On 16 February, Netflix premiered the first act of a three-part documentary on a controversial pop culture 'icon'. Well, that is an understatement. Scratch that. The documentary, 'jeen-yuhs: A Kanye trilogy', is on one of the most controversial and 'trending' public figures in the world right now.
Act I: Vision is a 1.5-hour long chapter that offers the world – especially his fans – a raw, from a fly-on-the-wall angle, all-access to Kanye West (legally known as Ye) before he rose to superstardom. You will not be disappointed, the 90-minute reel will make you want to pay attention even if you are someone who pressed the play button just to have some background noise before falling asleep.
It is a curious and gripping documentary that hooks the viewer in instantly – whether you are a fan or an uninitiated viewer of the American hip-hop/rap industry, like yours truly. The first act starts in the Dominican Republic in 2020 with West, but it immediately takes the audience back to a beaming 21-year-old West in 1998 at a birthday party. The film later progresses through the years to 2002, when West struggled to get signed by records labels.
The never-before-seen archival footage is fast-paced. It follows West as he travels between Chicago (West's hometown) and New York, rejection and praise, ambition and grit; and at the same time, it captures a vastness of talent in the then music industry, from MCs, producers and rappers. Ghosts of the past keep appearing non-stop in the documentary.
Chicago's artists are heavily featured. And the quintessential east coast/west coast versus the underdog (Chicago) hip-hop/rap narrative is well-captured. For the uninitiated, it's interesting to see the inside of the industry and culture and learn of the humble beginnings of some of the biggest celebrities. For instance, to walk in and see Rock-A-Fella record label offices from at least 20 years ago is riveting.
I would assume, for the initiated, it will be even more captivating to see how all the dots connect in West's early career.
The documentary's home-video type texture and narration have the potential to leave any viewer with a yearning for more, although it is understood that the following two acts will be insufferable as West's ego and arrogance will take over and start to dictate his actions.
But for now, the first chapter follows an 'up and coming' producer from Chicago who aspires to be a rapper and captures the very beginning of the now artist, record producer and fashion designer with a $6.6 billion net worth.
Shot by the duo Clarence 'Coodie' Simmons and Chike Ozah, this documentary is a testament of friendship too. In the first chapter, we can hear only Coodie narrate - there may be moments when the narration feels unnecessary, but bear through it - it provides a brief backstory of the filmmaker and his connection to West.
The documentary is a product of the filmmakers' leap of faith, as they quit their own jobs and picked up the camera to film West when he was an unknown name. And then they continued to do so for a whopping 21 years, accumulating hundreds of hours of footage.
Coodie said he was inspired by Hoop Dreams - a 1994 documentary about two high school students in Chicago and their dream to become professional basketball players.
In between celebrity pop-ins and West's struggle to claim the recognition as a rapper that he so desperately believed he deserved (along with several fellow artists), an underlying tale of sadness frothed with every passing minute. What we have in the first chapter 'Vision,' is an eagle-eye view of ambition marred with stubbornness and stupendous talent.
But as the narrative progresses, we come to understand that it is the prologue to the spiraling madness of Kanye West. While, as a viewer, we can appreciate the initiation of West's rise to fame by the end of the first chapter. It also daunts the viewer, where did it all go wrong? Can the reel stop turning and something could have precluded the following chapters?
One of the more authentic moments captured was West's relationship and conversation with his late mother Donda West, as she talked about the blurred lines between arrogance and confidence. It was genuine – the belief in his greatness as a rapper, and the humility she wanted to bestow upon him.
All of which, in hindsight, makes West's life trajectory more unfortunate. This begs the question of how important it is to address mental health struggles and seek professional help.
In the current volatile public divorce from his now ex-wife and West's ever-erratic social media presence, this documentary is an escape to West's yesteryears as a reminder of why he was once loved and revered for his talent.
The second act will premiere on Netflix on 23 February and the third and final one on 2 March. As of this writing, Vision (the first act) has an imdb rating of 8.2.