’t exist because Kanye’s career isn’t well-documented: it exists because co-director Coodie Simmons had the extraordinary foresight to drop everything — including his burgeoning comedy career — and move with Kanye to New York, exhaustively documenting the rapper’s life long before he became Ye.
Simmons fully grasps the weight of this never-before-screened footage, giving ample air time to rare clips of Kanye holding court in his Neward apartment with pals like Rhymefest and soon-to-be manager Olskool Ice-Gre, showing demo tracks to Black Star, and bonding with his mother, Donda.
Especially in light of last year, when the word “DONDA” became inescapable, these latter scenes are particularly revealing and, dare I say, moving.
By the time we get to Kanye returning to Chicago to visit his mother just over halfway through JEEN-YUHS’ first film, we’ve seen Kanye chafing against petty beefs and industry pressure.
“Who the fuck is Kan-Ye,” he says, irritated to see himself billed as a mononymous producer. “My name is ‘Kanye West.’ Matter of fact, they shoulda been like, ‘Ye. Chicago’s very own, Ye.’” (It’s not the first time Kanye semi-seriously ponders a name change in this chapter.)
But all these wrinkles are smoothed out after Donda takes Kanye and Simmons to the southside Chicago home where she raised Kanye. "[Donda] had this special way of lifting his spirits," Simmons explains in narration. "It was easy to see that the confidence Kanye had in himself was because of the confidence Donda had in him."
This is a key example of JEEN-YUHS at its best, when it’s presenting a rare, humanizing look at one of the world’s most famous — and polarizing — celebrities.
In an era where we make all of our assumptions about famous folks by observing them through screens — Ye especially — it’s affecting to witness the genuine bashfulness Kanye displays while sitting on the stoop next to Donda and the naked ambition he can’t hide when imploring Scarface to create a hook for "Jesus Walks" and “Family Business.”
Here, we see a man who is utterly confident yet still trying to make it, living by his own rules even though the world has learned them yet.
JEEN-YUHS’ first film hinges on this authenticity, letting Kanye’s emotions, personality, and work ethic speak for themselves. Young Kanye makes all of his opportunities himself, like that door-busting demo at Roc-A-Fella HQ, but he has the chops to back up his bravado.
For instance, Kanye continually twists the arm of Roc-A-Fella co-founder Dame Dash knowing that Dame and JAY-Z are simultaneously hesitant to sign him or turn him down, since they still crave Kanye’s gifted production.
Kanye even leans on MTV VJ Quddus Philippe to turn an interview about his work on Blueprint into a proper You Hear It First interview. "I feel like everything that anybody ever said would be a disadvantage to me, I'ma make it my advantage," he says, all smiles.
Over the course of an hour and a half, this raw footage offers valuable insight into the conceptualization of Ye, the man who Kanye would become. His ambition and confidence have always existed . He’s still cheekily funny and extremely loyal. Never did Kanye feign a facade or compromise personal values. It just all got cranked to 11 once he finally got a foot in the door.
It’s pretty funny that Ye, typically assertive, made some noise about getting final cut on JEEN-YUHS in a January 21 Instagram post.
So far, the documentary is as reverential as any biography on his career could possibly be, especially considering that Simmons and co-director Chike Ozah don’t manipulate much of JEEN-YUHS’ footage. That is to say, events begin, occur, and end within the camera lens, without jarring edits splicing words or twisting intentions.
The documentary is neither a hit job or puff piece. The footage is remarkable not because of the narrative it displays but because of the authentic insights it captures.
Like Kanye rapped on "Through the Wire" shortly after the events of JEEN-YUHS’ first film, to watch Netflix's new documentary series is to witness “history in the making.”