Jeen-Yuhs Act 1 review: Kanye's struggle laid bare in first of three chapters

The first act of the highly anticipated three-part Netflix documentary reached UK audiences yesterday, giving an access-all-areas look into the rappers past, chronicling his struggle to land his first record deal

Skiddle Staff

Date published: 17th Feb 2022

When we learnt there was a Kanye West documentary due to land on Netflix earlier in the year, two things went through our minds. The first, did we really need a Kanye documentary? He's basically a man who's lived his life thus far through the lens of the media, take his recent social media interactions and publicly broadcasted marital troubles for example. We've all seen them. Secondly, if we did need this new three-part documentary, what were we going to get from it? What was Kanye going to show us that he hadn't already shown us? What else did he have to share? And probably most importantly, what did he want us to see?

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We took these preliminary thoughts, whilst trying to keep an open mind, into our first viewing of Act 1 'Vision' - the first chapter of the documentary - unleashed on audiences in the UK yesterday. And we're glad we did. 

Filmed and co-directed by Kanye's longtime friend, Clarence 'Coodie' Simmons, a former comedian and host of public access show, Channel Zero - a platform showcasing hip hop talent in Chicago back in the 90s - the opening scenes depict a present day Kanye, dripping in what we can only assume to be some of the most expensive attire on the market and free-styling to beat at a plush sun bathed location somewhere in the Dominican Republic. 

After only a few minutes, a series of flashbacks begin to flicker on screen showing some of the many controversies we've seen Kanye central to over the years - think meeting Donald Trump, his comments about being the messiah and that awkward Taylor Swift moment at the MTV Music Video awards back in 2009. Our cogs are already working hard. Is this the same self-important rap star we're used to seeing in the news? No. There's something more here. Something that becomes more apparent as the documentary continues on. It's a precursor to the story that ensues and a moment for Kanye to say 'look at me now' whilst acknowledging his flaws.

Cue the archive footage from Coodie. A fresh faced Kanye appears on screen issuing his mission statement, prophesying his future at the top of the game at friend and record producer, Jermaine Dupri's birthday back in 1998. It was the first time Simmons had caught him on film and the first time he came to realise his potential and magnetism. Following him down to New York, where Kanye hoped to fulfil his dream of eventually penning his own record deal, the pair recorded every exchange amongst friends, artists and industry executives on his journey to the top; the highs and the lows, the relationship breakdowns and the multiple set backs. The whole story.

It's a tough watch in places. Various A&R representatives from labels the likes of Rawkus, Capitol and Roc-A-Fella denying him the chance to run as a fully fledged rap artist whilst his role models repeatedly ghosted him when collaborations had been agreed upon. And if New York was a cruel place to be for Kanye, back home was no better. His mentors and close friends, Dug Infinite and No I.D. were dropping diss tracks about him in what can only be perceived as an attempt to piggy back on his limited success, at the time, as a producer working with the likes of Jay Z on Blueprint anthem, 'Izzo'.

In these moments, Ye's vulnerability is clear to see. A vulnerability made all the more apparent by the inclusion of his dental retainer throughout Act 1 and his subsequent lisp. A clever nod maybe to his inexperience and innocence at the time. In one particular scene, driving a car across the city, he's heard talking to Coodie about how his music is real and how record label execs are only interested in gangsta rap, saying how his upbringing with his mum, Donda, an English teacher, and his dad, a Christian Marriage counsellor, in a suburb of Chicago was being held against him. The rejection visibly taking its toll. But should we feel the way the filmmaker has intended us to feel? Is this a stab at changing the publics perception of a no-doubt bonafide and yet narcissistic 'Jeen-Yuhs' or is it the truth laid out bare for all to see? So far we think the latter, but Acts 2 and 3 will hopefully help to make more sense.

There are countless other big moments during the hour and twenty nine minutes of running time. A visit to his mum's place back in 'Shy City' bares insight to his source of strength and confidence, and shows the love and belief she has in her son. There's a scene early on in which Jay Z and Kayne meet and yet bizarrely have little to no connection with each other. And then there's the famous You Hear It First interview with MTV, when Kanye foretells of the story of 'the dude who just used to make beats' making it. The biggest moment of all however comes towards the final minutes, when Kayne finally signs his first deal with Roc-A-Fella Records - the day that changed his life and the world of hip hop forever.  

Act 1 concludes with Ye rubbing shoulders with an array of music stars - from Pharrell Williams to Beyonce - back stage at a Jay Z show in his home city. Announcing his signing to his Chicago fan base, the scene for Act two 'Purpose' is now set and ready, with the story to follow showing his meteoric rise to worldwide acclaim. 



The second chapter in the three-part documentary series is due out on Netflix next Wednesday (23rd February). Check back to read our review here next week.



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