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jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy (Act 1: Vision)

Netflix, February 16, 2022

Feb 02, 2022 Photography by Netflix Web Exclusive
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In 1998, comedian Clarence “Coodie” Simmons met Kanye West at a birthday party, and the two struck up a friendship. Shortly after, Coodie asked the young and skilled producer if he could follow him around, crafting a documentary about his life. West agreed. Twenty-three years later, jeen yuhs, a 270-minute, three-part final product–has arrived.

The trilogy’s first act, “Vision” chronicles the beginning of West’s rise to fame. The episode opens with archival footage covering the birthday party where Simmons and West met, as well as Simmons’ voice-over narration explaining how he proposed the idea of a documentary to West. From there, the episode tracks West as he moves from one record label to another, trying to get signed.

Viewers follow West as he performs demos of what will become some of his most famous songs, such as 2004’s iconic “All Falls Down,” to record executives, deals with his first public “diss” from a friend and travels back and forth between Chicago and New York. The episode is structured like an underdog story, focusing on West’s rejections to show the struggles he faced before his meteoric takeover of the hip-hop industry.

Right from the episode’s opening sequence, one thing is very clear: Simmons has a lot of footage to work with. It feels like Simmons never left West’s side as nearly every moment of his day-to-day life is captured on camera. Watching so much archival footage in one sitting can get tiring, especially given the episode’s hefty 89-minute runtime. Even so, seeing West’s life documented in this way makes it much easier to connect with, and relate to, the rapper.

For the first time in a very long time, viewers learn about West’s life from his perspective, rather than that of tabloids, Twitter feeds or reality television. This idea is especially evident in the sequences where Simmons captures West visiting his late mother, Donda West. The scenes that the two share are, by far, the most touching and beautiful of the series. They showcase how big her influence was on her son’s life while also reminding viewers that–albums, awards and controversies aside–West is still human.

jeen-yuhs is not without its flaws. West visiting label after label quickly becomes redundant and uninteresting. Even though the footage speaks for itself, Simmons often chooses to use voice-overs, narrating things such as West’s outtakes on certain events, things that happened but weren’t captured on film and, sometimes, his own recollections and opinions. While these voice-overs occasionally lead to interesting commentary or fill in the narrative, they are, for the most part, not pertinent to the episode. Rather, they make the story feel artificial and manufactured. Most of the episode is solely dedicated to archival footage, and as the series continues, one can only hope that Simmons’ footage will become even more expansive.

jeen-yuhs may not have any new historical context to add about West’s career. In fact, it plays like a visual adaptation of an internet page about West’s life. Even so, Simmons’ documentary is not without its special moments. The episode is highly watchable when West is hanging out with his friends, professing his love for Chicago or delivering incredibly catchy freestyles. In the moments between these ones, however, jeen-yuhs feels a little bit lost. (www.netflix.com/jeenyuhs)

jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy had its world premiere virtually at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2022. On Feb. 10, Iconic Events Releasing and TIME Studios will debut Act 1 (Vision) in theaters nationwide for a one-day engagement before it premieres in a three-week event on Netflix on February 16th.


Author rating: 6/10

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