Sundance 2022 review: “Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy”

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It was in 1998 when Clarence “Coodie” Simmonsa Chicago stand-up comedian and host of a local hip-hop show, heard a few unfinished tracks in the 21-year-old producer-rapper’s home studio Kanye. He was impressed. Coodie knew he was listening to future Grammy-winning material. He had seen this Kanye kid around. Everyone in the Chicago hip-hop scene seemed to be talking about him. He was confident, arrogant and definitely talented. After hearing these tracks, Coodie decided to make Kanye the subject of a documentary. This kid was definitely going places and Coodie was interested in seeing where. 24 years of filming later, part 1 of this documentary, “Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy”, premiered at sun dance 2022.

Coodie’s camera captures a charismatic Kanye so young he still has to wear his retainer, removing it when he needs to talk to someone important. Budding rapper, he was part of the Chicago rap group The Go Getters, but as his producing career began to catch fire, so did his desire for a solo rap career. Kanye was already working on the Bad Boy artist Mase’s first album “Harlem World”, and had concocted hits for by Jermaine Dupri first album “Life in 1472”, and was just beginning Foxy Brown “My life” single. In between all of this, he tells Coodie that he is also focusing on the tracks for his solo project.

The film’s most insightful moment is Kanye’s sequence with his late mother Donda West in his Chicago apartment. You can feel their closeness. She is so excited about her talent and her work. He smiles from ear to ear. He just started working with Jay Z on her new album, “The Blueprint,” and she wants to know all about what it is. You can see where Kanye’s confidence comes from. She was always certain that he would succeed and constantly told him so. “Someone this good can’t do anything but explode,” she told him in front of the camera. She always told him that those rhymes he wrote were worth millions. “Remember that a giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing” she says and continues with “everyone sees the giant.” It’s Donda who keeps him elated. Her self-confidence comes from her unshakeable self-confidence. Losing her must have been absolutely devastating.

She knows her rhymes. Asked about a verse he wrote when he was young and still under his roof: “And the one I once loved?” How did it go?” We watch Donda spit out her entire rhyme almost word for word, with Kanye rapping along with her. They have fun. A moment that is priceless.

Donda West was a schoolteacher from Chicago who taught English – hence Kanye’s fluency in the English language. Donda, we find out, is solely responsible for Kanye’s career as a producer. When Kanye was just 17 and still in high school, she was so confident in her son’s talent as a producer that she brought in one of her students, known in Chicago as name of Infinite dug. Dug was a producer working with a few local artists including the rapper No ID. Donda asked if her son could hang out with him in the studio. Of course, the student obliged his teacher. Kanye first learned to make beats with Dug and No ID.

Donda also admits to putting Kanye on every talent show she could have as a kid and he won all but one. He lost the one where he sang a Stevie Wonder song. “He even wore the braids and the sunglasses”, she laughed.

There is a moment when the still fairly unknown Kanye is backstage with friends Def. Mos and Talib Kweli. A number starts and everyone takes turns rhyming, but when Kanye finishes his verses the whole room is floored. The room is silent. Finally Mos Def said to the camera, “It’s Kanye.”

The movie ends with Kanye finally signing on for Lady Dash’s Rock-A-Fella Records as an artist. After making tracks for everyone on the label, struggling and living “beat-to-beat” for about 2 years in New York, he was finally going to be able to develop his “backpack rap” sound.

Speaking about his debut album in the documentary Kanye says: “This album will be the realest shit you’ve ever heard because if I brick I can still eat [speaking of his successful producing career]. So I’ll do it how I want to do it. I don’t care about the industry. With the support I had…I had the Rock on my side, there should be no way I could lose, really.

Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, Part 1, “Vision”, by Clarence “Coodie” Simmons & Chike Okah. Coming to Netflix in weekly installments on February 16.

Meet the artist

Award-winning filmmaking team Coodie & Chike first established their soulful filmmaking style collaborating on Kanye West’s video for “Through the Wire” in 2004. After creating videos for everyone from pit bull at Erykah Badu, they formed their production company Creative Control in 2007, eventually building a brand producing and directing documentaries and narrative features (ESPN: 30 for 30’s “Benji” in 2012, “Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champ” in 2016 and “A Kid” in 2019). From Coney Island”). They recently completed the epic three-part jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, which will have its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Credits

  • Director: Clarence “Coodie” Simmons, Chike Ozah
  • Producers: Clarence “Coodie” Simmons, Chike Ozah, Leah Natasha Thomas
  • Executive Producer, Ian Orefice, Rebecca Teitel, Alexa Conway, Mike Beck, Kevin Thomson, Connor Schell, Angus Wall
  • Co-Executive Producer, Nick Tran, Ross Martin, Peter Pham, Kern Schireson, Lynne Benioff
  • Editor, Max Allman, JM Harper
  • Screenwriter: Clarence “Coodie” Simmons, Chike Ozah, J. Ivy
  • Executive Producer: Marjorie Clarke
  • Runtime: 89 minutes

Sundance 2022 review: “TIKTOK, BOOM.”

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