Kanye West’s “Jeen-Yuhs” Act III: Everything We Learned

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At present, we’re in the midst of the long, winding and convoluted rollout of Ye’s latest album. Devised as the launchpad for what he sees as the antidote to the legally-sanctioned financial impropriety that streaming services perpetrate on artists, DONDA 2 has arrived, albeit in partially finished form on Yeezy’s Stem player technology.

Divisive as it has proven to be, the new hardware is Ye’s attempt to not only instate what he sees as the right path for the industry going forward, but to revolutionize how we consume and engage with the music itself.

And while it may seem like a far fetched idea, Awakening, the third and final installment of Coodie & Chike’s Kanye documentary Jeen-Yuhs, serves as a timely reminder of just how many barriers he’s either broke down or stubbornly barreled towards with the intention of changing the world. 

Although their dynamic may have changed from the heady days of The College Dropout, the last puzzle piece of this trilogy proves to be as revelatory as ever, conjuring up moments of beauty, horror, and bemusement in equal measure. 


Drifting 

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Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images

In another welcome invitation into Kanye’s creative process, Awakening sets off with an excitable Kanye alongside Rhymefest as he raps into the camera. On this occasion, he airs the unreleased track known as “Wow” that is famously referenced on “Last Call.”

After, Kanye reproaches his longtime cohort and former GOOD Music signee Rhymefest on his decision to claim that Ye was not yet a genius.

“Maybe Kanye’s brilliant,” his fellow Chicagoan argued, “but Jay-Z is a genius.”

Along the way, his retort to West hit upon the fundamental difference in temperament between Ye and the vast majority of humanity.

“Who are you to call yourself a genius? It’s for other people to look at you and say that man’s a genius. For you to even get offended by that, you need to get yourself together man. You shouldn’t say that it’s not genius,” Ye countered, “because look at the hundred thousand things that I’m about to do.”

Now steeped in a life of fame and fortune that the success of The College Dropout afforded him, an array of footage from the era helps to refresh memories of his meteoric rise and a soundbite of Ye declaring “Mom we about to blow up, we finna blow up,” comes into the foreground, it’s clear that it has been chosen for its double meaning. Not only would Ye “blow up” in the conventional hip-hop parlance of achieving unimaginable success, but he would also come very, very close to self-destructing. 

After a fast-paced, decade-spanning montage that touches on many of Ye’s trials and tribulations, we find ourselves peering into Ye’s directorial debut at the “Spaceship” video shoot. At this stage, Coodie and Ye are no longer conjoined at the hip as they once were, but he’s still invited along for some landmark moments.

Namely, Kanye’s sessions with acclaimed composer Jon Brion (Punch Drunk Love,Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Mac Miller’s Circles) for Late Registration that included insight into the recording process of “Heard ‘Em Say.” 

In months since the trailer was released, fans have wondered why Coodie chose to withhold all of this footage for so many years. But in the early stages of “Awakening,” we get our answer. After he’d consulted Ye about the prospect of releasing the film, he was deterred by West who informed him that he wasn’t ready for the “world to see the real him yet.”

Assuring Coodie that he was “now playing a role,” much of the footage to come sees Ye assert his place as both a global superstar and a cultural voice. 

“To some kids right now, I am what Michael Jackson was to me,” Ye proclaims in one of his earliest declarations of icon status. 

Later, as a companion piece to his emotive claim that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” Ye’s rebuttal of “don’t point the camera at me if you don’t want me to say how I feel” feels like it could be a unifying mission statement for his entire career.

Kanye and Coodie’s disconnect is driven home during the latter’s revival of Channel Zero at Ye’s Grammy Party. Attended by everyone from Common to a young Taraji P. Henson, the pair have a terse interaction where an inebriated Ye continues to refer to him as “Chike.” But as his day one began to lose patience, West reluctantly gave him his prop

At this stage, we learn that the birth of Coodie’s daughter, Ivy, meant that she soon supplanted Ye as his new passion project. 

Despite her son’s estrangement from him, Coodie soon became Donda’s documentarian and at a Kanye West Foundation fundraiser, Ye’s Q&A for a crowd of young Chicagoans provided another gem that outlines Kanye’s philosophy going forward. 

“They say overconfident like it’s a bad thing. I think overconfident should be a bad word, how can you be overconfident? That’s my thing, willing to beat the negative perception that they throw on a confident black man, because they’ve never seen that before. It’s almost the mentality of the slave that’s too loud. I’mma tell you how I feel about myself,” Ye affirmed, “I am the greatest and you should feel that way about yourself too!”

Seeming even more reverent of his mother than he did in the first two parts, Coodie proffers that, “It seemed like the bigger he got, the more he wanted her around. After all this time, it was amazing to see what they were now building together.”


Despair

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Kanye West and Donda West at the Grammys, 2005 – Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Just as he was relying on Donda to provide stability amid the whirlwind of fame, the shocking death of Kanye’s mother sends the rapper’s world into disarray.  

Complete with audio from the frantic 9-1-1 call, there’s no sense of hyperbole when Coodie declares that “Donda was his everything.”

In lieu of a eulogy, the documentary cuts to classic footage of the two in the kitchen, rapping “Hey Mama” in tandem. At this point, even the most unbending critic of Kanye couldn’t watch this precious moment between mother and son and not wind up feeling sympathy for what he’s lost.  

Rather than grieve in the conventional sense, Ye inundated himself with work and touring. During a tour stop in Brussels, we get a glimpse into the sorrow, isolation, and hopelessness that he felt at the time. 

“100 people that I haven’t talked to in the past three years called me out of the blue, what you need to do is you to stop touring and go home and clear your head,” he said from the stage. “Go home to what, motherfucker? If she was here, she’d tell me to get on that stage and kill it dog.”

Although he’d fallen back on Coodie for moral support and asked for him to join them on the Glow In The Dark Tour in 2008, he was informed by Kanye’s team that there was insufficient room for him. But when he was permitted onto the tour to film Deray Davis’ set, Coodie saw a fork in the road emerge as he proclaimed, “when I got there, he didn’t seem the same Kanye.”

Upon their next encounter, which came after GLC had asked him to film his contribution to a new Ye project, West finally told the man to stop filming him.


Reentering The Orbit  

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Kanye West attends Yeezy Season 3, 2016 – Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

With no new footage from Coodie to speak of, the next stages of Ye’s life are told through news snippets and talk show appearances as he weathered everything from the public fallout from the Taylor Swift incident to the widespread mockery and skepticism that met his union with Kim Kardashian.

To provide a startling contrast to the chaos of Ye’s world, footage from Coodie’s own life saw him look increasingly content as a husband and father. 

Adrift from each other for almost seven years, the inaugural edition of Common’s Ahhh! Fest would prove to be the catalyst for an impromptu reunion. 

Buoyed by their positive experience in the Chi, Coodie took his camera along to The Life Of Pablo listening party and Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden.

Suddenly surrounded by a slew of famous faces such as A$AP Rocky and the Kardashians, the backstage clips show how much Ye’s course had been altered since the days when he kept the company of fellow Chicago artists such as Rhymefest and J. Ivy.

Invited into the booth alongside Cudi, Travis Scott, Pusha T, Mike Dean and others to capture it all firsthand, Coodie’s vantage point recaptures the sheer ecstasy of hearing tracks such as “Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1” and “Famous” for the first time. 

Yet in a testament to the all-encompassing and warping nature of fame, being in his vicinity still wasn’t enough for Coodie to get a chance to “find out how he’s really doing.”

And with the benefit of hindsight, we know that in the coming months, Ye was about to enter into a personal tailspin that’d see him hospitalized, vilified, and left with more instability to wade through than ever. 

Left on the precipice of a mental breakdown, Ye was now so used to the exhaustive analysis of his every action that moments before he slammed down the mic during the final stop of the ill-fated Saint Pablo tour, he can be heard repeating that “the press are gonna have a field day.”


Reconnecting

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Kanye and Kid Cudi perform as Kids See Ghosts at Coachella, 2019 – Timothy Norris/Getty Images

During Kanye’s spell in the hospital, Coodie, try as he might, couldn’t get access to him. Once West was empowered to make his own decisions again, he went back to his roots in Chicago, with Coodie and Ye’s reconnection facilitated by Ol Skool Ice-Gre. When it came time for them to reunite, Ye was delighted to see him in a way that banished the lingering tension and harkened back to their formative days together.  

Once again, Coodie was in the studio and provided a glimpse at the recording of the soul-baring confessional of “I Feel Like That.” Laser-focused as he worked on the track with engineer Noah Goldstein, Ye’s goal with the song was made clear when he spoke of his desire to find a “more uplifting melody.”

From there, an early version of Kids See Ghosts’ “Fourth Dimension” can be heard, complete with a since scrapped, more confrontational version of Cudi’s verse in which he speaks of “suicide drills, ain’t nobody tell you that suicide kills? Baby let me know how you really, really feel, here to let you know that ghosts really really real.”

As well as providing us with the knowledge that the origins of the project predate the Wyoming era, Kanye reverted to his old ways of unabridged honesty with Coodie’s lens trained on him.

“It’s better for us to touch on things that people can relate to and feel like they’re going through. Even me, when I already had the house and the wife and the kids and the plagues, would still have moments where I felt suicidal, would still have moments where I’m addicted to Percocet and didn’t even realize it.”

With the pair embarking on a jaunt around Asia together, Kanye gives the audience a sense of the urgency that he applies to every endeavor. 

“I’m not satisfied with anything less than the best because time is fleeting,” Ye proclaimed. “We’re in China right now, we’re scouring the globe to find the best factories, the best materials.”

By the time they hit Japan, we see just how hands-on he really is with the conception and design of each product that bears the Yeezy name. On top of candidly revealing to a meeting room that he is “35 pounds overweight due to medication that I have to take,” there is also a window into a meeting with renowned Japanese designer Takashi Murikami as they began to piece together the cover art for Kids See Ghosts.

“When we met before, you said you wanted to go into the fashion scene,” Murakami recalled to Ye, “But, you’re twisting for the fashion scene. Huge hit right? Genius.”

Back in the studio, we learn that the groundwork of KSG opener “Feel The Love” was laid down on Japanese soil. Although it’s a riveting clip in itself, it also speaks to a notable takeaway from this documentary in terms of how Ye’s rhyming process has shifted over the years. While on the come-up, he’d never spit anything less than a complete, meticulously fine-tuned 16 in front of prying eyes. But nowadays, he’ll happily do his own equivalent of jazz scatting as he maps a verse out. 

With Ye telling Coodie that “I’m straight. I’m straighter than straight” during a heartfelt chat in the car, it would prove to be the calm before the storm.

Inundated with clips from the fallout of his “slavery was a choice” incident, Coodie’s take on it all, unsurprisingly, deviated from the conventional narrative as he claimed that it “seemed like he was crying out for help.” 


Saved

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Kanye performs onstage during his “Jesus Is King” album and film experience, 2019 – Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When we next see the pair, the days of the GOOD Music summer release slate of seven-track albums has come and went. Instead, audiences are brought into the thick of the sessions for Jesus Is King.

With bible verses taped to walls in the studio, Ye referred to himself as having been “dead” prior to his rebirth and suggested that both god and his mother would regularly interject with ideas. 

Much as it did in our real lives, the COVID-19 pandemic descends upon the documentary and leaves Coodie and Ye’s friendship on ice. However, one positive to emerge from that turbulent time in human history was that it finally gave Coodie the time and impetus to begin sifting through the footage that’d lead to this documentary. 


Present Day

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Kanye West at his “DONDA” listening event, 2021 – Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Next, Coodie and Ye bask in the sunny climes of the Dominican Republic and as Kanye fields phone calls, sketches of what would become the Stem player can be seen. 

Long before Westside Gunn and Conway The Machine hopped on it, the embryonic stages of “Keep My Spirit Alive” were hashed out. As Kanye asks for Rhymefest to help write the track, he spits a “blessings” oriented verse which differs from what would eventually arrive.  

Set against the backdrop of Kanye’s announcement that he’d be running for the presidency, Coodie, without any judgment, offers a profound insight into the rationale of West as he said that “one thing he hates is the word can’t.”

In one of the more unsettling scenes from the film– which many have suspected to capture a bipolar episode– Kanye described taking his medication as a case of “turning alien into English” during a business meeting. 

“There was an execution-style that was performed on me over the past six-seven years, post-Taylor Swift, where they tie four limbs to two horses,” Ye declared. “They didn’t know they were dealing with Deadpool though. Those limbs grew back.”

Surrounded by real estate sycophants that were happy to simply nod along, Coodie did the tactful thing and turned off the camera. 

Back on U.S. soil in Wyoming, Coodie captures Common checking in on Ye via telephone after his infamous presidential rally. 

With all parties in seemingly high spirits, these DONDA sessions saw him promise to send a track Common’s way but to date, whatever they were working on has yet to emerge. 

Likewise, Justin Bieber was spotted laying down vocals on another unreleased, gospel-oriented track that didn’t sound too dissimilar to what would emanate from his spiritually-driven 2021 EP, Freedom. 

Amid a phone conversation with Rick Rubin who seemed, at best, reluctant to come to the ranch, we cut to Coodie in his room as he actively asks for prayers for Kanye. 

In one of Act III’s most stark moments, there is a rare insight into his relationship with his father. Speaking via Facetime, his dad, Ray, checks in on him after his headline-making rally, imploring for him to “write your speech next time, Kanye.”

Now relieved of his mother’s wisdom and counsel, Kanye tells his father that he needs him “beside me” in a moment that points to the vulnerability that lurks just below his confrontational exterior. 

Ending on a decidedly hopeful note at the unveiling of DONDA at the Mercedes-Benz stadium, Coodie delivers another of his trademark profundities that defines where his friend and collaborator is at. 

“You might say you miss the old Kanye, but what I’m realizing is that every part of him makes him who he is.”

Flanked by adoring fans, Awakening poignantly ends with the words of his mother as Ye ascends into the sky. 

“The giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing, everybody else sees the giant.”

Although it misses out on some pivotally important eras in his career, Jeen-Yuhs is unequivocally the greatest film-based insight that we’ll ever have into Kanye West. Often seen as a musical deity rather than a man, it’s only right that it should be helmed by someone who was there from the beginning and, with any luck, has once again cemented his place as an integral cog of Ye’s inner circle. If there’s one major takeaway from Act III, it’s that, whatever Kanye does, Coodie will drop everything to come to his aid.  

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