Like a lot of us, I wasn’t really looking forward to watching Kanye West’s documentary Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy on Netflix. These past few years have put us on Ye overload, and for all the wrong reasons: his tryst with Trump, his trolling of his now ex-wife, his ridiculousness on both Twitter and Instagram, his boasts on Drink Champs… Whew. It just feels like we had enough to last a few lifetimes. But then I tuned in to the documentary, directed by Clarence “Coodie” Simmons & Chike Ozah, and was stopped in my tracks. Or, in Kanye’s music tracks. And I suddenly remembered the time when Kanye was a revolutionary, an underdog. A musical genius.
And after seeing that, I was all-in.
The first part gave us all the background we needed on the prodigy, from his first success as a producer and his trek from Chicago to New York, then back to Chicago, and finally to the moment he got his official Roc-A-Fella chain. So many ups and downs, so many disappointments, even a rap beef thrown in for good measure. Kanye has always courted controversy. Below are five moments from part one of the doc that stuck with me. I’m sure they probably stuck with you, too.
“All Falls Down”
Yes. A lot of people commented on how Ye played the track over and over at the Roc offices and no one paid attention. I know that’s not the case, and saying that folks weren’t impressed is disingenuous at best. However, what I’d like to comment on is how dope the track was, even in its early stages. We all know that wasn’t the final mix and for it to be so well produced pre-final was impressive. That boy was good.
Coodie gets soooo much props from me for capturing the footage he did back in the day, back when you had to carry around a whole camcorder and weren’t sneaking up on anybody while shooting. Folks KNEW he was recording and still handed Kanye L after L. It was sad to see, and it was interesting to see how he didn’t shy away from the disappointment or try to curate a more flattering circumstance.
Nope, he ate those Ls from Rawkus Records, Def Jam and initially from Roc-A-Fella and used it to fuel him (even the time he got Scarface to come to the studio and impressed him with his music even though he turned down a chance to spit a verse on “Jesus Walks,” he turned it into a positive!), and trusted that Coodie wouldn’t use the footage as ammunition against him. Instead, he used it as a lesson. A jumping off point. Loved it.
It was during the interview with the reporter while driving that Kanye gave a lot of quotables. Even back then he was good for spitting some good stuff. Like this:
And this one:
I could go on and on, but you get it. Kanye used to be very self-aware. In the best way.
Two Words: “Two Words”
We need to talk about this track Ye did with Mos Def. No for real, “Two Words” is one of the most underrated tracks ever made in hip hop history, if we’re being honest. The entire joint, which I first heard as a performance on Chappelle’s Show goes so damn hard, even the producers of the doc singled out the footage of the two performing it for physical and lyrical evidence of how talented Kanye was/is. Check the clip one more time and then applaud those two for the dopeness.
The Power of Donda
Yes, I know I previously mentioned how Kanye was able to absorb those body blows from labels that didn’t believe he was anything more than a producer (the entire first part was filled with folks praising him for his production skills, from Pharrell to Jay Z), but what I failed to mention until now is that other than him, there was ONE person that believed he would be more than just that. That he had what it took to be whatever he wanted to be: his mom, Dr. Donda West.
She was the battery in his back, always letting him know that stopping wasn’t an option. That he had everything he needed to make it–the skill, the education, the support of his mother… Whew. There’s no wonder that young Kanye was cocky. His mother made him that confidence. Equipped him with the smarts to make it while also giving him the space to make mistakes. All while knowing how smart he was. That he was genius.
She even knew all of his lyrics! That talk she had with him when Kanye and friends visited her apartment? It’s the talk we all needed when we were young and on the verge of either making it or giving up. When we were on the brink of either breakthrough or blowing away with the wind. I loved this part the most. And honestly, I don’t even know if I need to watch the next two parts of the doc. This part made me believe in Kanye West again and right now, these days, those memories are all I got.
Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy is currently airing on Netflix.