How much more can Netflix's new documentary tell us about Kanye West?
While the directors spent the last 21 years filming West’s life, he’s spent the same amount of time telling us about it.
Today, Netflix revealed the official first trailer for the long-awaited Kanye West documentary JEEN-YUHS, along with its February 16 release date. But honestly, is there really anything more we can learn about an artist who has made a career on oversharing?
JEEN-YUHS has been 20 years in the making from acclaimed filmmakers Clarence "Coodie" Simmons and Chike Ozah, who have compiled untold hours of footage of West since they began filming the self-proclaimed genius in 1998. The official trailer starts by portraying the documentary as a never-before-seen look into West’s life by showing a previously unreleased conversation from 2002 between West and his “Jesus Walks” collaborator Rhymefest, discussing the merits of West considering himself a genius. The rest of the trailer features archival clips of him in the studio with Jay-Z and Pharrell and hanging with his mother. Those clips have either been seen in the Coodie & Chike-directed “Through the Wire” music video or YouTube videos that have long been part of West’s lore.
For better or worse, West has been an open book. If you wanted to know the porn he likes, the last gift his late mother gave him, how much debt he’s had at one time, and his thoughts on slavery, he’s willingly offered it to the public in interviews and rants. If you wanted to know the first time West met Jay-Z, his near-death experiences, or how he went from working at Gap to working with Gap, he told you in his music. On the “Last Call” outro of his debut alone, West famously chronicled his journey from producing Beanie Sigel’s song “The Truth” in 1999 to the day he got signed to Roc-A-Fella in 2002. West’s music and interviews have made his private and public life nearly indistinguishable.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, or a three-part docuseries by a 70-second trailer, or a two-minute sneak peek, but the trailer demonstrates some of the challenges the documentary could face trying to cover an artist deeply ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist for as long as West has been. West is arguably hip-hop’s first superstar of the YouTube era, debuting his The College Dropout album a year before the first video was uploaded to YouTube in 2005. Since then, the making of his 2005 sophomore album Late Registration, him working on “Stronger” with Timbaland, all of the rants that made us question his mental health, and his subsequent explanations have been on YouTube for years. Not to mention he also married into the most famous family of the last decade while also appearing on the most talked about reality show.
With that much revealed to the general public, nearly any documentary about West’s life would be more contextual and nostalgic than revelatory. With 21 years worth of filming, JEEN-YUHS will probably be visualizations of parts of West’s life we only knew through his words. Maybe we’ll see the day he signed the contract with Roc-A-Fella, or when he got off-camera after telling America George Bush doesn’t care about Black people or any of the moments that make up the Kanye West we’ve grown to know. But, those moments wouldn’t change what we know about the man.
Until the full docuseries plays over a three-week span starting February 16, we don’t yet know how deep the docuseries will go into the life of a man who has disrupted nearly all conventions. What we do know is while they’ve spent the last 21 years filming West’s life, he’s spent the same amount of time telling us about it. Fans have complained for years about missing “the old Kanye;” this documentary is the closest they might get.