It’s still irresistible to root for this underdog version of Kanye, an earnest, good-natured guy bursting with obvious talent, who plays his “Benz and a backpack” songs for disinterested Roc-A-Fella office drones and steals 10 minutes’ worth of studio time from other artists to sneak in work on his indefinitely shelved debut. At one point, he takes his friends over to see his mother, and it is startlingly powerful to see how gently and immediately Donda humbles her son. Whenever she talks, Kanye drops his head—his deference is immediate, and instinctual. “The giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing,” she counsels him. She waits, in silence, watching him struggle under the weight of this insight, and then she starts laughing. Humility doesn’t come easy for him.
The first two parts are full of endearing moments that are nearly heartbreaking in their innocence. In one, Kanye is waiting outside of Ludacris’ studio, hoping that he might get the rapper to record a hook for a track on The College Dropout. Luda is nowhere to be found, and as Kanye waits nervously in the hall, he stops a bored little kid, asking if he knows hits like Jay-Z’s “Izzo (HOVA).” “I produced all those joints,” he informs the kid, hopefully. “Cool,” the kid says, thoughtlessly, before scooting away.
In another, Kanye convinces Jay-Z to let him do a guest verse on “The Bounce,” from 2002’s The Blueprint 2, in an effort to convince the Roc-A-Fella powers-that-be to take him seriously as a rapper. He proceeds to spit a truly terrible verse, with a mind-numbingly bad Shrek reference, directly to his hero in the control room. But his conviction is so infectious that it rouses Jay, who coaches a visibly nervous Kanye in the recording booth, line by line. During playback, Kanye twirls in his chair, looking up at the ceiling. “Just a long-ass way from fuckin’ rapping in my mama’s crib,” he whispers dreamily.
For nearly three hours, jeen-yuhs lingers lovingly on this striving period before Kanye’s debut album. You can almost feel Coodie and his directing partner Chike trying not to look too hard at all that came next. They want to stay here with the “Old Kanye,” the one we all started to lose the minute we knew of him.
after The College Dropout comes out and the Grammys start rolling in, Coodie recedes from Kanye’s life. The whiplash is disorienting, for Coodie and for us. He closes the second part by fast-forwarding through the next 10 years in a nightmare blur—“You ain’t got the answers” and “Imma let you finish” and “That sounds like a choice” in one bloody Cuisinart. A sense of dread kicks in, and the stage is set for jeen-yuhs‘ lonely final.
The feeling that Coodie doesn’t know what to do with the last several years of Kanye’s life is palpable. Like everyone else, he’s confused and alienated, watching the Kanye Show from his phone. He and Kanye only brush shoulders at the most during Kanye’s miracle run, from Graduation through The Life of Pablo. jeen-yuhs suddenly becomes a document of unrequited love, about the people we leave behind.