Sundance: ‘Jeen-Yuhs’ is a Kanye Documentary for the Super-Fans

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Kanye West in “Jeen-Yuhs.” (Courtesy Sundance.org)

By Luke Jackson, Arts Writer

 

Kanye West — he’s a rapper, producer, fashionista, father, husband and all-around cultural phenomenon. Even if you don’t listen to his music, you are no doubt familiar with his over-the-top, larger-than-life antics. Whether he’s comparing himself to the likes of Shakespeare and Walt Disney or about to let Taylor finish, Kanye is known to cause a ruckus. But who is Kanye West really? How did he begin his Kanye quest to be the Kanye best? To be a step above the Kanye rest? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

You Miss the Old Kanye? Here He Is.

“Jeen-yuhs,” pronounced “genius,” is a four-and-a-half hour home-brewed documentary showcasing Kanye’s rise to global superstardom. While the entire epic is scheduled for release on Netflix later this year, I had the express pleasure of viewing the first installment: “Visions.”

“Visions” takes us back to 2002, where a 25-year-old Kanye is first trying to break into the rap game. We start in Chicago, or Chi-Town as it is affectionately referred to throughout the documentary. Here, Kanye has established himself as a formidable producer. This, however, wasn’t enough for Kanye. He wanted something bigger: he wanted to be in the spotlight.

Fascinating But Ultimately Dry

Over the next hour and half, we are taken from Chicago to New York to watch as Kanye tries to make a record deal. Honestly, it’s a little dry and doesn’t do much in the way of engagement. With shaky camera movements and an odd narrative, Coodie, the director and videographer behind the project, doesn’t do much keep our attention.

The entire angle behind “Jeen-yuhs” is fascinatingly unorthodox. Coodie, upon meeting Kanye in 2002, opted to leave his stand-up comedy career behind to follow the soon to be rapper’s career. His constant presenting of himself as discovering Kanye adds an unnecessary layer to the film’s narrative. Instead of watching a documentary about Kanye West, it feels like we are watching a documentary about Coodie discovering and following Kanye West. This adds a sort of meta-narrative which is rather distracting. At multiple points, we leave Kanye completely and focus on Coodie’s own start with his career and family life. While this may be of interest in a different setting, it feels a touch gratuitous.

For the Super-Fans

However, “Jeen-yuhs” does house several very touching and inspiring Kanye moments. Watching his enthusiasm and hustle as a young man made it very clear as to why he is what he is today. Kanye’s passion for music and his ability to present himself as a force to be reckoned with is genuinely astounding. The best moments of “Jeen-yuhs,” however, came far away from the world of rap. The documentary was at its strongest when it showcased Kanye’s relationship with his late mother, Donda.

Donda clearly loved her son more than anything. It is heartwarming to watch her and Kanye walk around his childhood home, cracking jokes and rapping his songs. If it were up to me, “Jeen-yuhs” would have been exclusively made up of footage of Donda and Kanye. I would watch seven hours of that, hands down.

Unfortunately, these moments are only snippets in what is a pretty slow hour and a half. Too much of the film is spent passively sitting around in different groups of friends and rappers. Die-hard fans are sure to enjoy watching Kanye become Kanye but to the average consumer, “Jeen-yuhs” is quite unremarkable.

 

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