“Kanye knew music like Jordan knew free-throws”
Some albums were made to change lives. We hang them up in the hall of fame and recognise them as part of indisputable history. Albums have always mattered. They start trends and influence culture in ways that we never truly noticed before their existence. Whether it’s Dr Dre‘s The Chronic, Nirvana’s Nevermind, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Or Kid Cudi’s Man On the Moon; the list is endless, but you’d be a fool not to mention Mr. West’s work if the topic is ‘musical masterpieces’. The College Dropout wasn’t just a debut album, it was a statement. It laid out the blueprint for an entire genre. Ask the person next to you where they were when they first heard The College Dropout, I can guarantee you there’s a story in that.
Jeen-Yuhs – A Kanye Trilogy, comes at a strange time as I find myself stuck between debates surrounding the genius he has been praised to be, and the loose cannon televised to us on social media. Being a Kanye fan hasn’t been easy. I’ve spent the last decade playing defense, and at times have found myself agreeing with the opposition. Yet, watching the Trilogy reminded me how lucky we were to be given such iconic albums like: The Late Registration, Graduation, 808’s, Dark Twisted Fantasy, and of course the list goes on.
The three-part film is shot from the perspective of life-long friends and filmmakers Coodie & Chike, who spent decades behind the scenes, documenting every move of the musical genius himself. The footage can only be considered a gold-mine. Whilst most of Kanye’s life is constantly being critiqued under the microscope of his social media, the new three-part film shows a refreshing and honest side to the rapper that the world may or may not have chosen to forget.
The film titled ‘Jeen-Yuhs’ is quite fitting when it comes to Kanye. We could sit here and admire all his accolades which ultimately changed and influenced pop culture as a whole but in order to do that, we must also reflect on the price he paid for the title ‘Genius’.
Those we consider eminent creative geniuses have been known to have a much higher rate of manic depression, bipolar disorder or other mental health varieties in comparison to the general public. Studies by Connie Strong and Terence Ketter, MD, dating back to 2002 have showcased this. Aristotle himself stated that ‘there is no great genius without a touch of madness’. Ludwig Von Beethoven was considered to have had Bipolar disorder based off of his fits of mania. It was said that he produced his most celebrated works during his darkest hours. Michelangelo was considered to have high-functioning Autism. Leo Tolstoy suffered with depression. Issac Newton was known to be schizophrenic and in 2016, Kanye West was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.
The first part of the documentary shows the genius in the making at his purest form and boy, is it wholesome. From free-styling in his mother’s house, to proving himself as a worthy rapper in a world that wasn’t ready to open their doors to him. You can’t deny that Ye never lacked confidence, not then and clearly not now. The determination to win was clear and no matter what, he was always going to get his way. Ye didn’t just produce some of the greatest works in hip-hop, he went on to shape and change the structure of records for years to come. Unfortunately, much of his triumphs would be undermined by the outlandish and controversial Ye that he also is.
Jeen-yuhs gives us a candid view on who the artist is and has always been. It’s safe to say that in order to appreciate the genius himself, we must learn to accept that without the good, the bad, and the ugly, we may have never been given Yeezy and all that came with it. Say what you like about West, but he’s always kept us guessing.
I too used to ‘miss the old Kanye’, the Def Poetry Jam Kanye. Although, watching the latest footage, I soon came to realise that Kanye is and always has been the same old Kanye, just with a little extra weight. It’s clear that somewhere on his way to fame, he got lost and tragically, lost the only person that kept him grounded. It’s important to recognise that whilst Kanye was on the rise, so was social media. It just so happened that during all of West’s public rages that ended up defining so much of his career, we the people had front row seats and naturally, people will define you at your lowest and forget you at your best. You could argue that social media gave West the platform he never needed. It’s unfortunate that whilst social media turns some into billionaires, others are being destroyed in-front of our very eyes.
There are always multiple sides to every story but the audience were split between those that recognised his breakdowns as cries for help, and those that believed them to be publicity stunts for more attention. Throughout his career, Kanye used modern media to his advantage whether we agree with it or not. With every riot, there was always an album release looming in the distance. Whether it’s a four-minute-long tirade during an award show, or declaring on national television that “slavery was a choice”, West has always found ways to take to the social stage and turn himself into a worldwide trend, for better or for worse. What better way to release an album whilst the world is at a standstill talking about Malcolm West. They say all publicity is good publicity right? If this is true and these episodes were intentional, then that in itself is brilliant. The brilliance of a marketing mogul.
It’s no secret that fame comes at a cost. Unfortunately, Kanye has endured the good with the ugly, but what would the world be without Mr West on the global stage? A cultural icon that not only changed the music industry, but completely restructured the fashion industry, opening doors for coloured designers and creatives around the globe. I remember where I was when I first heard Life of Pablo. My friend and I went down to Nottinghill Arts Club and witnessed cultural history. For the very first time, an artist was live-streaming his runway show at the Madison Square Garden, whilst holding a listening party for his album release. We all gathered around the projector screen in awe of what Ye had created. Truly a genius.
Kanye never lacked passion and he never settled in the box that people put him in. He left a footprint everywhere he went, and placed himself into rooms that he knew he deserved to be in. He has proven time and time again, that he is the most innovative artist of the century. Constantly finding ways to reinvent himself. When the industry told him he’s nothing more than a producer, he proved them wrong. When the label put his debut album on a shelf, he found his own ways to make it happen. For decades, he has carefully created masterpieces, musically and lyrically. His constant work ethic shown throughout music and fashion, has never been anything short of excellence. West’s individuality has been refreshing and at times also tragic.
Donda West, Kanye’s mother and friend, showed us the importance of investing in your child. Who knows if Kanye would have given us some of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time if it weren’t for his mother’s constant support. She instilled life into him. Reciting back his lyrics, feeding him courage and confidence. She believed in his greatness and what he could become, that too is a crucial chapter in his story.
Despite what we see across social media, we have to give credit where credit is due. A kid from the Southside of Chicago who never needed a hard image or a jail record to claim his crown as one of the greatest rappers of all time. He unlocked a new level in hip-hop. A level that not only changed the streets but gave an entire generation a glimpse of hope and possibility. He never wanted to fit into the musical landscape, he always aimed for originality and maintained his grip at the helm.
Artistically, Kanye West is and always has been a genius.