‘jeen-yuhs’: Ye has nothing to fear from vintage video of young, little-known Kanye West

In Netflix’s freewheeling three-part documentary, we see flashes of Ye’s legendary temper and mercurial nature in the early 2000s, but what comes across most impressively is the young rapper refusing to give up his dreams.

SHARE ‘jeen-yuhs’: Ye has nothing to fear from vintage video of young, little-known Kanye West
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A young Kanye West flashes a smile in early 2000s footage from the first chapter of “jeen-yuhs.”

Netflix

In the early 2000s, the young Kanye West had enough clout to get through the door but not enough clout to make it into the right rooms. As a producer, West was much in demand and was delivering beats to the likes of Jay-Z, Ludacris, Scarface and Talib Kweli — but as a rapper, he was just another hopeful with a demo CD, trying desperately to get someone to listen to his work.

‘jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy’

Untitled

Netflix presents a three-part documentary directed by Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah. No MPAA rating. The first part, “Act 1: Vision” screens at 7 p.m. Thursday at local theaters and premieres Feb. 16 on Netflix, with the other parts premiering on subsequent Wednesdays.

This makes for one of the most compelling scenes in the freewheeling, no-frills, three-part Netflix documentary series “jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy.” With a ubiquitous camera crew trailing close behind, then 21-year-old Kanye crashes the Manhattan headquarters of Roc-A-Fella records and bounces from office to office, playing his demo CD for a series of mid-level executives and staffers who can barely feign interest as they answer the phones and look like they wish they’d taken their lunch break early that day. As Kanye is told time and again, he’s a producer, not a rapper, and he should stay in his lane.

We all know that didn’t happen, which is what makes these scenes so interesting. Even as Jay-Z barely gives Kanye the time of day at a meet-and-greet, even as various hip-hop artists and producers brush off this persistent kid with a backpack and a mouth retainer, we know the moment is coming when Kanye will take the mic and forever change the popular culture. (When Kanye crashes a recording session and asks Pharrell Williams if he can rap for him real quick and Pharrell politely agrees, Kanye blows everyone away and the newly converted Pharrell keeps saying, “I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I didn’t know!”)

“jeen-yuhs” is a three-part, 277-minute series some 20 years in the making. (I’ve seen the first two chapters, which conclude just as West is hitting it huge, but well before the days of the megalomaniacal, tabloid-frenzy, Kardashian-marrying presidential candidate now known as Ye.) Clarence “Coodie” Simmons has been friends with Ye — and shooting video of him — since the early days in Chicago and has collected a treasure trove of homespun, grainy, early 2000s, period-piece footage. Simmons and co-director Chike Ozah have shaped the raw material into a simple, chronological format and have eschewed present-day interviews in favor of a straightforward, fly-on-the-studio-wall approach, with Simmons providing the sometimes redundant but often anecdotally informative narration. (Ye and Simmons had a falling-out and drifted apart over the years, but the third episode of “jeen-yuhs” reportedly includes a reconciliation or at least a reunion of sorts).

Ye recently took to Instagram to demand final edit and approval on the series, and it probably would have been fascinating to see what he did with the footage — but based on the two episodes I’ve seen, Ye has little to worry about, as this is far from a hatchet job. Simmons clearly lionizes his old friend, and while we see flashes of Ye’s legendary temper and mercurial nature, what comes across most impressively is the handheld portrait of a young artist refusing to give up his dreams or accept a certain level of success or to be labeled by, well, his label.

Acknowledging his lack of so-called street cred, the still-unknown West says,“I feel like I can’t sell to you that I’m going to come up and … take your life,” but also notes there are other ways for a rapper to make it, and that because of his success as a producer and knowing he has something to fall back on, he doesn’t have to make any compromises as a rapper: “I’m going to do it the way I f---ing want to do it. … With God’s blessings and I got Chicago on my side, there’s no way for me to lose, really.”

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Kanye West’s close relationship with his mother, Donda, comes across in the “jeen-yuhs” video.

Netflix

We also see how close West was with his mother, Donda, who died in 2007. When Kanye visits Donda, her face beams with pride and love as she admires his latest bling and tells her son there’s no doubt he’s going to become a star: “You play tracks like Michael Jordan shoots free throws. Anybody that does something that much and that long and is that good, it’s gotta pay off.”

West also receives some prescient advice from Pharrell, who tells him he’s going to blow up big, but to try to remember to keep the same, even-keeled perspective on life — although given what we know about what was going to transpire in West’s life over the next two decades, I’m not sure there’s a person on the planet who could have kept a steady perspective.

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