By Mathilda O’Neill, Third Year, Film & Television with Innovation
In act one of Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy directors Chike Ozah and Coodie Simmons chronicle Kanye West’s early struggle to be accepted in the Hip-Hop industry as both producer and MC. Through previously unseen footage captured themselves, Ozah and Simmons construct a stark portrait of the artist from before the world would have a chance to get to know him.
Before I get into my thoughts on Jeen-Yuhs I’m going to acknowledge the all consuming vacuum in the room which is my personal feelings towards the artist and public spectacle: Kanye West. I’m a fan (as my flatmate pointed out to me I am writing this review while drinking coffee out of a mug with the man’s own mug on). Not the biggest fan or an expert by any means but I can be quite hyperbolic when it comes to this artist.
What I’m trying to say is that I am jumping head-first into the blind winds of subjectivity in this review and if you’re not here for that I’m not sure why you clicked on a review of a Kanye West documentary. So, being familiar with the timeline of his career, my question going into this isn’t “is there an interesting story here?” it’s “will this live up to the real life events?”
And my answer is yes, but with some reservations. I’m, for now, only discussing the first ‘act’ and we’re not even at the release of ‘The College Dropout’ by the end. But that’s a good thing. Even for the bits I’m too young to remember, the early years of his album releasing career are so historically iconic that showcasing them, without this, might feel a tad tired. Especially with the discourse around Ye so frequently centering around the ‘old vs new’ debate, the public lexicon is thoroughly up to date on this period of his career. It’ll be a great thing when we enter the more familiar periods of Kanye’s career as we’ll have the difficulty it took him to get there firmly in our minds.
What we get instead are glimpses into intimacy: between him and his music, his collaborators and, most poignantly, his mother. What surprised me most about these scenes in particular was the jovial friendship between them, with the most apparent parental tilt being her utter belief in his capability.
As Ye tells her of the birth of his breakout hit with Jay-Z, Donda laughs along with his friends and shares in the joy of this moment lightheartedly. This career-making moment becomes a down to earth anecdote and the potential for this footage to reveal new intricacies of Ye in the face of his public persona is realised.
Unfortunately, while the storytellers behind this documentary communicate the progression of this story seamlessly in a visual sense, it’s in spite of intrusive narration by co-director Coodie Simmons that much of the time needlessly summarises events already being shown on screen. It’s understandable, you’ve partly sacrificed your own personal career path to, admirably might I add, visually chronicle someone else’s and you want people to understand your voice in this.
But, spelling this out to the extent of showing archival footage of your standup career was a step too far. To be frank, I haven’t come to this documentary for the relationship between Ye and Coodie and I don’t think - so far - enough has been done to justify this twist in my expectations.
That’s not to say there aren’t thrilling moments that come from this. When we catch a glimpse of footage shown earlier in the doc being used for an MTV spot, it’s a powerful moment of transcending the rift between now and then as we share in viewing the rise of his persona with audiences of the time. Similarly, this act ends with his projection into solidified fame as he is signed onto Roc-A-Fella records, re-implicating us into the perspective of those watching his come up once again, as we wait to have the forthcoming success of this artist retold.
Featured Image: IMDB
Come back next week to read our review of Act Two