‘When you move in faith, all things are possible’ — Kanye West ‘jeen-yuhs’ documentary debuts at Sundance
The first episode of “jeen-yuhs: A Kanye West Trilogy,” entitled, “Vision,” premiered at Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, giving viewers a glimpse of what the producers called a “faith-based documentary.”
West is an integral part of the BYU student experience, whether they know it or not, with his 2010 song “Power” played at the start of every BYU sporting event in Provo. “Jeen-yuhs” goes back in time to give viewers the story behind the eventual superstar.
Director, producer, writer and cinematographer Clarence “Coodie” Simmons met West in 1998 at a birthday party and later decided to film the young rapper/producer’s life to “see how far his dreams would take him.”
The majority of the first episode takes place in 2002, showing a 25-year-old West as he makes his debut on the national stage ahead of his first album, “The College Dropout,” in 2004.
When the documentary begins, West is making a good living as a hip-hop producer, mainly making beats for other rappers to use. But Simmons said, “The only reason he made beats was so that he could rap over them.”
West helped superstar Jay-Z produce his hit record “The Blueprint” in 2001 and hoped to get on with Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella records not only as a producer, but as a rapper.
“I’ve seen a lot more (expletive) than most people by the time they actually get to rap,” West said in the documentary. “The music is me. It’s what I live every day.”
West was born in Atlanta, but moved to Chicago with his mother, Donda West, after his parents’ divorce when he was 3 years old.
In the documentary, West says his mother was an English teacher and his father a Christian marriage counselor.
His success as a producer gave West many of the skills and resources to begin his rap career, but the heads of the record labels were initially unsure if a rapper/producer like West could sell records. He came close to a deal with Capitol Records but was eventually rejected.
“When I do this album, it’s going to be the realest. Because if I brick I can still feed my family,” West said. “With God’s blessings, I got Roc-A-Fella, I got Chicago, there shouldn’t be no way for me to lose.”
Simmons documented West “rushing” the Roc-A-Fella offices in New York to show off his music but to no avail. The visit to the record label showed the young artist’s supreme confidence despite the setbacks and lack of faith by those around him and above him in the music industry.
“At times it felt like he was just another face in the crowd,” Simmons said. “He was so close to his dreams, but it still felt so far away. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Before he even had an album to his name, West said he was practicing his Grammy speech and had the goal of getting on MTV’s “You Hear It First” program to really launch his rap career.
The source of West’s confidence was revealed in the documentary when he and the crew returned to Chicago and visited the house of his mother, Donda.
“She had a special way of lifting his spirit,” Simmons said of Donda. “The confidence he had in himself was because of the confidence Donda had in him.”
During the visit, Donda asked West about a new necklace he bought in New York with an angel figure on it, saying, “You need an angel to watch over you.”
West and his mother go on to talk about his music career, and, before rapping some verses herself, Donda gave her son another boost of confidence with a comparison to the basketball “GOAT” himself.
“You play tracks like Micheal Jordan shoots free throws,” Donda said.
West’s innate musical talent enters the episode’s spotlight when he takes over a freestyle session with rapper Mos Def in Los Angeles and silences the room.
The inspiring music crescendos in the documentary as the viewer understands they are witnessing the intersection of God-given talent, years of rap cultivation and confidence curated by his mother bursting at the seams.
The documentary then turns to West back in New York working on a few of the songs for his debut album, including the clearly Christian track “Jesus Walks,” a foreshadowing of West’s future endeavors into gospel music with his “Sunday Service” performances, one of which happened in Salt Lake City.
West eventually made it onto MTV and soon after signed a record deal with Roc-A-Fella, getting introduced by Jay-Z himself to a crowd on the Roc-A-Fella Dynasty Tour.
The episode ends with Simmons sharing the message he learned and believes is illustrated in the first episode: “When you move in faith, all things are possible.”
The complete three-part series is set to debut on Netflix on Feb. 10, despite a protest from West to get access to the final edit.
Director/producer Chike Ozach addressed the influence of their relationships with West on the series in a Q&A after the premiere, saying, “Even though we love Kanye, we wanted to be unbiased and tell a story that’s true to history and true to culture.”