CNN – A superstar origin story, “jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy” is the product of an extraordinary bet made nearly a quarter of a century ago: that then-nascent young music producer Kanye West would become a head of a Grammy winning poster. Yet that front-row view of West’s meteoric rise in the first two parts of this docu-trilogy then gives way to the public figure, whose quirks, contradictions, and headline-grabbing actions complicate and blur this narrative arc.
In the broadest terms, there’s something fascinating about this Netflix presentation, which has its roots in Clarence “Coodie” Simmons identifying West’s potential in 1998, while hosting a public-access show in Chicago.
Within a few years, Simmons had essentially become West’s videographer and sidekick, recounting the highs and lows of his efforts to earn the respect of Roc-a-Fella Records and launch a solo career.
It’s an unusually intimate portrait, following West at shows, in the studio, while recovering from a car crash, and as he hangs out with his late mother, Donda. “He plays bits like Michael Jordan shoots free throws,” Donda says.
It also includes a who’s-who of cameos from those who crossed his path, from Mos Def to Pharrell Williams, Jamie Foxx to Jay-Z.
Along the way, Simmons – who narrates the docuseries and shares directing credit with Chike Ozah – details his own journey, which included becoming a father and dropping out of the project at West’s behest, only to return years later and eventually to put it in place as the hands were slowed down by Covid.
“Every great story starts with a vision,” Simmons notes early on, and clearly West saw himself as a major presence before he had the resume to back that up, and then delivered on those promises.
Yet, as Simmons acknowledges, the film would ideally have ended on Grammy night in 2005, when West’s “The College Dropout” won Best Rap Album, paying for the talent the filmmaker recognized early on. Instead, ‘A Kanye Trilogy’ dwells on the complications of West’s life, from embracing Donald Trump to his bizarre 2020 presidential run to say the oppression black people have suffered, given of its secular duration, “looks like a choice”.
In another video, West sits enthralled watching footage of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who he doesn’t seem familiar with, because the host defends him, though Carlson essentially uses West’s statements to criticize the liberals.
Simmons does not pretend to be an unbiased observer, especially in these more recent sequences. At one point, he chooses to turn off the camera as West goes on a long rant, saying he sometimes struggles to watch him on TV, “knowing he has mental health issues”.
Part Three reflects this tension, offering quick glimpses of Western controversies. In the process, “A Kanye Trilogy” shifts from the leisurely pace employed during his starving years — letting long conversations and exchanges unfold — to fast-forwarding through what’s happened since he rose to fame. (For those wondering, West’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian is briefly spotted, but not significantly.)
At more than 4:30 on its three parts – subtitled “Vision”, “Purpose” and “Awakening” – “jeen-yuhs” is already the equivalent of a director’s cut. Still, the film has value as what feels like some sort of real-life version of “A Star is Born,” including the familiar notion that artistic genius comes at a cost.
“I knew he was destined for greatness,” Simmons says, and West’s road to that peak is at first remarkable, then uneven once he rose to fame. As the filmmaker puts it, “A Kanye Trilogy” could have — and just in terms of presenting a more cohesive story, probably should have — ended there.
“Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy” premieres February 16 on Netflix.
The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved.