The Netflix Documentary ‘jeen-yuhs’ Will Make You Miss The Old Kanye More Than Ever

Has there been a musician, or celebrity in general for that matter, who has asked as much from his supporters as Kanye Omari West? The man has tested the limits of fandom of even his most dedicated diehards. Whether it’s his endless outbursts, his MAGA hat shenanigans, his bizarre presidential run, his “slavery is a choice” bullshit, or his current, and extremely disturbing and very public, campaign of targeted harassment against his ex-wife, no one makes being a fan feel like a job you contemplate quitting every damned day, quite like Ye. As he says himself in his song “Runaway,” “you’ve been putting up with my shit just way too long.”

The three-part documentary series jeen-yuhs, the first of which is now streaming on Netflix, takes us back to a simpler time – documenting Kanye’s rise from plucky producer to Grammy-winning superstar.

The first episode “act 1: VISION” reminds even the most exhausted Kanye stan why they jumped on the Yeezy bandwagon in the first place. We’re along for the ride as Kanye, fresh off the success of his production work on Jay-Z’s landmark 2001 album, The Blueprint, specifically the iconic song “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” fights to be taken seriously as a rapper himself. Known for his trademark cocksure confidence, it’s hard ever think of Kanye West as an underdog, but that’s just what he is when jeen-yuhs picks up. We witness him struggle to convince labels like Capital, Rawkus Records, and Roc-A-Fella, which would eventually sign him in 2002, to see him as anything beyond a brilliant beat maker. Observing as a demo of his son All Falls Down, brimming incisive social commentary and witty wordplay is played to almost zero reaction from the folks at Rock-A-Fella is truly wild. Seeing Kanye and Mos Def freestyle “Two Words” will give you chills, as will watching Ye work on tracks like “Jesus Walks” which would eventually make its way onto his groundbreaking debut album, 2004’s The College Dropout.

While he could never be accused of being humble, there’s something inherently endearing about seeing a retainer-wearing Kanye at this stage in his life and career, confident but not yet declaring himself to be “Shakespeare in the flesh.” This early 2000s Kanye admits that people often assume his first name some sort of a typo (one Rock-A-Fella employee even asks if his name is Cayenne) but who also unabashedly declares, “I’m trying to get to the point where I can drop my last name off my name.” Mission accomplished. Kanye would, of course, go on to become so famous he could drop not only his last name but the first three letters of his first as well.

Then there are the moments featuring Kanye and his mother, Donda West, his most ardent supporter whose untimely death in 2007 clearly had an immeasurable impact on her only child. It’s impossible not to smile as Donda regales the camera with stories of how Kanye won all the school talent shows, and raps along to his early lyrics, while encouraging her swaggy son to “stay on the ground, but be in the air at the same time.” We cheer along as Kanye, on stage at Jay-Z’s Chicago stop on his Dynasty tour, proudly declares “I’m the newest member of the Rock-A-Fella team” when he’s finally signed even though we already knew that would be the outcome.

Had the last five to seven years not have happened, jeen-yuhs would be exclusively an inspiring come up story celebrating and paying tribute to one of the most prolific and influential artists of our time. Given the current and unrelenting headlines, it’s easy to forget all that Kanye has achieved, that the run of Kanye’s first three albums: The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation, was nothing short of iconic, that 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak, while underrated and underappreciated at the time, undoubtedly influenced artists like Drake and The Weeknd, his 2010 album, that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was an undisputed masterpiece, while his follow up, Yeezus is an experimental banger that has only gotten better with age. There is simply no denying Kanye’s impressive impact. But what’s also undeniable is his eventual fall from grace. Whether the death of his beloved mother, his bipolar disorder, the pressures of fame, or a combination of it all is to blame, it’s impossible to ignore that the Kanye of today is not the Kanye of jeen-yuhs. J. Cole said as much in his 2016 song, False Prophets, long believed to be about Ye, “When he tell us he a genius but it’s clearer lately It’s been hard for him to look into the mirror lately,” and “the women, the dickriders, you know, the Yes men. Nobody with the balls to say somethin’ to contest him. So he grows out of control into the person that he truly was all along, it’s startin’ to show. Damn, wonder what happened?”

If you’re anything like me, a longtime unapologetic Kanye West apologist, viewing the first episode of jeen-yuhs brings joy but also pangs of sadness. Over the past several years, it’s become almost cliche to declare this but it doesn’t make it any less true: I miss the old Kanye.

Tags: Kanye West, Movie Reviews, Movies, Netflix

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