EXPLAINING THE JEEN-YUHS BEHIND KANYE WEST

You’ve no doubt seen – or at the very least heard about – Netflix’ new three-part documentary series on Kanye West called ‘jeen yuhs’.


Co-directed by long-time friends and Chicago natives Coodie and Chike, the series gives us an intimate look at the rise of Kanye West as an artist, rapper, and eventual global superstar. We’re shown never-before-seen footage of a young Kanye flittering between reluctant Roc-A-Fella executives and rival record companies in an attempt to make his debut album ‘The College Dropout’ a reality.

Of course, we all know what happened once he was finally able to break out of his beat-production role and ascend the ranks of hip-hop’s elite.


A unique and confident character, West’s sound and image wase a marked departure from his contemporaries. He would go on to shape and mould the landscape of popular music in genuinely ground-breaking ways, adopting chopped-up soul samples, grandiose, maximalist instrumentals, as well as thudding 808s and auto-tuned, introspective vocals.


His legacy is permanently solidified – regardless of his controversial antics outside of the recording studio – and he remains a global celebrity of the highest calibre.

‘Jeen Yuhs’ takes an extensive look at the beginnings of this journey, at least for the most part. Its first two acts document Kanye’s humble starts in Chicago and New York, scraping by with beats for a variety of artists and featuring on Coodie’s public access show ‘Channel Zero’.
He fought hard to be noticed, remained thoroughly self-assured when the odds were against him, and proved beyond doubt that talent, determination, and an impenetrable sense of belief can make anything possible.


But what was it about Kanye’s approach and behaviours that made his grind so fruitful, and how did his support systems and networking methods get him to where he is today? ‘Jeen-Yuhs’ provides plenty of material to wade through and dissect, from Kanye’s early chats with his mother Donda outside his childhood home to the expansive, mysterious mountains of Wyoming.

A persistent and resilient attitude toward industry heavyweights.

It’s worth asking – how do you find yourself in a room with Pharrell Williams, Jay Z, or any other big-name musician of the moment, especially when you’re not yet a legendary icon yourself?
While none of us were there to witness Kanye’s early moves in person, ‘jeen yuhs’ is perhaps the next best thing.


He began in Chicago performing as part of a group called ‘The Go Getters’ and would produce beats for a ton of up-and-coming rappers across the city. By the early noughties, West was known solely for creating beats for other artists. His biggest claim to fame around this time was his work on Jay Z’s 2001 record ‘The Blueprint’, which would serve to be his industry breakout.

Footage from the documentary shows a young Kanye in his New York apartment, huddled over a desk with speakers, mics, mixing desks, and a variety of other equipment.


Despite being a big part of Jay Z’s record, West wasn’t taken seriously as an artist nor a rapper at this time. In fact, in the moments shown in part one of ‘jeen yuhs’, most people simply ask Kanye for more beats, instrumentals, and ‘heat’, with nearly no consideration for his work as a lyricist.


That didn’t stop him from trying his best to break out of his producer role, however, as we see West perform the now iconic verses from ‘All Falls Down’ to an office of busy, bored, or otherwise disinterested Roc-A-Fella employees. This moment is surreal and sadistically comic, as one of the world’s biggest stars performs arguably one of their most culturally impactful songs to a room that couldn’t care less.


It would take a label signing and a homemade, self-funded music video for his first single ‘Through The Wire’ for West to be seriously recognised by his label and the world.

During this whirlwind of recording, writing, and networking, we’re shown a few booth sessions with Jay Z and Pharrell Williams, as well as a meeting with Scarface, where Kanye plays a draft version of ‘Jesus Walks’.


These clips are fascinating to watch as a Kanye West fan, especially if you’re particularly interested in his earliest albums and the soulful contemplation that used to define his work.
Jay Z gives West the space to re-do verses, encouraging more feeling, emotion, and rhythm in his delivery. Considering where this relationship would eventually go – throwback to 2016’s onstage rants from Kanye on his Pablo tour – it’s a treasure to witness these intimate sessions from a time when two industry heavyweights had an asymmetric relationship.


Pharrell’s realisation that, hey, Kanye West can rap as well as produce, is also a shining moment in the documentary. His excitement at the potential of West is a foreshadowing of later achievements, but he also offers advice that Kanye has seldom stuck to.


‘Even when other people are telling you you’re hot, you should still doubt yourself.’ Is this a deliberate allude to the egomania that would unfold fifteen years later? Perhaps.


Regardless, what should be celebrated here is Kanye’s sheer ability to will himself into rooms with people who matter. Without his drive and self-confidence to perform in front of apathetic spectators and reluctant executives, we’d have never gotten the cultural gems we’re all accustomed to today.


It’s a testament to self-belief, and a reminder to never give up when others discourage you.

Carving out a network without modern resources

All of this networking was done without the modern convenience of instant internet connection and social media platforms, which makes Kanye’s confidence even more impressive.


While many artists are better off finding viral success via TikTok algorithms and streaming numbers today, West’s traditional, literal knocking on doors approach seems archaic in comparison.


‘Jeen-Yuhs’ shows plenty of incidents from Kanye’s early noughties days where the only way to succeed was to get your foot through any and every door, even if you weren’t invited to do so. Kanye would regularly show up unannounced at record label offices, borrow studio time where he could, and get his name out there in any way that was available.
This attitude has persisted throughout his career.


He splashed his face all over ‘Channel Zero’ and gave out beats to many artists in his earliest days, and would later break down doors with fashion label executives who were yet to see the widespread appeal of Yeezy sneakers.


Defiance in the face of unfavoured odds is Kanye’s legacy, for better or worse, and we see the very best side of this throughout ‘Jeen-Yuhs’.


One moment shows Kanye stood outside a Roc-A-Fella office door, waiting for anyone to listen to his work, while a framed picture of Jay Z hangs behind his head on a nearby wall. Knowing where West takes himself in the years that follow, it is a poignant moment that reminds viewers just how far your ambitions can carry you.

An unbreakable bond with his mother Donda West

Alongside Kanye’s hunger for success, ‘Jeen-Yuhs’ also shows us how essential his mother, Donda West, was to his development as both an artist and a well-rounded human being.


During his breakout days, Donda is depicted as an overwhelmingly supportive parent, offering insightful nuggets of wisdom whenever West returned home and reciting many of his early song lyrics. She took an active interest in his career, always encouraging Kanye to keep at it no matter the struggle.


Later, after the success of his first few projects, Donda would become more involved with West’s now very busy day-to-day schedule. As Coodie explains, she served as an anchor for Kanye that would keep him grounded as the accolades, successes, and finances mounted up. She became increasingly visible in the public eye and grew to be a business partner of sorts.

Her untimely death in 2007 would prove to be a huge, engulfing event in Kanye’s life. He would go on to release ‘808s & Heartbreak’ the following year, before infamously interrupting Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMA awards with an unsolicited shoutout to Beyonce.


His most recent two projects, ‘Donda’ and ‘Donda 2’, are named after his mother, and the 2015 single ‘Only One’ is a touching tribute that explores family and optimism.


‘Jeen-Yuhs’ shows many tentative moments between the two. She wasn’t afraid to call him ‘self-involved’ but, equally, provided unwavering assurance that clearly influenced his outlook and gave him the fire to carry himself forward. As she says to West in her apartment in the second act, ‘a giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing’.


Kanye himself would go on to be a cultural goliath, but none if it could have existed without the foundation that Donda provided.

An ongoing authenticity of self for two decades.

That foundation proved a winning formula, and Kanye’s authenticity would stay with him even to this day.


Though the scope of each project, album, fashion line, and stadium performance continues to get larger, with sold-out listening parties taking the internet by storm every few weeks, West remains true to his vision and artistic focus – regardless of how anyone may feel about its quality.


This is the primary focus of act three, the final chapter in the ‘Jeen-Yuhs’ documentary.
Coodie would become more of an outsider for a large chunk of West’s most documented period of his career, during the creation of ‘808s & Heartbreak’, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’, ‘Yeezus’, and ‘The Life Of Pablo’, but would reconnect in 2017.

West would marry Kim Kardashian during Coodie’s absence and reach new heights of wealth and notoriety, becoming a billionaire and setting his sights on tech and fashion innovations. Through his ups and downs, mental health bursts, and outspoken comments on everything from slavery to Donald Trump, Kanye kept his desire to be authentic and remained true to his philosophy that ‘if I have something to say, imma say it’.


This translates to even his most recent musical projects. ‘Donda 2’ released exclusively on Kanye’s STEM player, a unique device that allows users to isolate vocals, instrumentals, or backing beats on songs and tweak them in unique ways.


It was his way of taking back creative agency from streaming platforms and echoed West’s long-time determination to carve his own lane, regardless of the fallout or potential implications.


Not every venture has been a success, of course. Kanye’s involvement in Jay Z’s rival streaming platform TIDAL wound up being a flop and both ‘Donda’ and ‘Donda 2’ have received mixed critical responses in an otherwise stellar discography.


What still rings true, though, is West’s focus on making his own rules and living within the parameters he sets for himself. Above all else, that is perhaps Kanye West’s greatest achievement.


His career has lasted over twenty years, and in that time, he has transformed from smiling, hungry producer and amateur rapper, to a genuine cultural icon who will forever be remembered as one of the greatest musical artists of all time.


‘Jeen-Yuhs’ shows us that these milestones and legendary moments aren’t created on a whim. Kanye’s life has proven that we can navigate our own creative paths with the right mindset, will, and confidence, and that any individual can break moulds and pave new ground for generations of artists to follow.


Whichever way you feel about Kanye, his legacy can never be taken away. Popular music and the sonic landscape of modern hip-hop would not be what it is without him, and he did it all without compromising on himself, his beliefs, or his ideas.


The world is brighter for having West realise his potential. His faith in God, his own talents, and the support of his friends and mother pushed him to true glory. ‘Jeen-Yuhs’ demonstrates that the world is out there for all of us – we have to just push to get it.

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