Kanye Documentary-The film's first act follows a young West as he navigates the music industry, learns from his mother Donda, and more.
On Sunday, January 23, Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy – Act 1 (Vision), a documentary about Kanye West's (also known legally as Ye) life, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Act 1 (Vision) is the first of three parts that span seven and a half hours and follow West from his early dealings with Jay-Roc-A-Fella Z's Records in the late 1990s to his debut as the label's newest artist.
The film will be released in theatres around the country on February 10, followed by a Netflix debut on February 16. West's friends Clarence “Coodie” Simmons and Chike Ozah (aka Coodie & Chike), who worked with him on the videos for “Through the Wire” and “Jesus Walks,” directed the trilogy. West demanded, “I must get final edit and approval on this doc before it releases on Netflix,” according to Coodie, who recently told Variety that West did not have final approval on the film. It is currently unknown if the Sundance version of the film will be distributed theatrically or on Netflix.
Act 1 begins in 1998 at a birthday party for Atlanta-based producer and So So Def Records CEO Jermaine Dupri. Kanye West, 21, is a skinny, bespectacled 21-year-old who is rubbing elbows with Ma$e, Cardan, and the rest of the Harlem World crew. It's Cookie's first time filming West, and it sets the tone for much of Act 1: West, fresh-faced and out of place, surrounded by the stars and symbols of success that he craves.
“This is a faith-based movie,” Coodie says, quickly zooming out to Chicago and explaining why he (a comedian) would drop everything to film a documentary about his friend, an up-and-coming rapper and producer: “This is a faith-based movie,” he says, and the film is anchored by West's belief in himself—and Cookie's belief in West, which was unusual at the time. Soon after, West moves to New York to be closer to Jay-Z, who validated the young musician by performing “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” at the 2001 BET Awards, which West produced.
Act 1 depicts Kanye West in an unvarnished and, at times, unpleasant light. He's frequently filmed while wearing voice-altering retainers, which can be seen strewn about on countertops and studio desks in several shots. When meeting West at the Hit Factory to hear “Family Business” and “Jesus Walks,” legendary Houston rapper Scarface chastises him for the disgusting habit. “Man, that garbage doesn't belong up here.” “Man, that crap was all up in your mouth.”
West's hunger, though, takes centre stage. The thirst that has him rushing 20 blocks from one studio to the next with decks in his arms, terrified of missing an opportunity to play beats for Jay-Z. The same passion that pushed him to barge into Roc-A-Fella offices and plays his songs for everyone from marketing executives to executive assistants without asking, rapping along with the beats. He leaves with a few CDs and DVDs but no record deal, sheepishly.
Act 1 succeeds best when it displays the core of West's genesis storey: his trust in his ability as an artist, despite a sea of celebrities and hangers-on who see him just as a human rhythm machine. Damon Dash appreciates the rhythms he creates for Roc-A-Fella artists, but he refuses to sign him to a record label. Rappers in his hometown of Chicago want him to offer them free beats. When West hears the request, he informs his assistant, “That's impossible.” “It's like going into a TV store and telling an—-a, ‘Dawg, I'm the best at watching TV.' So, what's up, motherfucker? I continue to sell televisions. I'm not going to offer you a free TV since you're the top TV watcher.” He wears his displeasure on his face at times. Jay-Z is holding court at a Roc-A-Fella party in New York when West strolls by to dap him up. The exchange lasts only a few seconds until Jay-Z moves on to the next individual, leaving West to limp along with his head dropped low and shoulders drooping. He is close to achieving achievement, but he is unable to do it at this time.
West navigates the business in New York throughout the film, working hard for his breakthrough but still needing to address the folks he left behind in Chicago, who witness his success and believe he's forgotten them. His dreams, on the other hand, are too big for any single location: “I may be living your American Goal, but I'm nowhere near my dream, dawg,” he tells a Rolling Out journalist. “Man, I've got huge ambitions, mo'fucka. I've got aspirations.” Knowhatimsayin? I used to walk to the train station to practise my Grammy speech before I got a car.”
Back in Chicago, West arrives at his mother's apartment with his entourage. The sequences with Donda West are the film's heart; it's easy to understand why he cared so much about her. Donda greets her son's friends with warmth and hospitality, listens to him recount his recent triumphs, and reminisces about his boyhood. West's self-assurance is built-in years of support and nurturing of his skill and is only surpassed by his mother's trust in him.
“You have a lot of confidence, and even though you're modest, you come off as a little arrogant,” Donda West says Kanye. “However, keep in mind that the giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing.”
“Do you believe I come off as arrogant?” West enquires. “You come off exactly fine because of what's within,” his mother responds. “You can't be a celebrity and not be a star,” she says.
West comes home to Chicago to reveal his new chain and contract at a local performance after an appearance on MTV News' “You Hear It First” segment helped set up his long-awaited record deal with Roc-A-Fella. In a bland Nissan Sentra, West visits his boyhood house with Donda, performing that thing where everything that looked so big as a kid suddenly appears extremely little. Donda recalls how, even as a youngster, her son was self-absorbed, but that his skill was evident. She remembers all of West's talent performances as a kid, as well as the one—and only one—that he didn't win: a Stevie Wonder performance complete with his characteristic braids and sunglasses.
Much of what Donda West says in Act 1 (Vision) seems like ancient wisdom, words said by a loving mom to humble and uplift her kid. One specific sentence jumps out, and Coodie even repeats it in his film narration: “You may be on the ground and in the air at the same time,” she claims, a paradox that West proved until Donda's death. Donda West is the tree that gave birth to Kanye West, whose branches took him to the sky while his roots kept him securely planted on the ground. West was well aware of the situation. “I don't know, I just want to say, like, I appreciate…” he starts to say at a vulnerable moment, ready to express his gratitude for the foundation she's given him but thinks the tone is too serious. “I'd want to compliment you on the excellent job you did with me,” West says, eliciting laughter from both mother and son.